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Citizenship

This South African Activist Uses Cell Phones to Fight Poverty

When Koketso Moeti and her family in Rooigrond, an isolated community in the North West Province of South Africa, faced eviction, they decided to fight back.

Moeti, whose mother was part of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, began working with community members to organize and stop the local municipality from evicting the community. It was then that she realized the power people can have when they join together to amplify each other’s voices. 

“I recognized that people like me, who are most affected by poverty and other forms of injustice, corruption, and violence, are often seen as ‘voiceless,’” Moeti told Global Citizen. “But we are actually at the forefront of struggles for health, education, sanitation, and other issues to alleviate poverty.”

People advocating on behalf of their own communities are often the best positioned to speak up about their issues. They understand the unique challenges those communities face and are well-suited to represent their interests. However, despite this, advocates for and from low-income communities often lack the resources and time they would need to invest to influence decision-makers and those in power, Moeti explained.

Technology can help to reduce the number of resources needed to make change, but digital tools can be prohibitively expensive to activists and advocates from low-income and marginalized communities.

This was the problem Moeti wanted to solve — and it’s what led her to found amandla.mobi, a nonprofit community advocacy organization that aims to empower South Africans to become change-makers by democratizing technology and making it more accessible.

“It got me thinking about the creative use of technology to amplify the work of those being silenced and ignored, bringing critical social issues to the foreground and enabling collective action as a significant way of democratising digital tools,” Moeti said. “We need to harness technology creatively to build the world we want, rather than leaving it solely up to those whose only interests are profits, exploitation, and worse.”

amandla.mobi works to harness the power of cellphones, which are widely used and available to almost all households in South Africa, and turn them into democracy-building tools. Its civic engagement platform helps connect activists across South Africa so they can strategically coordinate efforts and has more than 120,000 active users.

For example, when South African universities cut off students’ access to Wi-Fi during protests against high tuition fees in 2016, amandla.mobi provided its users with cellular data so they could continue to use their phones to spotlight the ongoing activism on university campuses.

The organization’s innovative solution to amplifying to the voices of those hardest hit by poverty and injustice is what makes Moeti the recipient of the 2018 Waislitz Global Citizen Award.

The Waislitz Global Citizen Awards are annual cash prizes totaling $200,000. As the grand prize recipient, Moeti and her organization will receive $100,000, presented by Alex Waislitz and Global Citizen in recognition of excellence in their work to end extreme poverty.