ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has initiated a global grant program worth $10 million. This program is specifically designed to support nonprofit organizations that are working on projects aimed at promoting the growth of an open and globally interoperable Internet.
ICANN, being a nonprofit organization responsible for coordinating the Domain Name System (DNS), has focused this grant program on backing projects that foster an inclusive and transparent approach to developing stable, user-friendly, and secure Internet infrastructure offerings. These projects aim to support the Internet’s unique identifier systems. This grant program is the first phase cycle, and it will eventually distribute a total of $210 million over time.
Sally Costerton, the interim president and CEO of ICANN, emphasized the importance of the Internet’s unique identifier systems evolving alongside the rapid advancements in emerging technologies, businesses, and security models. She stated that the ICANN Grant Program provides a new opportunity to invest in projects that align with ICANN’s vision of a single, open, and globally interoperable Internet. These projects aim to foster inclusion among a diverse global community of Internet users.
While Internet connectivity is expanding worldwide, especially in developing regions like Africa, there are still millions of people who remain offline. According to the GSMA’s latest Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa Report, in 2022, sub-Saharan Africa had approximately 287 million mobile Internet subscribers, but there are still 680 million Africans who are not yet connected to the online world.
Applicants seeking the ICANN grant in emerging markets must be charitable organizations that have projects lasting no longer than 24 months. The program will support various initiatives, including those that contribute to the development, distribution, and evolution of services and systems that uphold the Internet’s unique identifier systems. It will also provide capacity development, promote advancements, innovation, and open standards for the betterment of the Internet community. Additionally, it aims to foster diversity, participation, and inclusion across stakeholder communities and geographic regions.
Interested applicants can request grants ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. However, they will undergo admissibility and eligibility checks conducted by ICANN. The application cycle for the initial $10 million in grants will commence in March 2024. ICANN will start accepting grant applications on March 25, 2024, and the application period will conclude on May 24, 2024.
African digital finance initiatives
ICANN has joined a roster of organizations and institutions that are providing grants and financing for digital transformation initiatives in Africa. In May 2023, the African Engineering and Technology Network (Afretec) allocated grants totaling US$3.3 million to university research teams in order to advance digital technologies across the continent.
In April 2023, The World Bank Group approved financing agreements amounting to $390 million for Kenya and $150 million for Senegal, with the aim of advancing the digital transformation projects in both countries and expanding access to high-speed internet. In March 2023, the African Development Bank, in collaboration with the Nigerian government and other partners, launched a $618 million fund aimed at supporting the technology and creative sectors for young people in Nigeria, thereby fostering innovation and growth on the continent.
On the startup front, seed investor Flat6Labs announced in March 2023 the establishment of a $95 million seed fund designed to nurture the growth and development of early-stage technology startups in Africa. All of these financial projects bring positive news to the sector, as Disrupt Africa’s African Tech Startups Funding Report 2023 revealed a nearly 28% year-over-year decrease in investment in tech startups, amounting to US$2.4 billion in 2023.