Winners announced for the Commonwealth Digital Challenge

Posted by Deborah Kelly

Harnessing chatbot and SMS technology for indigenous communities in Australia and audiences in Kenya are the cutting edge media projects proposed by the winners of the first Commonwealth Digital Challenge. 

The winners are Jessica Haynes, 30, digital editor with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation  [ABC] in Adelaide and John Otunga, 34, a project co-ordinator with Amani FM Community Radio in Tana Delta, eastern Kenya. 

The Challenge, supported by the Elizabeth R Media Fund, administered by the Thomson Foundation, is designed to help aspiring media managers under 35 face digital challenges in their countries.

Congratulations to John and Jessica

Buckingham Palace spokesperson

“We are delighted that the Fund has been updated to help deal with 21st century challenges, helping to ensure a vibrant, open and innovative media across the Commonwealth,” says a Palace spokesperson. “Congratulations to John and Jessica.”

SMS-based "rumour management system"


In his project John aims to counter fake news and rumours that can incite bloody conflict in Kenya. He is proposing an SMS-based “rumour management system” to verify news and relay correct facts through community radio.

“This award is an outstanding opportunity through which an idea will transition into a project in which a community radio and SMS based system will be of significant influence to communities in harm’s way,'' says John.

Chatbot technology


Jessica plans to integrate chatbot technology and Facebook to increase engagement with indigenous audiences and develop a dedicated online news service.

 “I'm absolutely honoured that my submission to the Commonwealth Digital Challenge has been selected as a joint-winner alongside John Otunga,” says Jessica. “I look forward to sharing my ideas and learning more in London in April."

Digital challenge

The winners topped more than 100 entries from 23 countries who submitted an initial 400-word statement outlining a particular digital challenge posed to their organisation, or media sector in their country, together with a potential business case for how the challenge could be addressed. 

Fifteen finalists were then invited to take three on-line modules in digital skills and newsroom management with the foundation’s e-learning programme Journalism NOW.

“John and Jessica impressed a panel of judges from across the Commonwealth, who felt both projects were ambitious and innovative but achievable, ensuring that digital media is used to connect more people to engaging and accurate information, says Nigel Baker, chief executive of the Thomson Foundation.

The winners will travel to London for the week of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April and receive a week’s intensive training in relevant skills, followed by a 12-month mentoring programme by the Thomson Foundation.


About the Elizabeth R Media Fund

The Elizabeth R Fund was established from the royalties earned from “Elizabeth R” - the 1992 BBC documentary which marked the 40th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and administered from Buckingham Palace.

Its original purpose was to help Commonwealth broadcasters who received a donation from the Fund.

Deborah Kelly

Deborah Kelly

Director of Training and Communications

About: Deborah plays a key part in developing and promoting our training programmes and is our specialist  on gender in media. Her recent training projects have centred on digital and mobile journalism.

Explore our projects across the globe