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New GGLN Member: Grassroot

Grassroot is a community organizing technology organization creating simple, purpose-built tools to strengthen community-based organizations in low-income and marginalized areas of South Africa. Its tools have reached over 70,000 people and been used for over 12,000 meetings, votes, actions and alerts in the last 18 months.

Grassroot focuses on crossing the ‘digital divide’ by creating tools that are easy to use and work on any phone—smartphone or not, with or without data. Most importantly, tools are built with users, not for them and feedback is constantly gathered from community members and users on how tools can be made more effective and easier to use. Tools work over what is known as USSD, like recharging airtime. A user dials *134*1994# and they can respond to meeting requests, votes, volunteer requests, or issue alerts. An Android app and a web app is available to users with smartphones, built to work on very old and low-cost devices with little data.

In terms of fieldwork, the organization has a network of Grassroot Ambassadors that spread awareness of the tools and help community members learn to use them effectively. Currently, Ambassadors are active in Gauteng, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal working with users on issues related to participatory democracy – a core focus area of the organization.

Grassroot is active on three fronts in the local government space.

First, they are in discussion with three local governments about how these governments could use Grassroot tools to improve communication flows in participatory processes, specifically in community safety and in planning and performance management. Tools are being trialed with the ward committees of two of the three local governments. Through this engagement, Grassroot is also trying to find an opportunity to integrate with and put to work a set of extremely promising tools for participatory democracy developed in Barcelona, namely Decidim (“WeDecide”).

Second, the organization is partnering with GGLN member OpenUp as well as Open Data Durban on a project to bring the “accountability stack” concept to communities. The initiative aims to narrow the gap between government and citizens who face significant service delivery challenges. The intent is to draw on existing research to inform individual citizens and communities about how to more effectively engage with government, supporting ccess to information on the rights of citizens and the responsibilities and workings of government. This is done by creating interactive guides delivered through channels that can reach and be easily used by anyone, irrespective of their level of connectivity. The project is being piloted in Tshepisong in Johannesburg, and in eThekwini.

Third, Grassroot is collaborating with Right 2 Know and on a campaign on the standards and practice of participatory processes, with an intended focus on performance management and public deliberation. Together they have developed an ‘open meeting checklist’ and recently launched a public petition on the issue of national standards for participatory processes.

These activities will be the organisation’s focus in 2018. They are also in the final stages of revamping their web interface and Android app to make it easier to manage, communicate with and mobilize very large memberships. The new platform will allow simultaneous cross-posting to social media, e-mail lists, and SMS, with segmentation and follow-up by province and interest. They are hoping to make it publicly available in March/April 2018.

For more information on the work of Grassroot, please contact Mbalenhle Nkosi, Grassroot’s General Manager, on +27 81 578 2976 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Written by: Luke Jordan


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Sharing the common goal of promoting participatory, effective, accountable and pro-poor local governance, the network strives to provide an interface for civil society organisations to network and share information towards strengthening local democracy in South Africa.