Mo’ letters, mo’ work


As January came to a close and the month of love began, the South Africa Media Innovation Program (SAMIP) has been working hard on not only getting our first cohort of participants into the program but also developing strategies for bringing on more participants and increasing our reach and impact.

In the first week of February SAMIP got to work on completing the grant letters for the winners of the Innovation Challenge. The letters would give the participants access to the funds they won through Challenge and also provide a roadmap for them to grow into sustainable projects and organisations.

Having made some meaningful connections during our first workshop held in Johannesburg in January, the participants were ready get started on their projects as well as form partnerships in order to gain necessary skills, connections and resources from one another.

Notable highlights

Since the beginning of the year some of the participants have gotten straight to work in developing content and progressing their projects. From registering company names, to outputting engaging content the first cohort has made some notable progress in their quest to become sustainable or profitable.

Hashtag Our Stories 

Yusuf and Sumaiya Omar have been hard at work in developing the mobile video content. They launched their local Facebook page (Hashtag Our SA) in the middle of January and throughout February they posted videos that have gone on to garner more than 220,000 views on Facebook. When the late Hugh Masekela passed away, in January, they were quick to post this moving tribute to the legend.

They not only post social videos like the one above but they’ve also been experimenting with informative content that touches on issues such as fake news and the Winter Olympics. We highly recommend following their page which will grow in leaps and bounds over the next year.


Another one of our participants has also undergone some restructuring in terms of their project. Digest is a financial newsletter aimed at millennials. The team has big plans to bring financial services and education to the youth of South Africa. Currently they have begun archiving their content for the public to view past updates which include breakdowns on what the president’s State of the Union Address means for the economy.

They have also posted interesting threads on Twitter on topics such as the cabinet reshuffle that president Cyril Ramaphosa announced this past month, all with an eye on the effects on the economy and ordinary citizens.


Our team has been attending media events and assisting with the planning of a few as well.

Earlier in February our program officer, Siyabonga Africa, was invited to represent SAMIP in the planning meeting for the Duke Menell Media Exchange 2018 that will be taking place in June this year. The exchange is a great opportunity for the journalism and media community to meet and engage over pertinent issues in the industry. Several of our participants will be involved in the exchange as speakers and content developers.

Our program officer also attended the IAB Digital Summit, held in Kyalami this year, where media workers and thought leaders gathered to learn about the latest developments in the industry and to network.

General Applications Open

Finally SAMIP has opened applications for general entry into the program. Since the middle of February applications have been streaming in and the team is hard at work analysing the submissions as they come in in order to find the next set of participants to the program.

We urge anyone who has a mission-driven project or organisation that is aligned with the focus areas, that SAMIP has laid out, to submit their applications. Applications have no deadline so interested parties should take their time to think through their submissions before applying. Entry into the program, through general applications, does not mean automatic funding but will give participants access to SAMIP’s capacity-building program and resources.

February was a busy month for the program and the participants and SAMIP will continue looking for opportunities to increase its impact in the South Africa news media industry.

Kicking off 2018 with a bang

2017 was a rollercoaster year for the South Africa Media Innovation Program (SAMIP): not only did we begin our program, at an event keynoted by Patrick Gaspard, now President of the Open Society Foundation, but we also opened up applications for our first Innovation Challenge that saw more than 200 applications from across South Africa competing for grant funding.

Between the end of August 2017 and the beginning of November 2017, SAMIP promoted its first Innovation Challenge through broadcast interviews, networking events and good old word of mouth.

Iono podcast of Program Officer Siyabonga Africa’s interview with Ashraf Garda on SAfm’s Media Show

After weeks of vetting, due diligence and an arduous selection process by our advisory committee nine finalists were chosen to not only receive grant funding but also become the first entrants in our program that seeks to tackle a number of issues in this country’s media landscape.

As a refresher the nine finalists/projects chosen are:

Children’s Radio Foundation

Collective Media Cooperative (Mosêlê)


Hashtag Our Stories (Hashtag Our SA)

Media Factory

The New Era

OpenUp/Association for Independent Publishers (Pocket Reporter)

Soul City Institute for Social Justice (Not Yet Uhuru Radio)

Volume News


The representatives of the nine winning Innovation Challenge teams as well as the SAMIP team and MDIF deputy-CEO Mohammed Nanabhay. Photo: Siyabonga Africa

Straight into the frying pan

With the selection of the innovation challenge finalists behind us the next step was to get all of the people behind the projects, start-ups and nonprofits together in one room to plan out the year and find areas of overlap and potential partnerships.

The finalists are spread all over the country with some being based in the City of Cape Town, Western Cape, and others up north in Mbombela, Mpumalanga. We had to coordinate travel and accommodation in order to find that sweet spot where all of them would be able to meet in one room.

During the week of 15 January, the SAMIP team met with the Innovation Challenge finalists to discuss their projects and bring them on board the program. On 16 January we spent the day at the University of Witwatersrand’s Journalism Department in Braamfontein in a workshop where the teams got to present their projects/organizations and their plans for the year ahead.

It was an inspiring day where we not only got insight into the finalists’ projects but also saw the seeds of innovation in South African news media being planted as the teams began networking and making plans to collaborate on various side projects.

By the time the last finalist had met with the team and plans had been solidified the program was ready to move on to the next phase.

Client highlights

The end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 also featured some great success stories for some of our clients. Some of the highlights include:

Hashtag Our Stories was named MediaShift20 a list of digital media’s top innovators in 2017. This was the inaugural list by MediaShift that was derived from nominations from all over the world. Yusuf and Sumaiya Omar were recognised for their project that seeks to empower disenfranchised communities all over the world through the power of mobile video.

Hashtag Our Stories was also mentioned as a Champion of the Week by radio personality Ashraf Garda’s in his own project Champion South Africa.

Fast Company South Africa also named Digest one of the most innovative start-ups in 2017.

And for their work in using data journalism to tell stories in innovative ways OpenUp was commended by the judges at the national 2017 Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards.

What to look out for

As we head into February 2018 expect some major announcements from the SAMIP team as we prepare to open up the program for general entries and our clients begin the hard work of getting their projects either off the ground or further up the pipeline.

We look forward to many more months of empowering and assisting South African news media grow and develop as our program gains momentum.

SAMIP names winners of its Innovation Challenge

Nine organisations, startups and nonprofits have been selected as winners of the South Africa Media Innovation Program’s (SAMIP) first Innovation Challenge.

The nine winners are: Children’s Radio Foundation, Mosêlê, Digest, Hashtag Our Stories, Media Factory, The New Era, Pocket Reporter, Not Yet Uhuru Radio and Volume News.

Bilal Randeree, Program Manager for SAMIP, said that the winners will share a pool of grant money to help them meet specific goals that will advance their projects.

“This is just the beginning for SAMIP – we are excited to help these organisations financially, so that they can grow and focus on their products and audiences,” Randeree said.

In addition to the grant funding, the organisations will have access to expert mentoring and expertise for the next three years, to help them become financially sustainable.

“We were overwhelmed by the energy and excitement around the SAMIP Innovation Challenge – we were expecting about 100 entries, but ended up receiving more than 200,” said Mohamed Nanabhay, Deputy CEO of MDIF, who chairs the SAMIP Advisory Committee.

MDIF, a not-for-profit investment fund for independent news organisations in countries where access to independent media is under threat, manages SAMIP. The Open Society Foundation of South Africa and Omidyar Network initiated SAMIP, supporting it with US$4m over the next three years to accelerate digital media innovation among independent media outlets and encourage new entrants.

The Innovation Challenge was announced at SAMIP’s launch event on August 31.

The Advisory Committee, that helped select the nine winners, includes political commentator Justice Malala, Omidyar Network investment principal Khuram Hussain, Mail & Guardian journalist Pontsho Pilane, media consultant and lecturer Dinesh Balliah and media entrepreneur Matthew Buckland.

“I am very hopeful with where independent media is going,” says Pilane. “Working in this industry with print sales going down and large scale layoffs, the SAMIP applications have made me very hopeful.”

Pilane highlighted Media Factory, a startup that has been incubated at the Wits JamLab in Braamfontein, that she sees as the “Tinder of journalism”.

Founded and led by Nelisa Ngqulana, Media Factory aims to create a virtual newsroom staffed by freelancers in rural and out-of-reach areas that can be accessed by large media houses looking for local reporting.

Balliah picked out Digest, a financial literacy newsletter aimed at Millennials, as a good example of the type of innovation required in the local media space.

“Financial literacy is critical in the current economic climate and in South Africa, and ordinarily this knowledge is steeped in jargon that only a few will understand. The newsletter in itself and the languages it aims to deliver its content in is very transformative,” says Balliah.

M&C Saatchi Creative Spark CEO Matthew Buckland believes that the Pocket Reporter app will help improve the quality of journalism – the app guides rookie journalists in the storytelling process while still in the field.

OpenUp has partnered with the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP) in rolling out the app to dozens of community newspapers across the country and translating it into all the official languages of South Africa.

“There is a need for a tool like this, and it’s delivered in a practical and accessible manner as a mobile companion. I can see journalists using this and benefiting from it,” Buckland added.

Besides creating hyperlocal content and assisting journalists in storytelling, other projects also targeted women, which Pilane believes is an important issue.

Pilane notes that women have been excluded from the conversation and, in a country like South Africa that experiences high rates of violence against women, it was refreshing to see that some of the finalists were not only female-led but also created content aimed at those voices that have been silenced.

Khuram Hussain, Omidyar Network’s Investment Principal, said that he was impressed by the volume and standard of applications.

“It is incredibly encouraging to see the nine Innovation Challenge finalists representing both the geographic breadth as well as the depth of media innovation in South Africa. With the winning submissions ranging from new approaches to integrating existing tech platforms into core operations through to experimentation with new digital tools to reach broader audience, it will be exciting to see these innovations implemented and the delivery a broad spectrum of positive impacts.”

“The diversity in the applications and the finalists is commendable considering how transformation in the local media landscape is important for the future of the industry,” said Justice Malala.

More than 200 applications from all corners of the country were received since the call to action was made. There was an equal distribution of nonprofits, startups and private organisations all looking to secure funding, either to get their ideas off the ground or to expand what they have developed.

In the upcoming months SAMIP will be accepting applications for general entry into the program. Media owners, practitioners and entrepreneurs are advised to visit the SAMIP website to sign up for more details.

Below is more information on the finalists and their projects:

Children’s Radio Foundation

Children’s Radio Foundation (CRF) is a Cape Town based radio station that uses radio to create opportunities for information sharing, dialogue, leadership, advocacy and community building among youth.

CRF seeks to extend the capacity, reach and impact of their community radio partners through the integration of WhatsApp into their reporting, broadcast, and outreach platforms. In addition to integrating WhatsApp into reporting and broadcast, partner radio stations CRF seeks to distribute weekly WhatsApp-driven newsletters for youth, showcasing jobs and educational opportunities, profiling local youth, and discussing news and community concerns.

Collective Media Primary Cooperative Limited

Collective Media Cooperative is a new venture based in Johannesburg. Collective Media Cooperative seeks to make media work for audiences and media workers who have been structurally excluded from ownership, education and training, and representation in South African media.
Their project, Mosêlê, is a digital platform that on the frontend aims to be the ‘Uber for journalists and media professionals’, and on the back-end, a resource planning and project management tool.


Digest is a newsletter that seeks to increase financial awareness in South Africa by providing financial news in a quirky and millennial-friendly format.

Digest seeks to develop an app that will simulate a WhatsApp conversation and provide financial news in multiple languages. The languages they seek to focus on are Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans. They currently have over 700 subscribers in the 4 months since launch, with a 38% open rate.

Hashtag Our Stories

Hashtag Our Stories is a Durban based company that creates citizen journalism shows, with mobile phones and for mobile audiences, in every language.

Their project seeks to train and create a network of citizen journalists in all nine provinces, who will contribute stories to community Facebook groups.

Pocket Reporter

Pocket Reporter is a project created by Open Up, formerly Code 4 South Africa, and being co-managed with the Association of Independent Newspapers (AIP). OpenUp is a Cape Town based NGO that uses civic technology to inform, empower and activate citizens. The AIP is a national organisation that advances the interests of local independent media outlets in South Africa.

Pocket Reporter is a mobile digital toolkit that assists journalists at community newspapers to report more effectively. This project seeks to present an innovative approach to support journalists to dig beyond basic details and to access datasets containing information about demographics, municipal finances, crime, and others.

Not Yet Uhuru Radio

The Soul City Institute for Social Justice is a national social justice NGO that caters for Young Womxn and Girls (YWGs) and the communities they live in.

Soul City’s feminist radio station, Not Yet Uhuru Radio, will cater for YWGs and the communities they live in.  ’Not Yet Uhuru’ will be a mix of talk radio and music. The radio station seeks to serve as a platform for engagement with and between womxn, to challenge patriarchy and build a feminist consciousness in South Africa.

Volume News

Volume News is a Johannesburg based new venture that seeks to bring local news back to community radio stations.

Volume News seeks to make use of technology tools to ensure that every community in the country can produce and distribute Volume News via their community radio station. For the station, Volume News provides the capacity to recruit local reporters to produce news stories and tools to support newsgathering, content ingesting, broadcasting and monitoring. In addition, Volume News seeks to build a devoted team of partner-reporters in every district of South Africa, that will generate local news in 11 official languages.

Media Factory

Media Factory is a mobile content agency for citizen journalists across South Africa. Their project seeks to create a virtual newsroom that will connect news editors to reliable and verified freelancer journalists and connect freelance journalists, working outside the main media centres in SA to news editors who require their experience in covering breaking news.

The New Era

The New Era is an initiative aimed at digitising 8 community newspapers in Mpumalanga province.

The New Era will be focused on digitising community media organisations. Their project also seeks to develop a cross platform interactive mobile App for the Mpumalanga community print sector. Through their project, The New Era seeks to develop new business models for new revenue generation developed.