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Digital Inclusion

ICANN launches $10M grant program for Internet innovators

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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has launched a $10 million global grant program aimed at nonprofits that are developing projects that support the growth of an open and globally interoperable Internet.

ICANN is a nonprofit organization that coordinates the Domain Name System (DNS), and the grant program is focused on supporting projects fostering an inclusive and transparent approach to developing stable, easy to use, secure Internet infrastructure offerings that support the Internet's unique identifier systems.

This will be the first phase cycle of grants that will distribute a total of $210 million over time.

"With the rapid evolution of emerging technologies, businesses and security models, it is critical that the Internet's unique identifier systems continue to evolve," Sally Costerton, ICANN's interim president and CEO, said about the program.

"The ICANN Grant Program offers a new avenue to further those efforts by investing in projects that are committed to and support ICANN's vision of a single, open and globally interoperable Internet that fosters inclusion amongst a broad, global community of users," she added.

Internet connectivity continues to increase worldwide, particularly in developing countries like those in Africa, but millions still remain offline.

The GSMA's latest Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa Report found that in 2022, sub-Saharan Africa had around 287 million mobile Internet subscribers but 680 million Africans are still not online.

ICANN is looking for projects that will advance developments, innovation and open standards for the benefit of the Internet community and contribute to diversity, participation and inclusion online.   (Source: Image by Freepik)
ICANN is looking for projects that will advance developments, innovation and open standards for the benefit of the Internet community and contribute to diversity, participation and inclusion online.
(Source: Image by Freepik)

Applicants for the ICANN grant in developing markets need to be charitable organizations with projects that run for a maximum of 24 months.

The types of initiatives that the program will fund include those: benefitting the development, distribution and evolution of the services and systems that support the Internet's unique identifier systems; providing capacity development; advancing developments, innovation and open standards for the benefit of the Internet community; and contributing to diversity, participation and inclusion across stakeholder communities and geographic regions.

Applicants can apply for grants of between $50,000 and $500,000 but will be subject to admissibility and eligibility checks by ICANN.

The application cycle for the first $10 million in grants will open in March 2024. ICANN will begin accepting grant applications on March 25, 2024, and applications close on May 24, 2024.

African digital finance projects

ICANN joins a list of companies and institutions providing grants and financing for digital transformation projects in Africa.

In May 2023, the African Engineering and Technology Network (Afretec) awarded US$3.3 million in grants to university research teams to advance digital technologies across the continent.

In April 2023, The World Bank Group approved finance deals worth $390 million for Kenya and $150 million for Senegal to advance both countries' digital transformation projects and to expand access of high-speed Internet.

In March 2023, the African Development Bank, Nigeria's government and other partners launched a $618 million fund aimed at supporting tech and creative sectors for young people in Nigeria to spur the growth of innovation on the continent.

On the startup front, seed investor Flat6Labs in March 2023 announced the launch of a $95 million seed fund aimed at nurturing the growth and development of early-stage tech startups in Africa.

All of these finance projects are good news for the sector because this week Disrupt Africa's African Tech Startups Funding Report 2023 showed that investment into tech startups dropped by almost 28% year-over-year to US$2.4 billion in 2023.

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*Top image source: Image by wayhomestudio on Freepik.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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