Q&A with the Winners: David Johnson

In this Q&A, David Johnson talks about his team’s solution — “Empowering Digital Participation and Affordable Access Through the iNethi Platform” — which won 1st Place, Community Enablement Proof of Concept in the 2021 Connecting the Unconnected Challenge.

  1. Please summarize your winning solution
image courtesy David Johnson

iNethi (ʻnethiʼ translates to ʻnetworkʼ in isiXhosa) provides an open source community-based services and content sharing platform to take advantage of the locality of interest in a community (https://inethi.org.za). iNethi seeks to build community ownership of the services and content that are provided via a local network. Decisions about choices of services and content are made collectively – typically through workshops with community members. 

iNethi challenges the notion of being “connected”; a server hosted in a local community providing content and services to a local wireless network can also provide “connectivity”. After all, what people need to access is relevant content and services. iNethi hosts community-generated content as well as high-value educational content, like Wikipedia, Khan academy and TED talks. But iNethi is also able to provide internet access by providing a ready-to-use set of tools that allow you to launch a voucher-based internet service. Providing internet to the community though the WISP tools (billing, monitoring and management) at far lower prices than cellular providers can provide the organization operating the network with income to pay for the internet backhaul, provide a livelihood for network owners and provide income to maintain the network, server infrastructure and local services and content. 

image courtesy David Johnson

The system was deployed in September 2018 in Ocean View – a township on the outskirts of Cape Town and provides low-cost WiFi access to users as well as free access to local content from 20 hotspots. iNethi has also recently been deployed in Kenya and Malawi.

2.      What is the most unique/innovative aspect about your approach?

There is not a unified solution that combines localized hosting, smart sync, local content creation, and a local WISP toolbox in a single platform that is modular and makes it easy to add new services and content. iNethiʼs architecture and our community-first approach opens the potential for other solutions to be bundled as part of our platform in an integrated manner.

The open source nature of this project facilitates the possibility of expansion of the services iNethi provides. Expansion is also facilitated by the modular nature of the docker-based platform. The inclusion of generalizable build scripts that automate configurations provides a quick and easy to use test setup for anybody who wants to quickly test the system on their own computer. Once a practitioner is comfortable with the platform, they can easily deploy it on a server and launch services in their own community.

3.       What did you enjoy most about the CTU Competition and Summit Program?

image courtesy David Johnson

An opportunity to network with other like-minded people trying to solve digital divide issues.

4.      What new work have you done since the 2021 CTU Summit? Did you invest your winnings into the project?

We have been working on combining a community currency with iNethi to see if this can help amplify local economies and encourage good custodianship of physical and digital infrastructure. 

5.      What is your estimate of the number of people impacted by your program?

The current estimated impact in South Africa is about 300 iNethi users in South African and 30 iNethi users in Kenya