Challenges of funding for journalism innovation

 By Demba Kandeh

Funding for innovations generally constitute a huge challenge for innovators across different parts of the world. Across different fields, not least in journalism innovation, funding is often a nightmare for many great ideas.

A poster wrote with "Evolving Citizen Jou...
A poster at a 2007 Citizen Journalism Unconference.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While government institutions, business corporations, non-governmental organisations and research units all maintain so-called “funds for innovation,” ordinary people increasingly continue to face challenges for funding their innovative ideas. Whereas some have succeeded in garnering the necessary basic funding to start off their ideas, many more especially in developing countries are challenged by lack of funding. The following are often cited as reasons for lack of funding:

Too small to be noticed
Many great innovations start small and when they succeed they become larger and larger. Facebook started as a social network for a very small group of users but today it is global. The funding community should therefore, look into addressing that oversight on small projects, which has the potential to grow and make huge impact.

Non-conformity

Cover of "The Innovator's Dilemma: When N...
Cover via Amazon

Some innovations are not just too little to be noticed but they do not necessarily follow a “normal pattern” in the innovation world. Every profession, group or sub group have what they consider their “norms”. So for one to be considered as part of that group, you have to follow these so-called norms. This is partly in line with what Harvard professor described as “disruptive innovation”. In his 1997 book titled: “The Innovator’s Dilemma“, Clayton Christensen described how great innovations do not necessarily have to be radically new.

Global vs local solution
Funding opportunities are mostly available for innovations that addresses causes that more widespread. Small scale innovations whether in journalism or otherwise targetting specific issues at local levels often are overlooked by funders. Very often than not grantors fund projects that will presumably impact larger numbers of people for good. Whereas it is a legitimate argument to go for maximum impact, it is also important to note that maximum impact is not only in numbers.

10th Global IGF
During the 10th global Internet Governance Forum held at Joao Pessoa, Brazil in November 2015, experts discussed about bringing funding mechanisms for Internet development closer to the multi-stakeholder community. Stakeholders indicated different approaches to support innovation on the field as well as efforts to identify what they have in common and what challenges they faced to reach out to the innovators on the field, to establish partnerships and the constant search for sustainability. The speakers and the audience highlighted the importance of training, mentoring and networking to be offered on business development, evaluation, and communication to position innovators as recognized contributors to the development of the Internet, specially those coming from the developing world.

The easternmost point in America, Faro do Cabo...
The easternmost point in America, Faro do Cabo Branco in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During one of the workshops, they highlighted how funding for Internet innovation operates, the differences with other sectors, deepening the understanding of the Internet community collectively, as well as explored solutions together. Also in light of the publication of the new Sustainable Development Goals in August 2015, participants looked into the link between funding opportunities to achieve Goal #9 “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation” where 9c set the objective of “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”.

Overall we all agree that all innovators should have access to funding their worthy ideas and people from different groups and sections of society should be included. There are many opportunities created by aid agencies, philanthropists, governments, Corporate Social Responsibility programs and venture capital among others for innovators. However, we should also note that innovations do not have to be “crazily” new with the potential to solve global problems. Furthermore, equal opportunities should be accorded to small scale and disruptive innovations that are targeted to specific groups and regions.

The author, Demba Kandeh is a journalist and blogger. He tweets at @saadems