The importance of local journalism to any well-informed and well-governed society has perhaps never been clearer. In Africa, as around the globe, media shapes public opinion and policy decisions on economic, social, environmental and public health issues that have enormous local consequences.
Recognizing the powerful role community media plays in determining outcomes, Mike Bloomberg launched the Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa in 2014 to build media capacity and improve access to the kind of independent, reliable data and analysis that grounds good planning.
Recently, a key strand of the initiative, the Community Media Fund, awarded its second round of grants to help local media and citizen journalists deliver information on important topics such as COVID-19 and help Africans make sound decisions as they go about their day-to-day lives.
Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa
The initiative’s first phase, which ran from 2014 to 2017, was funded by a $10 million, three-year commitment from Bloomberg, with additional support from the Ford Foundation, which has backed work in Africa for several decades. Bloomberg launched a second phase in 2018 with $8.9 million in funding, also over three years.
A main focus of the program is training, fellowships and grants in support of financial journalism. It’s worth noting that Mike Bloomberg made his fortune in financial information and analysis, which is still the core business of his company, including Bloomberg news and the ubiquitous Bloomberg Terminal, a market analysis tool. This latest round of grants, however, has a limited health public service focus, with two pandemic-related grants and a COVID component available in the rest.
The program began its work in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, and has stayed the course in those geographies, which are home to some of Africa’s most diverse and established independent media networks. But it’s also growing. Phase 2 of the initiative garnered support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation that allowed expansion to five new markets: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia. Based in Athens and funding worldwide, Niarchos’ support for this initiative comes from its education portfolio, which has an interest in providing journalists with the resources and skills they need.
Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa has four components. The first is a partnership with journalism and business schools to provide cross-disciplinary educational programming. Since 2015, more than 500 delegates have completed its six-month program, expanding the number of trained local journalists.
The initiative also convenes Africa’s media innovators and researchers at conferences organized around industry challenges such as shifting technologies. The annual forums open doors between attendees, African leaders and international experts, and promote dialogue on emerging trends and best practices.
The third component is the Africa Leadership Initiative’s Media Fellowship Program, which has helped develop the talents of more than 45 media professionals on the continent. Curriculum was created in partnership with the Aspen Institute and six leading journalism schools in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, and is designed to lay a solid foundation for the future of Africa’s financial journalism. Fellows are immersed in a two-year program divided into four seminars. Upon completion, graduates become part of a network of alumni that continue to engage, both formally and informally.
The fourth strand of BMIA is the Community Media Fund, which has awarded 17 grants to 11 organizations since 2018. Work is intended to strengthen media capacity, promote innovation and improve access to high-quality data. The East Africa NGO, Hivos, administers the grants.
Community Media Grants
The first round of CMF grants were awarded to 10 organizations in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa in 2018. Recipients included Media Mechanics, Radio KC and the Graca Machel Trust Women in Media Network (WIMN), which challenges the way Africa’s women and children are portrayed in the media. In all, Round 1 grantees funded the training of more than 250 journalists, created more than 1,000 pieces of content, and reached more than 13 million people.
Recently, the fund awarded its second round of grants to five organizations and provided additional funding to two existing partners explicitly to provide information about COVID-19. All of the second-round grantees can use part of the funding for COVID-19 public service campaigns.
Three of the latest grantees work in Kenya. The Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), a national association of journalists committed to boosting the status of female journalists, received support for the second time. Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT), a community trust that works to advance social, economic and ecological justice, will direct funds toward training young women in four sub-counties in citizen journalism and radio programming. The Mtaani Community-Based Organization will use its radio programs as a platform to promote transparency and accountability, building on earlier work that created an interactive feedback loop on development in Kajiado and Nairobi.
In Nigeria, funding for the Institute for Media and Society will support a project focusing on increasing transparency, accountability and governance, managing natural resources at the grassroots level with six local government areas in five states. Nigeria Community Radio Coalition and five community radio stations are collaborators.
The South African funding partner is Bush Radio, a community station that’s widely recognized for its activism in fighting apartheid and promoting democracy. The grant will allow the station to train reporters from the Western Cape Province’s 10 largest community stations on financial reporting and government budgetary processes, and produce news and analysis programming.
Two organizations received COVID-19 Emergency Response one-time grants to create evidence-based content and public service announcements to reduce the spread of the virus. One of the organizations is in Kenya and one is in South Africa. Both were grantees in Round 1.
Funding for the Kenya Community Media Network (KCOMNET), which specializes in developing community media and resources, will allow the organization to work with community radio stations on local COVID-19 content and fact-checking through six radio outlets. And The Conversation Africa, a media platform that allows academics to share their research to a general audience, will broadcast evidence-based content to communities spanning South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.
Bloomberg in Africa
BMIA advances Bloomberg Philanthropies’ other work on the continent, which includes women’s economic development, malaria research, maternal health, road safety and helping cities reduce their carbon footprints through C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.
Bloomberg has also been on the ground in Africa since 2017 through its Partnership for Healthy Cities, a collaboration with the WHO and the global health organization Vital Strategies that was originally established to prevent non-communicable diseases and injuries.
Since the pandemic, Healthy Cities’ network of 70 cities has doubled as a global networking resource. Twelve cities are in Africa, including Accra and Kumasi in Ghana and Abidjan on the Ivory Coast. Bloomberg Philanthropies also responded to the pandemic with urgency, launching a COVID-19 Global Response Initiative, a $40 million partnership with the World Health Organization and Vital Strategies and Resolve to Save Lives, which has a strong focus on African nations.