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The floor of a farm full of ripen and unpicked pears
The floor of a farm full of ripen and unpicked pears and in the middle of the picture the legs and feet of someone standing wearing pants and sand. Photo courtesy of Ruda Coletiva. This picture is part of photographer Wara Vargas's work related to the impact of COVID-19 in the food chain of Latin America.

As we’ve seen, health misinformation is escalating not only within Western democracies but also at a dangerous scale in emerging economies, where independent media workers and organizations have had to wade through financial, physical, and mental strain. As the Check Global team continued to monitor the ramifications of COVID-19 on emerging economies and independent media organizations, the need to act was undeniable.

Meedan has engaged in a company-wide effort to address our partners’ challenges, whether through building new technologies such as the COVID-19 Check Bot, providing independent newsrooms and partners with a database led by expert epidemiologists and public health workers to facilitate fact-checking and verification initiatives, or contributing to global research about COVID-19-related misinformation. In the interest of reaching out to new organizations in need, the Check Global team announced on April 8 a call to support media organizations and media workers in Asia-Pacific, in Africa, in Latin America and in the North Africa Western Asia region through a series of micro-grants. The microgrants projects ranged amongst fact-checking projects, media literacy campaigns and daily blogging reflecting on applicants’ quarantine realities. We were blown away by the popularity of our call, receiving a whooping 298 applications in less than 30 days!

While overwhelming and heartening, the large pool of applications made the selection process challenging. A few criteria guided us in this process. Originality and the innovative nature of the application were important factors in the selection. Some applications stood out for their creativity and clarity. Applications were also shortlisted on the basis of their achievability — projects that proposed activities and outputs that could be realistically achieved during the current health crisis were prioritised. Finally, outreach and potential impact were also important factors. Projects that strengthened the involvement of underserved communities and represented issues of people in areas outside the radar of mainstream media made it to the final selection process. We had limited funding, but there are many applications that are deserving, and we hope to be able to support those projects at a later stage.

In this round, we awarded 25 projects with funding that ranged between $300 and $2,500, for a total of $52,000. From organisations involved in relief work around COVID-19 to individuals committed to tracking the impact of the pandemic on local communities, - the range of applications was wide, rich and diverse. Given the work they do, some of these grantees face risks of political repression, and we’re not able to list all of them here. Here are some of the highlights from our work:

APAC: 7 Fact-checking projects targeting vulnerable groups

We received close to 40 applications from the Asia Pacific region.

We selected seven applications for media work have been selected from the APAC region for the COVID-19 microgrants. These represent six countries in the region, with a particular focus on Southeast and South Asia — Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. The creation of online content that is fact-checked and accurate has been an area around which a few groups have designed their projects. Open Development Cambodia has designed a project to create an online information hub in order to provide fact-checked information to citizens and civil society organisations. In the Philippines, we are thrilled to support the work of an individual, Carol Dawonlay/Lalang Hu Mga Laga who will produce social media cards and videos to highlight violence against women during the pandemic. BASAbali in Indonesia is in the process of designing a digital literacy campaign around COVID-19 with the underserved and minority communities in Bali.

We’re also happy to support Disability Empowerment Society Nepal; they have designed a project to create an accessible website to provide news and information on COVID-19 to people with disabilities. In India, Sadbhavana Trust will strengthen the leadership and meaningful participation of young women from underserved communities in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak by creating online content from a feminist perspective. International Youth Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka will design a blogging project to capture stories of frontline workers addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Africa: 6 efforts curbing the ramifications of the COVID-19 misinfodemic

We were thrilled by the 170 applications we received from Africa, which made up the majority of our overall application pool. Due to our limited funds we were only able to support six applications from Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Guinee, Tanzania, Zambia. Here are highlights from four of these.

People’s Check in Nigeria is launching the ‘Verify Nigeria’ project to fact-check and verify viral health misinformation and disinformation that has affected people’s health and life in Nigeria. People’s Check will create different visual elements and participate in training students and citizen journalists on health fact-checking training. Radio Daljir SOMALIA will support media literacy efforts in Somalia and design audio campaigns and radio reporting to bring health facts to the public, encourage COVID-19 prevention measures & make social distancing possible. Radio Daljir will target communities in Somalia’s regions of Puntland and Galmudug States of Somalia with a focus on the situation of the nomads. Zéro Pauvre Afrique (ZPA, “Zero Poor in Africa”) will track, deconstruct, disseminate misinfodemics with support of a network of volunteers in order to reduce their impact on the management of the COVID-19 crisis in Guinea.

Family Welfare Foundation’s project will contribute to ensuring engagement of human rights defenders and activists with local artists in documenting, information sharing, reporting and amplifying voices on injustice issues, human rights abuse and repressions associated to COVID-19 interventions in Tanzania.

We are building on the success of the COVID-19 microgrants to create different media funds in Africa that can support more innovative projects.

Latin America: Sustaining the work of 5 women-led independent media organizations

We received 47 applications from Latin America in both Spanish and Portuguese. The majority of the 7 selected initiatives are led by women and are covering the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in their regions. Coletivo Cirandeiras will produce podcast episodes on the stories of women leaders in underrepresented and marginalized communities in Brazil. We will also be supporting the fact-checking work of an alliance of two independent media outlets in Cuba (Periodismo de Barrio and elTOQUE) to increase regional awareness in matters related to the pandemic. Another fact checking initiative Eté Checagem agency works and specializes in human rights and guidelines relating to the women, youth and LGBTQIA population in Brazil. Ruda Coletiva a group of Latin America women photographers, will do a visual investigation of the impact that the pandemic has had in the food chain throughout the region. With the theme “From my window” Coletivo Mulherias will coordinate a group of women journalists living in the slums of Brazil portraying their routine during the pandemic. In Ecuador we will hear Isabel Gonzales and Chicas Poderosas develop a new podcast that aims to inform and support the journalist community in Latin America suffering the consequences of COVID-19 in their work. And in El Salvador we will support the work of photographer Giuzeppe Dezza and his work on documenting the impacts of the pandemic in the country.

NAWA: Supporting 5 investigations and fact-checking initiatives

As for applications from the North Africa Western Asia region, we were lucky to receive 24 applications, both in English and Arabic.

We are pleased and excited to support five projects from the region, divided between media literacy campaigns, fact-checking initiatives and in-depth investigations. Radio Medenine, a community radio project based in southern Tunisia, aims to create a digital health program interviewing health experts and providing pressing health information. Award-winning collaborative blog Nawaat (“the core” in Arabic), also from Tunisia, will be sustaining its trilingual fact-checking efforts through our grant over the next month, while media platform SyriaUntold will publish a series of investigative reports about health disparities in Syria. We were also happy to fund an investigation on the state of African refugees in Tangier and a health fact-checking campaign in Egypt.

The above COVID-19 microgrants recipients have given Meedan consent to announce their projects publicly, while others have not been named for security reasons.

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