The Africa Online Safety Fund (AOSF) is an initiative of Impact Amplifier that aims to address the pressing and widespread issue of online safety in Africa. The AOSF was launched in 2020 with support from Google.org and has now received a second round of support to continue the initiative.
In Phase one, the Africa Online Safety Fund included:
This initiative was started because over 500 million people have access to the internet in Africa; and although this reflects just under 40% of the population, this level of penetration is 110 times what it was just 20 years ago. Not only has internet access increased dramatically, but so has smartphone usage, with ownership now at 250 million people - which is expected to almost double to about 475 million by 2025. This exponential increase and expected growth have created extraordinary new opportunities for African socio-economic development. However, this rapid growth rate has simultaneously created a range of safety concerns, including: 1) Bullying and harassment; 2) Hate crimes; 3) Terrorist recruitment and promotion; 4) Mis or disinformation; 5) Privacy and personal security and; 6) Financial scams.
Google.org is supporting Impact Amplifier to expand the initiative to address these challenges on an ecosystem level. The approach in Phase two is based on the following Theory of Change (TOC).
The TOC for the Africa Online Safety Fund is based on the assumption that current and future stakeholders addressing online safety issues do not have access to the tools, networks and funding required to efficiently and effectively respond to the scale of the challenge. By addressing these challenges, Impact Amplifier believes that it will meaningfully expand our understanding of the scope of African online safety issues, enhance online safety interventions, make them more effective, attract new innovations, and build good practice in the field.
This assumption is based on the fact that the African ICT infrastructure is principally built on top of the old infrastructure with unstructured networks, old hardware, and limited information and software security systems. This makes using modern services and applications insecure for a large number of people and businesses on the continent. As countries, businesses, and individuals become more dependent on digital technology, they also become more vulnerable to cyber threats. These threats, as they grow in parallel with the adoption of internet and digital services, create individual safety concerns that include terrorist recruitment, identity theft, financial scams, and cyberbullying.
Policy makers in Africa have traditionally not considered cybersecurity as an enabler of social and economic growth, and thus have applied limited resources to addressing it. Approximately 15% of the countries in Africa have a clear legal framework in place, which criminalise online behaviours that facilitate offline crimes. For example, out of 195 countries ranked on the Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) developed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 80% of African countries fall in the lower half, with 23 out of the 44 African countries featured falling in the bottom 25%. Even those that have put legal frameworks in place often do not have the enforcement infrastructure to ensure that the law is applied. This leaves most actions free from criminal charges or consequences. Together, these issues have made the African continent a soft target for internet-related vulnerabilities, threats, and attacks.
Based on these issues, the TOC for AOSF was developed with four core components: 1) Commissioning new research on online safety issues in Africa and aggregating research that has already been conducted and publicly disclosed; 2) Developing new online safety education tools specifically for African markets; 3) Funding new and existing online safety interventions in regions that reflect large populations to prevent extremist recruitment, bullying and harassment, hate crimes, mis or disinformation, privacy, and financial scams and; 4) Building a digital community of online safety practitioners that facilitates collaboration, networking, good practice, educational tools and funding opportunities.
Impact Amplifier and Google.org believe that collectively, these components will impact the creation of a new online safety ecosystem that can be meaningfully matured over time to address the spectrum of issues created by online access in Africa.
Look out for the call for applications for the Africa Online Safety Fund, opening on 1 March 2023.