Knight News Challenge

The Knight News Challenge accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Winners receive a share of $5 million in funding and support from Knight’s network of influential peers and advisors to help advance their ideas. The first round of 2013, which opens in February, will invite innovators from all disciplines to focus on tools for open government. In 2012, three challenge rounds, each focused on an emerging trend, drew more than 2,500 entries.

Challenge 1 - on NETWORKS: Winners were announced June 18.

Challenge 2 - on DATA: Winners were announced Sept. 20.

Challenge 3 – on MOBILE: Winners were announced Jan. 17.

Anyone, anywhere can apply for the challenge - whether for-profit start-ups or non-profit ventures. For more information on a variety of topics - from guidelines for for-profits, on intellectual property licensing, open source software and more - visit our FAQ.

Re:system - Rethinking Media in Developing Countries

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1. What is your project? [1 sentence]

Media monitoring is the unsexy side of the business – it’s tracking and documenting when TV shows air and where billboards are placed – and there has been little innovation in this area, but Re:system is going to disrupt how media monitoring is managed in developing countries by using MMS messaging and mobile payments to allow citizens to monitor media themselves, in order to create additional sources of income for youth and women. 

2. How will your project use mobile tools and approaches? [2 sentences]

Re:system will work with NGOs, international governments and the private sector to get media monitoring contracts, and once a client’s campaign has been installed by a third party, Re:system will send an SMS alert to our registered users that a campaign needs to be monitored, and if they are in the area, they will respond to the text by taking a photo with their cell phones, sending the picture of the relevant media and mobile payment upon verification.

3. Who will use it and why? [1 sentence]

Women and youth will use Re:system to easily earn extra income using their mobile phones, but the sustained funding will come from both international governments and private sector clients who want to ensure that their media campaigns are distributed as planned by independent verification. 

4. Please list three ways they would learn about your project.

1.  Through on the ground business development, Re:system will pitch potential clients through face-to-face meetings.

2.  Using Paywast, the mobile messaging service, we’ll target potential media monitors by sending messages to subscribe to our updates and get involved to groups with demographic fit.

3.  We’ll partner with capacity building projects that target entrepreneurial women and youth employment initiatives. 

5. What connections have you made, or will you make, with others [communities, organizations or networks] about your project? [2 sentences]

The pilot program will be tested in Afghanistan, and we’ll work closely with the guidance of M. Dawson, who created an innovative mobile literacy program for feature phones and learned from the failures of implementing One Laptop Per Child in Afghanistan, and J. Petersen, of Paywast, who created a successful social media mobile messaging system.

6. What part of the project have you already built? [1-2 sentences, feel free to include links]

The idea is in the concept development and research stage.

7. What does success for your project look like? [1-2 sentences]

Success is a working prototype, five clients and 100 media monitors who have access to an additional source of income within a year. Ultimately, if the model is successful in Afghanistan, the goal is to test the concept in other emerging markets.

8. What resources do you need to succeed? [1-2 sentences]

To move the project forward, the team needs to hire a technologist who can connect various cell phone platforms with mobile payment systems and MMS message collection.  The team needs funding to support the technologist and the business development manager’s full-time work, in addition to creating and distributing marketing materials for potential clients.

Additional details:

Why do we know this will work?  Because we’ve had experience with a broken system, and we see huge opportunities for innovation.  This isn’t the sexiest proposal you’ll read, but it’s one that if tested, will work.  It’s simple, it can scale and it meets a need in the market.

Please list who is on your team:

M. Lazier
Meghan is passionate about giving others, and especially innovative ideas, a voice.  Her communications training comes from working at National Geographic, the American Bar Association, ABC News and the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation. A short list of current and previous clients includes the British Embassy, the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics, the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, the Afghan Ministry of Energy and Water, the International Red Cross, and various USAID funded projects in addition to an upscale drink brand and global swimwear company.

J. Peterson – Advisory Role
As Afghanistan’s first mobile-based social networking media, Paywast was formally launched on January 31, 2010 to start its operation in Afghanistan.  Since its launch more than a year ago, Paywast has become the largest social networking media in the country with nearly one million users and subscribers.  To date, Paywast has remained at the forefront of SMS-based social networking technology in Afghanistan, allowing a record number of 500,000,000 (five hundred million) SMS messages being sent through its network. Currently, between 30 and 40 percent of all SMS messages in Afghanistan are processed through Paywast which captures more than one third of all SMS market share in Afghanistan. Interestingly, most of Paywast users and subscribers are literates, semi-literates, university students, young professionals, teachers, professors and members of the academic community.  Paywast is designed to help connect people to one another whether they are members of a family, students of a university, members of a business organization, workers of an NGO, employees of an emergency management agency or a research organization concerned with public outreach. Through Paywast, mobile users can interact with multiple friends and peers simultaneously by creating or joining groups.

M. Dawson – Advisory Role
Paiwastoon is currently launching UstadMobil, a free interactive literacy software application for Dari & Pashto speakers.  UstadMobil utilizes Ministry of Education adult literacy content and works on a $60 USD Nokia C1-01 phone, without requiring Internet.  PAIWASTOON’s interactive content factory system has been adapted to export to mobile phones allowing standard curriculum books to be enriched with games, quizzes, audio, video and more.  

Expected number of months to complete project: 12

Estimated Project Cost: $100,000

Name:  Meghan Lazier
Twitter: @meglaz
Email address:
Organization [if applicable]: Re:system
City: Kabul
Country: Afghanistan
How did you learn about the contest? Knight News Foundations updates

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