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In March, I said we were winding down this newsletter. We did so to focus our communications solely on our users, and to double down on scaling up and serving them.


That’s what we subsequently did. Over the rest of 2017 we grew further - reaching over 60,000 people and crossing 10,000 meetings, votes and actions called. By late in the year the platform was sending out over 120,000 messages a month. In November, we crossed a total of 1 million messages sent via Grassroot since it went live.

Alongside that, we built out or revamped a range of features. We changed how votes worked to make them more flexible and easier to use. We rebuilt the todo feature to enable calling for volunteers and requesting data from members. We built LiveWire, a service that allows our users to send out press releases to media through just an old phone, or add images and descriptions when they can.

Along with the numbers, the stories of change have grown too. In Tshepisong, “a meeting is not a meeting if it’s not called through Grassroot”. The community there has organized itself all the way down into various block committees, and as a whole has over a thousand people on is Grassroot group. It recently used its organizational strength to engage a local school that had classes built for preschool but had never opened them. The classes will open for children in January.

Then there are the thousand community patrollers summarily dismissed in 2014. They've been trying to organize themselves and were introduced to Grassroot in November. Meeting attendance went up dramatically, and then they used LiveWire. Soonthey  received calls from journalists and government. After three years of failed promises and dejected unemployment, this has seen a marked improvement in their morale and they are proceeding confidently with plans to 'return to duty' in the new year.

As a third example, we started a partnership with amandla.mobi, specifically for their #DataMustFall campaign in October and November to lower mobile data costs. They recruited volunteers to head out into the streets and collect signatures of people in support to the campaign, which were then uploaded using the Grassroot app to a master list. That enabled the campaign to broaden its reach and include people that otherwise wouldn’t be reached by online methods. That added almost 3,000 more people to the campaign, and was the first step in a partnership that will grow and expand next year.

That's one of several partnerships we’ve established in the last few months. We started working with several municipalities, looking at ways to integrate Grassroot into planning and community safety. We’re working with OpenUp(formerly Code for South Africa) on a project called the accountability stack, to deliver to our users better knowledge on how to hold government to account. We’re piloting a tool with Health-E News to deliver information on services to sexual violence survivors. We’ll be expanding on all of these in the year to come.

Most importantly, and this comes back to why we’re restarting the newsletter, we’ll be taking a more active role advocating the reform of local government. We’ve said from the beginning that our vision is a country in which ordinary people have a direct voice in the decisions that shape their lives. We believe we’ve built a platform and tools that enable it. We are part of partnerships and networks that hold the same commitment. And for the last year we’ve been holding discussion groups with community leaders about the laws the constitute our cities and the spaces they open.

So, next year we’ll be campaigning a bit more openly for participative democracy in our cities. We’ll keep the social media accounts to stories of our users, and app and product features will go through their usual channels. But we’ll also be updating on the campaign in here. Of course, alongside that we’ll continue scaling up, transforming and spreading our Grassroot Ambassador program, and launching a rebuilt mobile app and frontend.

None of this would be possible without our team. We’ve expanded a bunch in the last few months: March Ratsela and Busani Ndlovu joining as junior developers, and Mbalenhle Nkosi as our General Manager. Zinhle Miya will join as our KZN coordinator in January. With Katlego and myself, that takes us up to six.

We couldn’t have done all this without the confidence and contributions of our backers. The Indigo Trust and the Open Society Foundation both renewed their support. In July, we were thrilled when the Omidyar Network decided to invest in us. Their support and their network of other investees around the world has already made a huge difference to our work.

Support our work

Grassroot ambassadors are community based volunteers. Watch Lebo talk about how they use Grassroot, and support our work by donating here.

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#LiveWire School gets a Grade R class after community pressure

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Ongopotse Tiro primary school has been without a Grade R class since 2012. When asked, the principal had indicated that the only available classroom could not be used due to leaking whenever it rains.

The communitiny of Mnandini in Tshepisong West were not satisfied with that answer so they arranged that the Department of Eduaction send inspectors to investigate themselves. After inspection, it was discovered that the classroom was in usable condition and the Department has promised to keep tabs on the matter.

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#LiveWire GP Patrollers Forum - We want our jobs back


The GP Patrollers Forum was formed in 2014 when all 6000 of the province's scholar patrollers were summarily dismissed by the Department of Education, despite having received training from the Department. The Forum was convened by those of the patrollers, numbering about 1000, who want their jobs back - as permanent employees and not the 'volunteers' they had been.

In this effort, the General Industrial Workers Union of SA (GIWUSA) has offered some assistance insofar as getting their case lodged at the Labour Court. Organisers of the Forum sought additional help from the Casual Workers' Advice Office in Germiston, particularly with respect to publicizing their case to the media, which is where they were introduced to Grassroot. The organisers' tool is especially suited to their needs since most of the patrollers carry basic cell phones and they have quickly understood its utility. From first introduction to the first meeting they called a week thereafter, using Grassroot, attendance improved dramatically. But most impressive for the patrollers was the results of publicizing the meeting via the LivewireSA application.

They received calls from journalists inquiring about their case and from the Gauteng Department of Community Safety, which appears to have been apprised of their initiative by the media. After three years of failed promises and dejected unemployment, this sudden interest in their case has seen a marked improvement in their morale and they are proceeding confidently with plans to 'return to duty' in the new year.

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Ambassador feedback get implemented on to the platform


As communities make use of the Grassroot platform, their needs naturally change from time to time, triggering evolution in user behavior. It is for this reason that we meet up with our Grassroot ambassadors that are based in the communities that are serviced by the platform. This happens on a monthly basis with plans to cut the time lapses in half for the coming year.

These interactions have led more in depth insight on how to develop the platform in a manner that will best suit the user communities. We have been also been able to discover why some features are more popular than others. 


We are happy to announce some of the new features that come courtesy of Grassroot ambassadors. Organizers of multiple groups often struggle with join codes and figuring out which join code belongs to which group, especially on USSD.

  • Mondli Msani of Thembelihle in Lenasia suggested an item on the USSD menu that lets Grassroot send you a list of your groups along with the join codes via SMS (option 6 under the My Groups menu item).
  • Phulani Khulu of Mnadini in Tshepisong West mentioned that a large majority of their meetings are held at the same location. Under the call meeting item, the user can add a frequently used location by reply with the number 1 to save time.

The Act menu item has also been revamped. Group organizers can now request different types of actions to be performed by their constituencies. The organizer can now request an action to be performed by the whole group or request volunteers. He/she can now request information for data collection purposes. Users can add the home addresses or T-shirt sizes or user IDs for particular programs.

Access Grassroot by dialling *134*1994# on your mobile device (cellular rates do not apply), downloading the Grassroot Android app on the Google Playstore or accessing our web app at app.grassroot.org.za.

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#LiveWireSA Ambassador diaries: Mondli Msani - Community conducts social audit

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The focus of the social audit is to get to find out what are the challenges that the community is facing regarding these pit toilets. It is said that Supreme has been given an extended period with a budget of 12 million rand for six months that was granted in January. Yet people still get inadequate sanitation services. 

The goal is to compare the specifications on the tender document and to do physical verification to find out whether the specifications are as explained on the tender specification and must match with what we see. 

We have been out and asking residents some questions about the sanitation service delivery using the questionnaire we designed as auditing residents. 

This is all thanks to Plan-Act the organization that provided training and workshops as they also provided tools to undergo the audit.

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