The government agencies interviewed seem to have an almost identical definition of digital infrastructure as the building block of thriving information and communications technologies (ICTs), and also have a similar interest in funding digital infrastructure (DI) which is to target funding intervention that will improve the delivery of communications services (voice and internet) to underserved and unserved communications within their country of operation. As a matter of fact, telecommunications and internet penetration rate continues to be low in West Africa and various national governments in this region have in place programs to see that the penetration level improves.
On the other hand, Interledger Foundation and USAID although have different interpretations of what constitutes DI, funding programs seem to be concentrated on improving, creating, and/or maximizing opportunities in the digital economy. While Interledger Foundation seems to be focused on the broad area of financial inclusion using the interledger protocol, USAID appears to be more involved in providing private capital to maximize digital economy opportunities in West Africa.
With the exception of Interledger Foundation, none of the funders interviewed had an existing program that specifically targets any form of open source innovation.
“[...] there exist serious gaps in the delivery of basic communications connectivity services to unserved and underserved communities.”
Digital Infrastructure Funding Landscape
All the funders interviewed have in place a formalized structure for funding DI projects. While the structure adopted by the government agencies is based on the provision of local public procurement rules whereby solicitations are made to potential partners (in most cases companies) who would be awarded the contracts of executing these programs for the government agencies. In some cases, if these companies are already licensed telecom providers in the country, some of their operations could be subsidized through this funding. For both government agencies, the funding for DI programs is a specific fund appropriated from the national budget, and the need for specific funding intervention is based on findings made by an access gap study undertaken by this category of funders.
The funding process for both Interledger Foundation and USAID are somewhat similar in that both have different funding programs based on select parameters in which an open solicitation is made to potential grantees. However, in the case of USAID, rule of law is a key consideration in the West African countries where such grants are to be made.
- A key challenge among funders is the absence of any authoritative external resource material that provides a common and easily scalable strategy for funding DI projects to which they could easily refer to guide their funding decisions.
- Multilateral funding organizations (such as USAID) tend to have their own internally developed resources which are designed in accordance with conditions and terms for implementation as well as the aspirations of host countries. This will be a challenge for external resources to be adopted.
- Providing a common approach in funding digital infrastructure (DI) projects as well as recommendations on how funding strategies can be executed in a variety of scenarios would enhance the ability and flexibility of DI funders to make funding decisions for sustainable DI projects.
- There are serious gaps in the delivery of basic communications connectivity services to unserved and underserved communities in West Africa.