Koketso Moeti has a long background in activism, having worked at the intersection of governance, communication and civic tech. Koketso grew up in Rooigrond, a poor rural community in South Africa’s North-West Province. In 2014 she founded and launched amandla.mobi, a non-profit organisation supporting low-income black women in mobilising their communities, and campaigning for social change. Under Koketso’s leadership amandla.mobi has grown into a community of over half a million members.
In 2019 she was announced as an Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity. Koketso is also an inaugural Obama Foundation Fellow and an Aspen Institute New Voices Senior Fellow. She is a reference group member of the Civic Tech Innovation Network and is Deputy Chairperson of the SOS Coalition which campaigns for public broadcasting in the public interest. Koketso’s writing has been published by NPR, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Africa is a Country, Salon and the Mail & Guardian.
One-line project summary:
amandla.mobi amplifies the voices and collective actions of those most impacted by poverty, violence and corruption: low-income black women.
Present your project.
The problem we are working to solve is the broken feedback loop between decision makers who have the power to shape policies, budgets and processes, and the fragmented power of those who stand to benefit the most from pro-poor decisions.
Using inclusive tech and a model for social action, amandla.mobi has united communities who are often disconnected due to location, language and social issue.
By turning every cellphone into a democracy building tool, amandla.mobi has provided tools to coordinate action, so as to mobilise communities in numbers that incentivise decision makers to be transparent, accountable and act in the interest of the most marginalised.
When those traditionally seen as ‘powerless’ are able to aggregate their collective actions, it ensures racial, gender and economic inequality is centred by decision makers. When the lives of the most vulnerable are improved, so too are the lives of the rest of humanity.
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What specific problem are you solving?
Good governance and corporate responsibility are being eroded. We are seeing decisions that are short-sighted and not in the interest of the vulnerable. Part of the reason for this disconnect are barriers the poor face when it comes to accessing information, engaging decision makers and being part of public participation processes.
There is a strong civil society ecosystem, where research, analysis, awareness raising and legal action have helped push for social good. These advocates are important. But the vulnerable are not voiceless or passive. As black women from low-income backgrounds, we are at the forefront of mobilising our communities. We are more likely to be unemployed, experience violence, miss school and struggle to access clean water and healthcare. But this is exactly what makes us experts when it comes to issues impacting our communities. If we were able to connect with existing civil society ecosystems on equal terms, we would be able to pull more levers, and increase the chances of systemic change.
98% of people in South Africa own a cell phone. To unlock this tool for social change, we have to address the digital divide which exists due to the high cost of mobile internet and language barriers.
What is your project?
amandla.mobi uses an inclusive mobile tech platform, which allows anyone with a cell phone to access information and take action on issues they care about. Using SMS, Whatsapp, social media and our mobile website, we use technology to accelerate and scale real world actions.
This is how our mobile, multilingual, multi-issue campaign model works; Our team monitors issues that impact our constituency, we liaise with communities and experts to identify specific budgetary, policy or regulatory campaign demands. We identify the appropriate decision-maker who has the power to implement our campaign demands. With this information we carefully design a campaign that constructively, builds public pressure to incentivise action from the decision-maker.
Our team researches and writes up campaign information, translates it and uploads it on our mobile platform. From there anyone can join our campaign actions, whether it’s a petition, public submissions, protests and crowd-sourcing money and data. Those who take action are given the choice to opt into being part of the amandla.mobi community and receive regular campaign and movement updates. These individuals are members of our community. As we run campaigns across issues, decision makers, and at the local, provincial and national level, our membership grows.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
The amandla.mobi team has worked with our members, partner organisations, and experts, to design and run campaigns which have a realistic, and often evidence based, demand for social change. Our campaign victories have directly resulted in over 12 million black women having more money to put food on the table each month. We successfully campaigned for sanitary pads to be tax-exempt and for free pads at low-income schools  , as well as a mobile internet price drop for the poor  .
amandla.mobi was founded by and for low-income black women. The majority of our team represent our constituency, and as such we identify issues and solutions through our lived experience.
We have also worked to be accountable to and consult our members on a regular basis. Through surveys, monitoring requests and noting campaigns which gather a lot of traction, we embed monitoring and evaluation into our work. Members, communities and partners can also launch campaigns on our awethu.mobi platform.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
amandla.mobi amplifies our collective voices as black women from low-income communities, allowing us to shape decision making and push for transparency and accountability. With each campaign run, each community mobilised and each decision-maker engaged, we are helping to fix a broken feedback loop, which has left us behind for far too long.
It takes just one person in a community to stand up and work towards social change. By leveraging inclusive technology, our social change model, and partners, we have been able to aggregate our collective actions, to build the necessary awareness and mandate for decision makers to act.
How did you come up with your project?
My community was facing forced eviction from decision makers in our municipality who were supposed to improve our lives. So we started organising the community to save our homes from being demolished.
Someone donated a cellphone to me, and I was able to access information, engage the media and coordinate with other community members faster than ever before. The municipality heard our voices and rescinded the eviction order.
I started to think about black women across South Africa who were in the same situation as me, organising their community for social good, but often lacking the tools to access information and coordinate social actions. That’s when I came up with the idea for amandla.mobi.
People doubted my vision and plans. So with no bank account, office or funding, our three person team worked with a group of young people from Ekurhuleni to launch a youth unemployment campaign on the 16 June 2014.
The campaign wasn’t online, but on SMS and in isiZulu, but it gathered momentum and after delivering the petition to the Mayor’s office, the campaign won. I had the proof of concept to get the idea of amandla.mobi off the ground.
Why are you passionate about your project?
As a black woman who grew up in a poor community I understand many of the challenges we face. But I’m also privileged. Years ago I developed severe sinus issues, which caused chronic pain. I needed urgent surgery, but there was a 6 month waiting list at the public hospital, and that was just for a CT scan. The surgery would cost $4500 in a private hospital, which is nearly a year’s income for an entire black household. Unlike many, I had a support network with the resources to raise the necessary funds.
But my story is not the story of the 7 in every 10 households that use public clinics and hospitals. It is not the story of Sylvia Kubheka who, at 55, will have to wait until 2023 to undergo hip replacement surgery. This is just one of countless stories I am confronted with each day. It hasn’t been easy, but year on year, our campaigns have helped protect and advance social good. When I see young black women launching campaigns on our awethu.mobi platform, which are replicated in other communities, I think of the change we are helping to spark across the country, and the world.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
Before amandla.mobi, I spent time gaining experience in various NGOs, including Doctors Without Borders. I gained experience researching and developing social media content and strategy and worked on a local government project around public participation. To make sense of the issues I saw in the local and global community, I used my spare time to write and blog. Over time I was able to better communicate my thoughts and analysis, two skills that would become vital. Over time I began to publish my writing. When I was selected as an Aspen New Voices Fellow, I received additional training in writing. This left me better able to support the thought leadership of the team through editing. So, team members who have not been published before have gone on to be published by South African mainstream publications.
As the amandla.mobi community of members grew, and we started winning more and more campaigns and having a direct impact, my work was recognised and I was able to access training and ongoing professional development through both the Obama and Atlantic Fellowship programmes. For the last two years I have also had regular sessions with my coach who specialises in leadership and management training. I’ve made many mistakes, and would often beat myself up for not having the skills and experience in a particular area. I’ve now learned to lean into my strengths and surround myself with a team that complements my abilities.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
Adversity is like putting out a fire; it requires your attention and energy, and does not care if multiple fires have to be put out simultaneously. I remember a time during the early years of amandla.mobi where our campaigns were really taking off and our membership started growing. We quickly became victims of our own success, struggling to meet the demand from members and partners.
During this time, the South African mobile channel we used collapsed after WhatsApp entered the market, and we lost the ability to contact 80% of our members. We were also told we were too big for small funders and too small for large funders. A staff member at a foundation confirmed my worst fears, that their board consistently funded organisations led by white men, and as an organisation founded by a black woman, she was doubtful we would receive funding. To make matters worse, we made a terrible hiring decision, and work was just not being done. As I put out one fire, another started. But each failure taught me vital lessons and how dangerous paralysis can be. I’ve changed my relationship with failure, which has helped me overcome adversity far quicker than before.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
I know what it’s like being a David taking on a Goliath. Our Data Must Fall campaign leveraged research from Wits University, which exposed how mobile networks had structured prices so that the cost per MB of data was many times higher for low-income consumers  than for middle and high income consumers. This further reinforced barriers to education and employment.
To win this campaign I had to step back and picture a path forward that brought the right stakeholders together at the right time to pull the right levers of social change. So I set about bringing researchers, industry experts and partner organisations together to develop a strategy.
Our campaign involved a number of tactics, including publicising personal stories and academic research to build an evidence base, doing interviews to shift the public narrative, and gathering WhatsApp voice note testimonies which we played aloud at public hearings. In the end, our communications regulator implemented pro-poor regulations, while our Competition Commission reached an agreement with mobile networks to reduce their prices. These victories have led to a historic drop in the price of mobile internet, and inspired more Davids to take on more Goliaths.
How long have you been working on your project?
7 years (Includes amandla.mobi pre-launch phase)
Where are you headquartered?Johannesburg, South Africa
What type of organization is your project?Nonprofit
Describe what makes your project innovative.
It is not our mobile tech platform that makes us innovative, instead amandla.mobi’s approach to social change is disruptive because we help to close the feedback loop between decision makers and those most impacted by their decisions. Our focus is on winnable citizen-led campaigns to achieve what Fox refers to as “virtuous circles” of interaction between citizens and government . Digital platforms have traditionally amplified the voices of the privileged, which have disproportionately influenced decision-makers. To challenge this status quo we were the first organisation to launch mobile, multilingual, multi-issue campaigns to help reshape how society makes decisions. This is what makes our contribution unique, and complements approaches of other civil society formations who use research, legal action, public education and awareness raising.
Public consultation is embedded within South African society. However, those most impacted by policies, budgets and processes, often are not aware public consultation is open for comment, let alone what a policy change practically means for them, nor how to submit comments other than by fax or email. Since launching, amandla.mobi has leveled the playing field and run campaigns that have allowed our constituents to learn about a proposed policy or budget, in their own language, and then send in a public submission through SMS, Whatsapp, our mobi website, phone calls etc.
 Fox, J. ‘Empowerment and institutional change: Mapping ‘Virtuous Circles’ of state-society interaction’, in Alsop, R (ed). 2005. Power, Rights and Poverty: Concepts and Connections. Washington DC: World Bank.
What is your theory of change?
Mission: Improving the lives of those most impacted by injustice; low-income black women, so as to elevate all of humanity.
Impact chain 1: Inclusive mobile multilingual tech amplifies voices
1.1 Activities: Develop and maintain an inclusive mobile civic action platform, as well as translate information across language groups .
1.2 Outputs: The poor, especially low-income black women, can use any cellphone to access information via SMS, USSD, WhatsApp and our mobi site.
1.3 Short-term Outcomes: Low-income women mobilise their communities quickly and at scale by using cellphones to distribute information. This can happen at the local, provincial and national level, across issues.
1.4 Long-term Outcomes: The voices of low-income women are consistently present in the public spheres, providing decision makers a policy mandate.
Impact chain 2: Collective actions of low-income black women and allies, increase chances of pro-poor decisions.
2.1 Activities: Monitor for issues, consult our members and issue/ policy experts, and designs a campaign with a realistic ask of a decision maker. amandla.mobi also maintains our awethu.mobi platform which allows our members and partner organisations to set up and launch values-aligned campaigns. We provide support and tools and, critically, advice around how to navigate different institutions and processes and devise realistic, but impactful campaign demands.
2.2 Outputs: A campaign is launched. amandla.mobi members receive a message about the campaign, and can organise others in their community to join and take action.
2.3 Short-term Outcomes: Decision makers are presented with a specific policy or budgetary ask, and a strong mandate in the form of signatures/ submissions from those who would be most impacted by their decision. This increases the possibility for a decision maker committing to the campaign demand .
2.4 Long-term Outcomes: Decision maker’s actions are monitored to ensure they implement their commitments properly and on time. If the campaign is ignored or rejected, secondary decision makers and new tactics are identified.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we ran our biggest campaign yet. Partnering with the Children’s Institute, we leveraged their research to design and launch a campaign to avert a humanitarian crisis by calling on the government to increase the child support grant. The campaign went viral, gathering 600,000 signatures . We won the campaign, impacting the lives of over 18 million children and 11 million caregivers.
Over the last 6 years, amandla.mobi’s membership has grown to over 630,000 people across South Africa. It’s important to note that the number of people impacted by our campaigns is not the only measure we look at. We also look at the significance of the campaign victory, for example, bringing an end to virginity testing conducted by the uThukela District Municipality.
We have shifted our strategy for the next 5 years in light of external evaluations we commissioned. Despite our team growing in size, we don’t anticipate running more campaigns per year. Instead we will be focusing on higher quality campaigns, as well as improving monitoring and evaluation. We also don’t anticipate our membership growing at the same trajectory. Instead we will be focused on developing new tools and actions that increase the impact of our members and empower them to run bigger and better campaigns.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
1) By the end of 2021, of all the campaigns run by the team, at least 4 will be national campaigns, each of which will result in decisions, policies or budgets that impact the lives of more than half a million of our constituents.
Our strategy to achieve this goal involves doubling the size of our campaigns team. We will hire 4 new Junior Campaigners and a Campaigns Manager. Through accelerated training, this additional capacity will allow us greater capacity to launch rapid response campaigns, while working on long-lead campaigns.
By 2026, our goal will be to have worked with civil society to accelerate South Africa’s progress towards the sustainable development goals, two fold.
2) By the end of 2021, we will scale our campaign support by improving our awethu.mobi platform. This will allow communities, activists and NGOs to launch high impact campaigns, of which at least 12 will result in the decision maker implementing the campaign demands.
Our strategy here is focused on reducing campaign support bottlenecks to enable decentralised movement building. All Junior Campaigners presently support campaigns set up on awethu.mobi. By aggregating our collective experience, we will create multilingual, mobile, self-guided training resources that will help people set up and launch high quality campaigns.
By 2026, our civic action tools and training will have empowered and enabled at least one local hero, in every single municipality, to mobilise their community and push for social change.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
1. All our staff members rely on public transport, and some have underlying health conditions. COVID-19 forced us to rethink how we work. Many team members didn't have desks or chairs at home, so we moved furniture out of the office and focused on supporting remote work https://medium.com/@HewlettFoundationTPA/koketso-moeti-of-amandla-mobi-on-the-biggest-opportunity-of-her-lifetime-f69b6a32aad. However, the communities the majority of our staff members live in are subject to regular power cuts. With no electricity, even if a team member has a fully charged laptop, internet will be down in the area until power is restored. This is extremely disruptive to our work.
2. It can be difficult to build supporter networks, not only for funding, but for advice, analysis and training for team members as well as organisational development.
3. Hiring the wrong person has been devastating. We have dramatically overhauled our HR processes, especially recruitment. But this is an ongoing process to ensure we find the right person, for the right job, and ensure the accountability we seek from decision makers, is reflected in our own organisation.
4. Disruptive technology is constantly changing how we communicate with one another. Our mobile tech platform has evolved over time, but we would benefit from advice and scenario planning, in order to try future proof our tech platform.
5. Sometimes amandla.mobi can become a bottleneck for members and partners when they want to launch campaigns. This is often due to our sophisticated social change model, as well as our research, fact checking and analysis.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
1. To reduce disruption to our teams productivity, we are working on a fundraising plan to purchase our own office space, with solar panels and batteries so that if there are power cuts, we will still be able to power a fibre router. In addition, our plan is to ensure there are rooms available at the new office so that staff members have the option to stay at the office three nights a week to reduce their use of public transport during this pandemic.
2. We're being advised that the pandemic could shrink organisational budgets by 30%. While we have a diversified funding model, and some reserves, we need to do more scenario planning to ensure our funding model is sustainable. As well as developing strategies to be more efficient with our resources. We also are planning to develop a global and local supporter program so we can work on leads to additional funding, while also leveraging advice, research and new partnerships.
3. We recognise the importance of organisational development, internal communication and building trust based working relationships. It has also been challenging recruiting campaigners and technologists who are black women. We have piloted a program to develop a talent pipeline where we provide black women with a stipend and best practice training and coaching. We need advice thinking through how to replicate this for tech roles.
4. Our campaigns have reached population scale, with the right decentralised resources and tools, we could create a real social change chain reaction.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We’ve worked with over 50 NGO’s across South Africa, as well as social movements and community organisations. Our campaign model is built around strategic partnerships, where we complement the work of partners and work to push for pro-poor policies and budgets. This partnerships are often not formal. We either identify a campaign opportunity based on the work of a partner organisation, or a researcher or analyst. Or, we are approached by organisations who wish to work with us on a campaign.
It’s an exciting time for amandla.mobi. We’ve worked very closely with another civic tech organisation in South Africa called Grassroot. Grassroot built an exceptional mobile platform for community organisers to organise events, votes and other actions. Rather than reinventing the wheel, amandla.mobi forged a partnership with Grassroot to repurpose their platform to allow for petitions and public submissions. Grassroot, and it’s tools, will be merging with amandla.mobi. This will allow us to leverage tech and finding efficiencies, while bringing Grassroot and amandla.mobi’s tools under one roof.
A team from MIT’s Governance Lab conducted research with Grassroot into new ways of delivering training to community organisers on leadership and storytelling. https://mitgovlab.org/results/a-novel-approach-to-civic-pedagogy-training-grassroots-organizers-on-whatsapp/
This is a significant development. amandla.mobi will be able to build on Grassroot’s learnings and pilot new programs to provide mass, decentralised training and community organising tools, thus reducing bottlenecks for local heroes.
What is your business model?
amandla.mobi's funding model is focused on large grants from values aligned foundations for core funding, as well as large donations from philanthropists and small donations from our members. An additional funding stream has been larger NGOs or funders approaching us to partner with them on a campaign. If it is values aligned and in keeping with our campaign selection criteria, we may agree to this funding, which is restricted to specific campaigns.
As an independent, non-partisan, Non-Profit Company. amandla.mobi does not accept funding from political parties, government or companies.
amandla.mobi is a registered with the South African Revenue Service as a Public Benefit Organisation, with 18A status. This means donations are tax deductible. What is more, we currently have US charity equivalency status.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
Hewlett Foundation - $125,000 grant - November 2019
Luminate (Omidyar Group) - $200,000 grant - April 2020
Open Society Foundation South Africa - $59,000 grant - August 2019
Brot fuer die Welt - $42,000 grant - November 2019
Global Health Advocacy Incubator - $185,000 grant - February 2020
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - $11,000 grant - December 2019
Comic Relief - $17,000 grant - April 2020
Donations from members - $3500
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
We are working to raise $1.2 million over the next two years.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?2020 budget ZAR2020 budget USD @ R16.50Operating ExpensesPERSONNELSalaries & contributions2,889,092$175,097Developer (personnel)804,000$48,727Campaigner consulting fees482,633$29,250Consulting fees571,892$34,660Recruitment33,810$2,049Staff development & welfare60,000$3,636Evaluation consultant96,722$5,862Total PERSONNEL4,938,149$299,282ADMINISTRATION (CORE OPERATIONS)Office rental (this may change)238,444$14,451Equipment rental15,882$963External accountant155,496$9,424Audit fees70,061$4,246Insurance48,720$2,953Office supplies & minor equipment120,000$7,273Financial service fees19,374$1,174Legal services35,492$2,151Telephone & internet187,475$11,362Courier & postage2,487$151Transport0$0Local travel - subsistence27,067$1,640Local travel - ground75,959$4,604Local travel - flights75,291$4,563Accommodation6,605$400Foreign travel209,072$12,671Travel reimbursement50,000$3,030Total ADMINISTRATION (CORE OPERATIONS)1,337,426$81,056PROJECT ACTIVITIESOnline services2,010,000$121,818Advertising & promotions1,229,214$74,498Developer (projects)0$0Media services18,648$1,130Campaign - transport180,000$10,909Campaign - materials30,000$1,818Campaign - food60,000$3,636Member events - catering60,000$3,636Member events - transport60,000$3,636Total PROJECT ACTIVITIES3,647,862$221,083PROCUREMENTProcurement - Computer equipment50,000$3,030Procurement - Office equipment14,000$848Total PROCUREMENT64,000$3,879TOTAL OPERATING EXPENSES9,987,437$605,299
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
It is rare to find a platform where a belief in disruptive innovation, radical diversity and systemic change intersect. It’s often difficult for people to get their head around amandla.mobi’s approach to social change. Despite our impact and track record, as a black woman who founded an organisation in the global south, i’ve struggled to build the right networks to secure the funding we need. Research and analysis backs this up, women-led and black-led organisations are underfunded  . But this isn’t just about money. I know first hand how knowledge and experience are invaluable. Since I started working with a leadership and management coach, the impact on the organisation has been priceless. In a world that is changing rapidly, insight from other social change makers, industry experts and researchers, can be invaluable. I’m applying for the Elevate Price because it’s the type of disruptive philanthropy and support we need right now.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
- Ms Koketso Moeti Founder and Executive Director, amandla.mobi