Google Impact Challenge Africa

The Google Africa team that made it all possible.

#GICAfrica: Google shows support for South African social initiatives

The Google Impact Challenge Africa was launched in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria in May 2018 as a way for Google to support nonprofit and social enterprise innovators.

Google Impact Challenge Africa

The Google Africa team that made it all possible.

The Google Impact Challenge team received more than 5,000 entries from social enterprises, and the panel of judges had the Herculean task of rounding that down to 12 finalists.

Google committed to sharing $2 million in grants between the 12 finalists, along with training and assistance. Four entrants walked away with $250 000 and the eight runners-up each received $125 000. The finalists were judged on the impact they have on the community, as well as their innovation, reach, and feasibility.

Judges on the night included singer and entrepreneur Yvonne Chaka Chaka, HuffPost SA editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee, South African actress Nomzamo Mbatha, businesswoman & TV personality Basetsana Kumalo, artist and activist Simphiwe Dana, entrepreneur and TV presenter Maps Maponyane, computer scientist and entrepreneur Rapelang Rabana, along with Sector Lead Retail and Finance at Google SA, Bryan Nelson.

The Awards Ceremony was held at The Birdhouse in Braamfontein on Thursday evening, 28 November. Each of the finalists gave a brief presentation and answered questions from the judges, before the four winners and eight runners-up were selected.

Memeza Shout Crime Prevention won the People’s Choice Award, along with $250 000. We had the privilege of speaking with CEO and founder Thulile Mthethwe, who said being part of Google Impact Challenge Africa taught her how to be strong, resilient, and that the best lessons are learned from other people. She added:

“[Being selected as a finalist means] we are doing the right thing, we’re doing it the right way, and we should not give up. We should go on because crime and gender-based violence affect all of us.”

MeMeZa was founded in 2012 and specialises in providing “affordable, innovative Connected Community Safety Technology, with a special focus on the most vulnerable people in society.”

Also walking away with a $250 000 prize, was Corruption Watch: BUA MZANSI, Gradesmatch, and RLabs (Zlto Digital Platform). Gradesmatch is a comprehensive career guidance tool to assist learners and has already impacted more than 80,000 students in South African and Namibia.

Founders Unathi September and Lebogang Diale said it’s good to be recognised for what they’re trying to do and for the impact they try to create because there is a gap when it comes to career guidance in South Africa, which in turn causes youth unemployment.

“Our solution is to stop it at the ground roots level, where it starts at high school, and show learners the career paths they can pursue. […] and making things more realistic for them as opposed to thinking that there are no options and no possibilities.”

Being part of the Google challenge helped them to tackle their project more strategically to facilitate growth, instead of being solely focused on the daily operations of the business.

Quirky30, one of the runners-up, provides free training in technology skills that are most in demand in the marketplace today. CEO Sihle Tshabalala from Langa told the audience that as a teenager, he had no aspirations to go to university and turned to the only role models he knew: gangsters, drug lords and armed robbers. He added:

“I was 19 years old when my luck ran out, and I went to prison for 11 years.”

Today, his company also runs a coding initiative in prisons in the Western Cape. Quirky30 is the first NPO in Africa to teach both men and women offenders to code.

When asked how Quirky30 is dealing with the stigma of hiring or employing formerly incarcerated persons, Tshabala answered:

“I always tell people if you are looking for entrepreneurs, go source them in prison because there only three qualities that make up a successful entrepreneur. One, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur you have to know how to hustle and in prison, we have the best hustlers. Two, you must have the courage to take risks, and in prison, you’ll find the best risk-takers. Three, you have to know how to network, and in prison, you have the best networkers. It’s just that they choose the wrong purpose in life, which is crime. That’s the problem. Just imagine, if you can teach them digital technology skills, they’ll be the people who come out and start businesses to revolutionise countries.”

Tshabalala told us that his vision has always been to enable his beneficiaries, to give them the opportunities to dream differently:

“Just because they are born in disadvantaged backgrounds, that does not determine their end destination in this life. Within them, they have the grandest weapon called ‘choice,’ meaning that they can always choose differently. And with the choices they make today, that determines what their end destination will look like.”

Congratulations to all the winners and runners-up. They are:


Corruption Watch: BUA MZANSI – An online interactive website to enhance public participation and transparency in policing.

Gradesmatch: A platform to serve as a comprehensive career guide, designed to map career data for learners, parents and teachers/mentors to help them make well-informed career decisions.

MeMeZa Shout Crime Prevention: Bringing safety to vulnerable people through a Public Community Alarm System

RLabs Zlto Digital Platform: A mobile and blockchain platform that tracks and incentivises positive behaviour in youths.


Clothes to Good: Helping mothers of children with disabilities to find financial independence in a green eco-system via clothing recycling.

GreenFingers Mobile: A digital solution to enable small and emerging farmers to access the market.

hearX Group: Ears and Eyes for Education (3E) – an mHealth supported community-based programme.

mLab CodeUp: Matching coders to community startups to build prototypes and gain practical work experience.

Quirky 30 NPC: Quirky 30 provides free training in technology skills that are most in demand in the marketplace today (coding, design, cloud, entrepreneurship)

Saide’s African Storybook initiative: An offline app to create and publish illustrated digital African storybooks with young children.

The Makerspace Foundation: The MakerSpace offers tools, technology, training and physical work space to enable people to make things that improve the world around them.

The Youth Employment Service: A business-driven collaboration with government that offers a disruptive approach to South Africa’s youth unemployment challenge.