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.