Going viral: what social media activists need to know

Originally posted on The Conversation by author Shahla Ghobadi, University of Manchester on the 17th of July 2018

File 20180712 27039 rcq2a.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Sign displaying the #metoo and #timesup message at the Women’s March in San Francisco in January, 2018.
Shutterstock/SundryPhotography

 

Inspiring stories of social activism, such as the Civil Rights movement and the fight against climate change, abound in history. And it is generally thought that the new social media era has helped cases of activism to succeed. But our research has revealed some major threats, which activists need to understand if they are to be successful in getting their message across to the masses.

Social activism refers to a broad range of activities which are beneficial to society or particular interest groups. Social activists operate in groups to voice, educate and agitate for change, targeting global crises.

Take, for example, environmental groups such as Greenpeace which aim to curb climate change by targeting governments and major manufacturers with poor environmental records. Or the anti-sweatshop movement, which started with a group of activists in the 19th century organising boycotts aimed at improving the conditions of workers in manufacturing places with low wages, poor working conditions and child labour.

Online social activism

These days the voices of dissent have increasingly been carried via the evolving medium of the internet. From #Metoo, #TimesUp and #WeStrike to #NeverAgain and #BlackLivesMatter, social activists wield the power of the internet to pressure powerful organisations.

The group 350.org, for example, is made up of climate change activists. The group uses online campaigns and grassroots organising to oppose new coal, oil and gas projects. Its aim is to get society moving closer to clean energy solutions that work for all.

Online activism allows activists to organise events with high levels of engagement, focus and network strength. On the one hand, researchers suggest that the anonymity offered by online communication provides the possibility of expressing the views of marginalised minority groups that might otherwise be punished or sanctioned. Online activities reinforce collective identity by reducing attention to differences that exist within the group (such as education, social class, and ethnicity).

The online threats

But other research argues that while this modern form of activism may increase participation in online activities, it might merely create the impression of activism. Or it may even have negative consequences, such as creating social stereotypes including those about feminists and environmentalists or getting social activists arrested as is the case in authoritarian countries.

The aim of our research was to develop insights that would obtain better outcomes from online activism, targeting some of society’s most important issues. During our study, we collected data from three YouTube cases of online activism. Our findings suggest that online activism delivers a temporary shock to the organisational elites, help organise collective actions and amplify the conditions for movements to form.

The elites fight back

But these initial outcomes provoke the elites into action, resulting in counter measures – such as increased surveillance to track activists. For example, some governmental authorities intensified internet filtering, blocked access to several websites and decreased the speed of the internet connection to slow down social activism. These measures prompted self-censorship among activists and a loss of interest among the public in relation to the cause and contributed to the ultimate decline of social activism over time.

Our study challenged the optimistic hype around online activism in enabling grassroots social movements by suggesting there is a complex relationship between activists and those groups they are targeting, which makes the outcomes very difficult to predict. As different parties with different interests intervene, they either encourage or inhibit activism.

While encouraging actions can take the form of support (such as the thousands of women around the world who posted on social media sharing their stories under #metoo), inhibiting actions may come in the form of information asymmetry (strategies such as filtering and surveillance) from elites.

Inhibiting strategies are not limited to authoritarian organisations. Senior managers may also monitor email correspondence of staff, set up structures and hierarchies for access to organisational information, and use information provided by secretive companies to check the status of their employees (for example, blacklisting workers perceived as trouble-makers).

Less emotion and more strategic patience

Online activists should understand that the dynamics of reaching collective action might not necessarily be the result of critical thinking, lifelong learning or other dimensions of civic engagement. Journalist Nicholas Kristoff has talked about how the anti-sweatshop movement “risks harming the impoverished workers it is hoping to help” by causing mass job redundancies. Similarly, our main message is that online activism could prompt reactions that will result in unintended and long lasting consequences for the activists involved.

A common and frequently used approach that risks these types of consequences is to share emotive information through social media. While this is used to inform and capture people’s attention and mobilise as many people as possible, our study suggests that more thought should be put into the consequences of information sharing and what information is most appropriate to be shared.

Activists may need to spend more time and energy to create and share information that is less emotive and help people learn about the underlying causes of problem. For example, the activism videos we have researched and commonly see on the internet are essentially reactive and emotive.

The ConversationInstead of focusing on the problem and the need for change, activists can share information that explains why and how the current situation has been created and what can be learned for the future. Online activism in such manner can gradually lead to the development of people who are capable of generating new knowledge and wisdom to respond to changing social environments. However, that requires strategic patience and that is often a scarce resource among activists desperate for change.

Shahla Ghobadi, Assistant Professor, Software, Design, Social Activism, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is Open Data Working for Women in Africa?

Open data has the potential to change politics, economies and societies for the better by giving people more opportunities to engage in the decisions that affect their lives. But to reach the full potential of open data, it must be available to and used by all. Yet, across the globe — and in Africa in particular — there is a significant data gap.

This report — Is open data working for women in Africa — maps the current state of open data for women across Africa, with insights from country-specific research in Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda and South Africa with additional data from a survey of experts in 12 countries across the continent.

Our findings show that, despite the potential for open data to empower people, it has so far changed little for women living in Africa.

Key findings

  • There is a closed data culture in Africa — Most countries lack an open culture and have legislation and processes that are not gender-responsive. Institutional resistance to disclosing data means few countries have open data policies and initiatives at the national level. In addition, gender equality legislation and policies are incomplete and failing to reduce gender inequalities. And overall, Africa lacks the cross-organisational collaboration needed to strengthen the open data movement.
  • There are barriers preventing women from using the data that is available — Cultural and social realities create additional challenges for women to engage with data and participate in the technology sector. 1GB of mobile data in Africa costs, on average, 10% of average monthly income. This high cost keeps women, who generally earn less than men, offline. Moreover, time poverty, the gender pay gap and unpaid labour create economic obstacles for women to engage with digital technology.
  • Key datasets to support the advocacy objectives of women’s groups are missing — Data on budget, health and crime are largely absent as open data. Nearly all datasets in sub-Saharan Africa (373 out of 375) are closed, and sex-disaggregated data, when available online, is often not published as open data. There are few open data policies to support opening up of key datasets and even when they do exist, they largely remain in draft form. With little investment in open data initiatives, good data management practices or for implementing Right To Information (RTI) reforms, improvement is unlikely.
  • There is no strong base of research on women’s access and use of open data — There is lack of funding, little collaboration and few open data champions. Women’s groups, digital rights groups and gender experts rarely collaborate on open data and gender issues. To overcome this barrier, multi-stakeholder collaborations are essential to develop effective solutions.

Download the report to explore the findings and recommendations in full.

When Not to Call a Spade a Spade: The Importance of Quiet Anti-Corruption Initiatives

Originally written by Sabina Robillard with Louino Robillard and posted here

Corruption is a complex adaptive system – it does not stay still while being attacked, but rather evolves to survive in the face of new constraints and barriers.

Many anti-corruption campaigns aim to target corruption directly and publicly. They are clear in their mission and have project titles that include the words “anti-corruption.” This directness is important in many respects, but being so visible makes it easy for people in power to applaud these initiatives in public – and to avoid them, or even undermine them, in private. By the time the project reports are written, the systems that facilitate corruption will have shifted, adapted, and survived.

So there is an argument to be made for combatting corruption quietly – through projects that no one would recognize as being anti-corruption. These projects serve as Trojan horses to help anti-corruption measures slip past gatekeepers and power brokers, and perhaps stand a greater chance of surviving and planting the seeds of change.

In late 2016, Louino ‘Robi’ Robillard was not expecting to embark on an anti-corruption campaign. Robi is a community organizer from Cite Soleil, which is Haiti’s largest ghetto. Because of decades of gang activity in the area, Cite Soleil has been marginalized economically and socially by the rest of Haitian society, resulting in widespread poverty and stigma.

An informal ceasefire that began in 2016 provided a window for civil society in Cite Soleil to take on initiatives that would be more challenging in times of active conflict. A youth club in Cite Soleil called FACHaiti decided they wanted to build a library to provide a much-needed community space for young people to read. They approached Robi for help with fundraising, but Robi pushed them to first pitch their idea to residents of Cite Soleil – the vast majority of whom lived on less than 2 US dollars a day – and see what they would contribute. They called the initiative Konbit Bibliyotèk Site Solèy.

In Cite Soleil, development projects have long been used as a vehicle for corruption and money-laundering. Projects are often routed through politicians, fixers (called abolochos), and gangsters, each of whom takes a cut from projects to fund illicit activities. This is common knowledge in Cite Soleil, making residents skeptical of most projects. In order to help Cite Soleil’s residents overcome their distrust of development projects – even local ones – Robi proposed a campaign of total transparency. Each donation – no matter how large or small – would be photographed and posted on the Konbit Bibliyotèk Site Solèy Facebook page. Then, every Sunday, the money and books would be counted in public at the community radio station and posted on Facebook. Anyone was welcome to supervise the weekly count and compare it with the photographs posted of donations. The campaign became wildly popular, and within the first six weeks, over a thousand people in Cite Soleil had contributed.

 

 

It became clear very soon that this approach was having a greater effect than just building trust in a library campaign: it was changing people’s expectations about transparency in Cite Soleil. Robi’s first hint that this simple project could have an effect on endemic local corruption was when he began getting phone calls from powerful people, saying they would contribute to the campaign if only Konbit Bibliyotèk would stop that pesky habit of making donations public. Several politicians were even more clear, complaining that their constituents had begun to ask them why they weren’t being as transparent with their funds as the library project was being.

But the volunteers stayed firm in their principles – refusing anonymous donations and continuing to publish weekly reports. The project – and by extension, the volunteers – was protected by its innocuousness. If this had been an overt anti-corruption initiative, politicians and gang leaders would have felt threatened, which would be justification enough for them to shut down the project. A ceasefire doesn’t apply to hitmen, any of whom could have been paid $50 to kill an anti-corruption campaigner and make it look like a robbery. But this wasn’t an anti-corruption campaign. This was “just” an innocent project to build a community library. The social media postings were “just” a way to better advertise the generous contribution they were making. Those in power were not the target of the initiative, they were “just” one of thousands of donors. The project may have annoyed or even frustrated people in power, but it was never seen as threatening. It was too subtle, too quiet.

The power of the project also lay in its popularity: with thousands of residents of Cite Soleil having already made donations, there was a sense of widespread ownership that was not to be taken lightly, even by those in power. No one wanted to be seen standing in the way of the library. So eventually, one by one, Cite Soleil’s power brokers fell in line. Politicians, businessmen, abolochos, and eventually even gang leaders agreed to take pictures with their donations and have them posted.

This may seem insignificant to the outside observer. Just because powerful people were posting photos of their donations to a community cause, that did not mean they weren’t still pocketing funds from any number of other projects. But ending corruption requires more than a changing of laws and protocols – it requires changing social norms. And in Cite Soleil, people were getting a taste of transparency, and they were beginning to feel like they deserved it.

The project continues to this day. Over sixteen months since the project began, more than 4,000 individual donors have contributed to the project. Construction of the library is beginning, and the same principles of transparency are being exercised with expenditures as they were with donations. Receipts are collected and posted onto a website once a month for everyone to see; to provide access to Cite Soleil’s large illiterate population, a monthly video called a “visual expense report” is published to Facebook.

Changing the social norms around corruption and transparency takes time. And the social experiment of Konbit Bibliyotèk has been able to continue for this long because its leaders managed to avoid making enemies in a place where death is cheap. They are making change quietly and slowly, not calling attention to the project’s potential to fight corruption. They, and the initiative, may survive long enough to move the needle on social norms around transparency and accountability in public projects in Cite Soleil.

Opening Government in a Time of Illiberal Democracy

Originally posted by Author Joe Powell on the 12th of JULY 2018.

“The era of liberal democracy is over.” Just a few years ago, this statement would have been hubristic. Today, however, those words from newly re-elected Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speak to a global context where democracy and openness are under attack. Human rights abuses, challenges to the basic rule of law and long-standing institutions, and declining civic space have become the norm in many countries. It no longer surprises us when countries like Hungary slide backwards, or when their leaders take pride in eroding hard-won democratic gains. Hungary is one of the only countries to join and then leave the Open Government Partnership (OGP) since it first launched seven years ago.

Despite these worrying trends, bright spots do exist where courageous reformers, from government officials to individual citizens, are taking a stand. Citizen movements in countries like South Korea and Armenia have bravely pushed for change, removing from power leaders who were seen as, at best, tolerant of corruption. Now is the time for citizens to push back on authoritarianism and show the strength of a fairer, more equal, more inclusive system of governance.

In one week, OGP hosts its fifth Global Summit in Tbilisi, Georgia. This is a critical public moment for heads of state and ministers to speak out and join forces. For too long, a strong coalition of leaders and ministers promoting the values of democracy and citizen-centric governance have been missing from the world stage. Too many politicians have shied away from making this case, with some notable exceptions: Mauricio Macri, Justin Trudeau, and more recently, Jacinda Ardern, Emmanuel Macron, Cyril Ramaphosa and Moon Jae-in. These leaders coming to democracy’s defense span the political spectrum, but share common values, including a belief in the rights of citizens to have an ongoing say in how their country is run. Now they need support from a broader, more diverse coalition to take head-on the argument that unravelling institutions and shredding a democratic legacy is the only way to deliver change. It should no longer be the case that the false choices presented by strongmen – between development and democracy, or inclusion and jobs – go unchallenged.

To accomplish this goal, we will need more than mere words. The Georgia Summit must be about action, including in the draft new policy commitments on open government that many national and local leaders are bringing to Tbilisi. The onus is on us to share innovations that help change the status quo and bring citizens and government closer together. This should happen in traditionally neglected areas of public policy that are now the cause of much of the distrust people have in their governments, such as public procurement – the number one corruption risk in most countries. Open contracting is a way to stop cozy inside deals between favoured contractors and political allies, and open up government-generated business to more competition. This open data approach can potentially save governments significant amounts of public money. In the case of Ukraine’s procurement system ProZorro, over US$1 billion has been saved since the system was introduced in 2006 for all government contracts, and the country has also embraced its linked citizen monitoring platform, DoZorro.

These citizen-centric approaches must also extend to modernizing public services in ways that tackle discontent over inequality of access to health, education, water and infrastructure services. Take Kaduna State in Nigeria, one of OGP’s local government participants, which is trying to improve its roads, schools and hospitals. By the government’s own admission, it has often over-spent and under-delivered on infrastructure projects. To address this, the Kaduna government launched the “Eyes and Ears” project, enlisting citizens to monitor government projects. Authorities can be notified through multiple channels –  social media and text messages – on the status of a project. This encourages all to push to deliver better results from infrastructure investments.

The lessons from Kaduna could apply in any context, from OECD countries where citizens expect more responsiveness and agility from their interactions with government, to low-income contexts where basic services are often lacking. Across the world, people want to be heard and influence how their tax money is spent.

These reforms show the potential of open government to save taxpayer money, improve schools and health clinics, and engage citizens in their own government. This approach is ultimately how trust can be rebuilt, and how grand challenges such as climate change and gender equality will be tackled. In this way, open government is not only about the values of democracy, openness, and civic space, but about helping governments deliver better results for their citizens. Now it is time for a new coalition, with members that share these values, to come together and ensure that open government delivers meaningful change to people’s lives. This is how we begin to end the cult of illiberal democracy.

Original article can be accessed on https://www.opengovpartnership.org/stories/opening-government-time-of-illiberal-democracy?utm_source=T%2FAI+Newsletter+List&utm_campaign=12791b7763-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_07_16_08_02_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1a5ff28f1e-12791b7763-431571137

NGOs are adapting to closing space when they must push back

Originally published by Julian Oram & Deborah Doane on the 19th of December 2017, accessible on https://www.openglobalrights.org/ngos-are-adapting-to-closing-space-when-they-must-push-back/

Most development and funding organizations are adapting to shrinking space rather than challenging it, but is this trend inevitable? NGOs need to be aware that closing society civil space is a problem and stand up to the boundaries it enforces on their mission and outreach.

A healthy civil society has been at the center of many human rights achievements and related progress in the developing world over recent years: access to education, healthcare, environmental improvements, and debt relief, to name a few. A free and open civil society is critical to hold governments to account and to deliver on goals of better equality and poverty reduction. Yet in recent years, there has been an alarming rise in restrictions on civil society’s ability to operate, especially in developing countries. This is happening via a range of government measures, from constraints on freedom of assembly to imposing excessive red tape and limitations on NGOs receiving funding from foreign donors.

For international development funders, including INGOs, these restrictions can seriously impede their ability to support local organizations, undertake advocacy work, or even implement basic service delivery programs. But a survey and series of interviews undertaken in 2016 by the European Foundation Centre suggests that while international development and humanitarian funders and INGOs are aware that closing civil society space is a problem, many do not see this as a fundamental threat to their overall missions and actions. EFC did in-depth interviews with twenty-five organizations funding development and humanitarian work around the world, either as philanthropic foundations or as intermediary NGOs. Focusing on five countries in Africa and Asia—Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan and Sierra Leone—these discussions provided a diverse picture of how shrinking civil society freedoms are currently affecting their programs. Staff at these organizations testified that their own experiences are centered around the challenges presented by growing foreign funding restrictions, tighter reporting requirements, and bank de-risking.

 

This information is now part of a one-year collaboration between the EFC and the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society (FICS), which involved different types of funders and actors who participated in roundtables and interviews to devise effective, possible responses to reverse this worrying trend.  The final paper from this project is complemented by blogs from several experts, focusing on their particular responses to the closing space via alliance-building and engagement in country-specific contexts.

One the primary concerns highlighted by this collaboration is that many international philanthropic foundations and INGOs appear to be taking an “adaptation and mitigation” approach to constraints on civil society space. Only a small number of philanthropic development organisations engage in advocacy to challenge shrinking space; most do not. Instead, the “new normal” is simply to re-configure grant programs to ensure that they do not fall afoul of new national laws; others are changing organizational structures or reducing the scope of their work overall; or, they are limiting partnerships and maintaining a distance between the more outspoken spectrum of development and human rights actors. As a last resort, funders and INGOs are making the painful choice of pulling out of difficult operating environments altogether. When this happens, local civil society is left bereft of critical resources to do their work, resulting in a smaller, deflated and ultimately less effective civil society to underpin development.

While conciliatory actions aimed at respecting increased regulatory demands in order to maintain access to a country may seem sensible, our report suggests that they can do the reverse and in fact can harm development aims. Development organizations have had to accept that certain forms of intervention (often involving rights-based work) will not be politically tolerated by certain governments. In some countries funders/NGOs have had to restrict their operations to particular areas, and close down programs in sensitive regions. For example, since the Ethiopian Charities and Societies Proclamation in 2009, many resident NGOs ended their projects and advocacy activities related to human rights, free legal aid, election observation, human rights education, conflict resolution between ethnic groups, women’s and children’s rights and re-oriented their objectives towards development issues and capacity building.

Another extremely worrying aspect of the move to silence civil society advocacy is that, in some countries, NGO staff and local partners are increasingly subject to intimidation, harassment and violence. This is often either sanctioned by state security apparatus, or simply allowed to happen without fear of reprisal. One illustration of this is in Sierra Leone, where CSO activists have on several occasions been victims of death threats and attacks on property. No official statements from the government condemning the threats and attacks have been issued.

Advocates must find potential ways forward for more strategic, concerted cross-sector action and engagement from international funders and development and humanitarian actors. For example, coordinating international development funders’ responses in conjunction with those working on the front-line of human rights, or working through international platforms like the Sustainable Development Goals or the Open Government Partnership to defend the value of civil society space for development. Concrete actions for international funders or INGOs must create more effective support for a more diverse local civil society, with domestic philanthropic support to underpin it.

Potential ways to achieve this include more flexible grantmaking to assist less formalized activist groups and social movements, or investing in local philanthropic networks to ensure domestic backing. For example, some groups that can no longer work in mainland China continue to support programs in that country through Hong Kong-based offices, and there are cases where donors have allowed projects to ‘freeze’ when organizations were under threat, without budget implications. Local groups confronted with new threats and opportunities in relation to civic space also need the possibility to reorient funds as needed.

Leaving the defence of civil society space in developing countries to a handful of actors on the ground is unlikely to be sufficient. Of course, approaches will differ greatly from country to country and oppositional or advocacy measures may not always be the best way to approach the challenge of closing space. Appropriate strategic responses should be agreed jointly with domestic and international partners wherever possible.

The current trend is not an inevitable trajectory, but it could remain if granting organizations do not pay more attention to the issue of closing space and develop stronger responses, aside from merely adapting to the growing list of restrictions. Without an intensive effort to push back against closing space, development interventions will become progressively less effective at assisting those living in poverty.

Watch out or technology could be a ‘colonialism of a special kind

originally posted on the 3rd of May 2018 on https://www.nelsonmandela.org/news/entry/watch-out-or-technology-could-be-a-colonialism-of-a-special-kind

Unchecked and not scrutinised, technology could impose on the world a “colonialism of a special kind”, says University of Johannesburg Vice-Chancellor Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala.

Marwala was one of a panel of experts discussing “Racism in a Digital Age” at a 2 May event in Johannesburg hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, in partnership with the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Harvard University Center for African Studies.

If technology is not examined for inherent racial bias, and if this is not corrected when found, it could impose Western hegemony on the rest of the world so insidiously as to be undetectable, Marwala said.

The dialogue particularly examined the way in which technology is rapidly changing the world, and technology’s increasingly prominent role in the political, criminal justice and social spheres. It also looked at the unintended consequences and complexities of technological change.

Technology can be used for good or bad purposes, and it is the choices society makes that will determine this, said Marwala.

Society needs to recognise that no particular future is inevitable, said Obenewa Amponsah, Executive Director of the Africa office of the Harvard University Center for African Studies. Amponsah is one of the inaugural group of Atlantic Fellows.

As long as people educate themselves on what can influence the way in which various futures might develop and “think outside our created boxes”, the future can be crafted to benefit everyone, said Amponsah.

Science, and especially genomics, is showing beyond doubt that race is a non-biological description of people, said Prof. Musa Mhlanga, head of the University of Cape Town’s Division of Chemical & Systems Biology in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine.

However, even the study of human genomes – the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism – is inherently biased, he said. Of the more than 100 000 human genomes already sequenced, 90% are the genomes of people of European descent, 5% come from people of Asian descent and only 2% have come from people of African descent, he said. This is a disservice to science, because people of African descent have the oldest, and so richest, genetic diversity, he said.

Rasheedah Phillips, Managing Attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, US, and an Atlantic Fellow, said her practice mainly deals with the negative ways in which technology impacts on low-income people of colour in that city.

Black people, especially women, are “again and again” denied housing because any eviction notice filed remains online “forever”, whether or not the eviction was legally granted. Criminal records, also available online, have a similar effect, especially on men, Phillips said.

People from the global south need to create technology that serves their interests, said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director at Equality Labs. The organisation aims to build South Asian-American communities centred on the values of South Asian caste and religion-oppressed migrants. Soundararajan is a Dalit – a member of the lowest of the Indian castes, deemed “untouchable”.

“Technology from the global north is being used to oppress the global south. We are exporting our technology talent to oppress ourselves,” she said. A large percentage of Silicon Valley employees are immigrants from India and the global south, for example.

(Image: NMF)

Obenewa Amponsah, Executive Director of the Harvard University Center for African Studies speaking during the “Racism in a Digital Age” dialogue. From left to right: Amponsah; University of Johannesburg Vice-Chancellor Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala; journalist and thought leader Toby Shapshak; Equality Labs Executive Director Thenmozhi Soundararajan; Community Legal Services Managing Attorney Rasheedah Phillips; and Prof. Musa Mhlanga, head of the University of Cape Town’s Division of Chemical & Systems Biology in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine.

Marwala said his first real realisation of the depth of inherent bias in technology came when he decided to use online hospitality group Airbnb to book accommodation and discovered that the face-recognition algorithms it uses have not been “trained” to recognise African faces. Voice-recognition technology also does not recognise African accents, he said.

Technology needs to be designed multiculturally, Marwala said. Databases are acquiring biased information because of who designed them, he said.

Phillips said she is not calmed by the idea that technology should be “trained” via algorithms to better recognise all – and particularly “black” – features and accents. “If technology is better able to distinguish and surveil us, it is easier to mark us [as bad],” she said.

Journalist and recognised thought leader on African technology Toby Shapshak said innovative technologies are emerging from Africa. An example is the world’s largest mobile money network, M-Pesa. More than half of M-Pesa’s account holders live in Africa. People in Africa use technology to solve “real problems”, he said.

M-Pesa has, since its launch in Kenya and Tanzania in 2007, expanded to Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Romania and Albania.

Technology designed in the global south is often overlooked, said Mhlanga. The largest, most powerful facial recognition technology used in the world is not American-made – it was developed in China, he said. SenseTime makes artificial intelligence-powered surveillance software for China’s police and is one of the world’s most valuable start-ups in terms of market valuation.

Mhlanga said the large technology companies – Google, YouTube, Apple, Facebook and others – have an “unassailable lead” in the global economy, which is “a huge disadvantage” for people in the global south. However, these people can “take our knowledge and build technology that has unassailable advantages here”.

Mapping trends to understand shifts in human rights funding

Originally posted by Authors: Anna Koob & Sarah Tansey  on February 13, 2018

Trends analysis allows human rights activists to see where human rights funding is going, and where it’s not. But what further questions do these findings spark about the human rights movement?

For the past seven years, the Advancing Human Rights research has mapped the landscape of human rights philanthropy to help funders and advocates better understand the field and to answer the question: “Who is funding human rights, and where?” This initiative is a collaborative effort between Foundation Center and the Human Rights Funders Network,along with our partners Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights and Prospera – International Network of Women’s Funds.

We recently launched our latest findings on our interactive research hub. With multiple analyses and five full years of data under our belt, we were able to explore trends in human rights grantmaking for the first time. In this research, we analyzed any grant that met our definition of human rights funding, regardless of whether the funder self-identified as supporting human rights. Grants ranged from multimillion-dollar core support grants to a US$24 grant for a feminist dialogue in Chile.

Our latest data collection and analysis efforts reveal that human rights and social justice funding grew by nearly 45% from 2011-2015, from US$1.4 billion to over US$2 billion. Over these five years, 1193 funders made at least one human rights grant and were included in our research. However, not all of those funders shared data each year. To account for this variation, the trends analysis draws from a subset of 561 funders who shared grants data for each of the five years, 2011-15. Total figures (for both this matched subset as well as the larger sets for each year) are available on the research hub.

While we can’t speak to the unique priorities of hundreds of funders, some have actively devoted more funding to human rights, responding to new opportunities and needs on the ground. The growth also reflects possible shifts in how the data was reported to us: funders submitting more—or more detailed—grants data each year, as well as more funders framing their work as human rights. Over these five years, we’ve encouraged funders to share detailed data that captures the nuance of their work in complex areas of rights. The difference between a grant described as “project support” and one described as “project support to a youth-led organizing campaign to advocate for expanded access to education for immigrants and refugees” determines how accurately we capture the work and how we identify it.

Several issue areas showed notable growth from 2011-15: for example, funding for Environmental and Resource Rights more than doubled, from US$69 million to over US$169 million. This is exciting but not necessarily surprising. The intersection of human rights and the environment is common in conversations among funders, and the data reflects increased funder engagement: 167 funders made an environmental and resource rights grant in 2015, an increase of 28% over 2011.

In addition, funding for health and well-being rights grew from US$145 million to US$257 million. Like the environment, health can sit at the nexus of human rights and other fields like international or community development. US funders who don’t call their work “human rights” are increasingly framing healthcare grants in terms of access and equity. For example, the California Endowment was the top funder for health and well-being rights in 2014; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation topped the list in 2015, in part due to their Culture of Health grants addressing systemic factors that affect health, well-being, and equity. While we can’t tap into their internal strategic thinking, this shift in language and framing is key. Indeed, in 2011, funding from those who don’t self-identify as rights funders accounted for 37% of funding for health rights. By 2015, this cohort’s funding grew to represent 51%.

The field of human rights philanthropy has grown, too: The Freedom Fund, for example, was established in 2013 to support frontline efforts to eradicate modern-day slavery. Funding for Freedom from Slavery and Trafficking has since nearly doubled. FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, which supports organizing among emerging feminist groups, collectives, and movements, announced its first grants in 2012, and funding for grassroots organizing has more than tripled. The creation of these new funds may have influenced their peers—the power of funder advocacy—but they likely reflect and harness movements already rising within the field.

Despite overall growth among this matched set, we’ve also seen notable dipsFunding for disability rights dropped by 23%—the only one of our key population groups to see a decrease. The relatively small amount of funding makes this area susceptible to dramatic year-to-year shifts, but the decrease also mirrors a frustrating reality: the disability community has often had to make the case that they are a member of the human rights family. Ford Foundation’s recent evolution in this area and a report from the Channel Foundation, Disability Rights Fund, and Wellspring Advisors illustrate this challenge.

Another drop was in support for research and documentation, which decreased by 19%. Of the eleven strategies we track, this may be closest to a traditional understanding of human rights work: fact-finding and documenting human rights abuses. Interestingly, as arts and culture and strategies aimed at achieving and sustaining systemic change, such as advocacy or strategic litigation, saw substantial growth, major funders’ investments in research and documentation decreased. We can only speculate as to funders’ motivations, but these shifts align with conversations throughout the Human Rights Funders Network in recent years, as funders explore ways to break out of the traditional “human rights” mold and employ creative new strategies to effect change.

But perhaps the most striking dip is not a trend at all. Overall human rights funding grew each year of the research, but it decreased in 2015 (to US$2 billion from US$2.3 billion in 2014). Some reasons are obvious—for example, the Atlantic Philanthropies, a major human rights funder, had mostly spent down by 2015. In addition, with growing concerns around civic space and digital security, some funders choose to share fewer details on grants. Other shifts raise more questions than answers. Among those who identify as “human rights funders” and those who don’t, does a decrease indicate a shift in their priorities? We may not know until we see the next year’s data.

That’s the beauty of this trend analysis. Year-to-year fluctuations can be influenced by a number of factors, but drawing from five years of data allows us to look beyond caveats and identify consistent trends in the field. We can see where human rights philanthropy as a whole is headed—and where it still has work to do.

But do these trends reflect the reality of human rights movements? Will they continue? How well does this “matched subset” reflect a broad and diverse field? Similar questions can be applied to any big data project. But as we acknowledge the gaps in the Advancing Human Rights research, we also recognize what it represents: a first-ever mapping of the field. We now have data to back up our discussions on underfunded areas and intersections in the field—and equally, we know what we don’t yet know.  A number of questions remain, and we look forward to diving into them and opening up topics of debate and discussion as we share the trends analysis.

This research would not be possible without the guidance and support of our Advisory Committee, as well as the funders who thoughtfully report their data to inform this research.

Original post can be found on https://www.openglobalrights.org/mapping-trends-to-understand-shifts-in-human-rights-funding/

From funding projects to funding struggles: Reimagining the role of donors

Original Author: Maina Kiai published on January 17, 2017

While donors partner with civil society to counter shrinking civic space, their rigid funding systems can undermine progress.

Bilateral and multilateral donors occupy a critical position in the prevailing human rights business model. Their funding is essential for advancing human rights, yet with their current approaches, they may also be inadvertently accelerating the process of closing civic space.

In 2015 alone, serious threats to civic freedoms were documented in over 100 countries. While donors partner with civil society to counter shrinking civic space, their frequently rigid funding systems—which often focus on short-term projects rather than long-term struggles—can actually undermine effectiveness, and hamper support to new movements critical for social change.

Institutional donors now need to critically reassess their role in the human rights business model. Part of this process—which needs to be participatory—should involve a move towards a more empowering system that prioritises long-term and sustainable support to established NGOs and emerging social movements.

Today’s donor models to support human rights causes derive largely from donors’ desire to easily evaluate their contributions and to immediately identify and quantify successes.  They are also a product of the “copy and pasting” of the development or service-provision paradigm to human rights and democracy work. This has been formalised through “log-frame” based designs and “indicator-ism” whereby project success is defined by achieving an indicator, an oft-critiqued model that assumes degrees of causality between donor-funded activity-driven projects and desired social outcomes.

The eagerness to achieve short-term and quantifiable results has pushed human rights groups to devote energy to—and claim successes from—project activities. For instance, an NGO will stretch its claim to effectiveness by attributing the arrest of a government official to an online petition it ran against corruption, but it has no capacity to follow up to ensure a corresponding conviction. Or an NGO will proclaim that speaking at the UN Human Rights Council for two minutes—with hardly any listeners—is an “indicator” of its impact internationally. Holding a number of workshops is taken to be an indicator of “increased awareness.” And there are many more examples.

Yet this paradigm propels associations towards short-term activities rather than towards seizing opportunities in the long-term struggle for social justice. It also creates competition between associations as each strives to position itself as the most successful, instead of joining forces to achieve lasting change.

This is unfortunate, since the major human rights achievements of the past century were— without exception—the result of alliances between various actors, working from diverse angles and with different tools but all strongly united in the “struggle”.

Donors have favoured the supply side over the demand side of democracy and human rights.

In addition, donors have favoured the supply side over the demand side of democracy and human rights. Government institutions and structures have received a lot of “good governance” support, without equivalent investment in the demand side of governance. Even more, civil society is oftentimes told to work with government institutions if they want to access donor funds. Yet this fundamentally denies the independent and crucial role civil society has to play in democracy, and chokeholds associations to the brink of survival.

Finally, the current funding approach blanks out support for social movements, directly by donors or indirectly by existing organisations, as they are not enabled to seize opportunities as they arise, or to catalyse social movements, which have—throughout history and across cultures—advanced human rights and social justice. Whether through associations formed in the workplace, or through people assembling on the streets, such movements often emerge unexpectedly and without infrastructure, frequently now propelled by social media. Often emerging in times of profound crisis, they reflect the organic demands of ordinary people for recognition, equality, social justice, redress and change.

Social movements are often messy, unpredictable and have long-term visions for social change that are difficult to assess and evaluate. Yet, despite their transformative power, social movements are currently overlooked in donor priorities. The opportunity cost of this business model is far from benign. Social movements that have the genuine capacity to address structural inequalities in society—from labour unions to pro-democracy protest movements—are overlooked, ignored and underfunded. Their galvanising potential can be lost, often before it is able to properly form.

Take, for example, the recent wave of peaceful protests in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Where should local organisers turn to for support, capacity and solidarity? Do the legitimate demands of the people met by state repression and many hundreds of deaths, not deserve more and better support than post-facto funded analyses, reporting, and advocacy? As I reported to the United Nations General Assembly, there is a global trend towards the weakening of workers’ rights that requires human rights organizations—including donors—to urgently include labor rights within a broader human rights agenda.

The current dominant approach by donors reflects the unintended negative effects of donor benevolence, and also a paucity of ambition and an abdication of responsibility. Donors should realign their priorities towards supporting long-term struggles for social justice. Progress in achieving human rights cannot be captured in quarterly reports; sometimes it takes generations. Sincere partnerships involve a multi-annual commitment to the cause and priority should be given to nurturing ideas, promoting joint strategies, and advancing grassroots organizing abilities. This must not only involve a different engagement with existing organisations, but also a proactive approach to identifying and supporting new and emerging social movements, and engaging with actors traditionally side-lined within the human rights field (for example, labor movements).

Second, donors sincere about supporting civil society should not shy away from frank interactions with national authorities. All too often, narratives claiming that foreign funded human rights work undermines sovereignty or national identity are used by national authorities, even as they beg for this same foreign funding and support. Further, donors seem to retreat more and more to capitals and headquarters, following social change on their screens, when they should be reinvesting in local engagement, accepting that not all investment yields success.

Third, donors must commit to a results framework whereby seizure of opportunities is favoured over ticking off activities and producing deliverables. This will indeed involve relinquishing a degree of control about the form of the supported human rights work, while insisting on transparency and accountability. Social change, by its very nature, is driven by the people and their associations.

Donor support for human rights and civil society is badly needed in all corners of the globe to parry today’s extremely precarious situation. But a willingness to change and be creative, to invent new ways of supporting rights, is pivotal for democracy and development. Donors, just like us all, need to think tactically to get us out of this position.

Original article can be accessed here https://www.openglobalrights.org/from-funding-projects-to-funding-struggles-reimagining-role-of-donors/

Understanding the economic cost of corruption in Kenya

Originally published in The Conversation, written by Odongo Kodongo

Kenya is perceived as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. It ranked 143 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2017 corruption perception index. The only African countries that scored worse – among them Somalia, South Sudan, Libya, Eritrea, Burundi, and Zimbabwe – were either politically unstable or in conflict.

This poor showing shouldn’t come as a surprise. Kenya has been plagued by a long list of corruption scandals. One of the more infamous was the Goldenberg heist which occurred in the 1990s during then President Daniel Moi’s tenure. The government was found to have subsidised exports of gold far beyond standard arrangements by paying a company called Goldenberg International 35% more in Kenyan shillings than their foreign currency earnings.

More recently, in 2014 millions of dollars were misappropriated from funds that were secured by the government through a Eurobond, which is an international loan that was secured from foreign investors. A second Eurobond was secured in 2018 and questions have been raised here as well.

Yet, the looting of public coffers is more commonly reported in recent times and the amounts involved are growing. During May and June 2018, reports about grand corruption have dominated Kenyan news. This haemorrhaging of public funds will do enormous damage to the country’s already struggling economy.

The scourge of corruption in Kenya must be urgently addressed otherwise it could be bring the economy to its knees. As things stand, Kenya is already struggling to pay its debts.

The economic cost of corruption

The role of human capital on economic growth has long been established. So when human capital takes a hit the impact is also felt on economic development and growth.

Let’s take Kenya’s National Youth Service as an example of a public organisation where corruption is believed to be rife. In 2015, approximately USD$17 million was stolen from its coffers by a network of companies that supplied goods and service at inflated prices.

And this year billions of shillings earmarked for the service were embezzled by a shadowy network of dubious service providers.

This money was all earmarked for youth vocational training. The theft not only jeopardises the country’s short-term skills provision objectives: it also portends irredeemable long-term opportunity costs.

Corruption compromises people’s futures and their development. It also costs a fortune. Rampant corruption will drain any economy of the resources needed for projects like infrastructure development.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at the misuse of funds from the Kenya government’s 2014 Eurobond, which was believed to be Africa’s largest such issuance at the time.

Reports indicate that some of the money may not have been deposited into the national Treasury. In economic parlance, this would qualify as an illicit financial “outflow”: an illegal cross-border movement of money or capital. The illegal transfer of funds out of African countries is a recognised constraint on the continent’s economic development because it denies local populations the use of that money for national development.

The Global Financial Integrity report estimates that from 2005 to 2014 Africa lost between USD$36 billion and USD$69 billion in illicit financial flows. This represents about 74% of all financing required (approximately USD$93 billion per year) to develop infrastructure to service Africa’s growth needs.

In Kenya’s case, the Eurobond swindle was more than just a missed opportunity to expand the country’s inadequate and dilapidated infrastructure. It also led to a sovereign rating downgrade on the basis of its increasing inability to service ballooning public debt.

A sovereign rating is a measure of a country’s creditworthiness. And a downgrade signals that the country has not optimally invested money borrowed on capital projects, such as infrastructure. Capital projects typically increase national income and better a country’s ability to repay its debts.

Finding solutions

Given these observations, what measures can Kenya take to stem the debilitating theft of public resources?

First, a national ethos that inculcates the value of work as the only means to wealth accumulation must be built. A possible way of achieving this is for education policy makers to emphasise social ethics as a compulsory subject right from primary school all the way up to the university.

Second, Kenya’s legal system must make corruption expensive and unattractive for perpetrators by the imposition of stiff fines, and mandatory jail sentences. Another step in the right direction would be to grant both the auditor general and the ethics and anti-corruption commission prosecutorial powers.

Third, the law could be reviewed to ensure that those convicted of economic crimes suffer lasting embarrassment and the greatest possible financial loss. To achieve this, all the proceeds from corruption must be repossessed by the state and channelled back to public use. Convicts would then be barred from holding public office or doing business for several years after their release.

Fourth, strict standards of ethical conduct could be imposed for anyone seeking public office. This would entail full disclosure on the sources of campaign funds, public declarations of wealth and lifestyle audits, and enforcement of voter bribery legislation.

Fifth, the national fight against poverty, ignorance and disease must be intensified to improve quality of life, and empower citizens to perform their civic duties, such as the choice of legislative representatives, in a more meaningful way.

Finally, it would be worthwhile for the national public prosecutor to sign treaties with “tax haven” countries to block or repatriate illicit financial outflows from Kenya.

Promoting citizen participation in fiscal matters: Towards a citizen participation guide or handbook?

Originally posted on https://imaliyethu.org.za/blog/

by author Yeukai Mukorombindo, 7 May 2018

The IMF Fiscal Transparency Handbook and the OECD Budget Transparency Toolkit were launched on the 23rd of April 2018 at the 2018 World Bank Group Spring Meetings in Washington DC. The Fiscal Transparency Handbook provides detailed guidance and describes current trends in implementation of fiscal transparency principles, noting relevant international standards as well outlining select country examples.  The Budget Transparency Toolkit provides practical steps for how governments can support openness, integrity and accountability in public financial management. The launch of these handbooks is timely and very pertinent, particularly for Southern Africa. The Open Budget Index (OBI) is the world’s only independent, comparative measure of central government budget transparency. The last OBI 2017 survey reveals a decline in open budget survey scores in Sub Saharan Africa. Not only were governments in Southern Africa ranked poorly for making budget information publicly available and accessible but they were also ranked poorly in terms of providing public participation opportunities “both to inform decisions about how government raises and allocates funds and to hold government accountable for implementing those decisions.” The Open Budget Survey’sparticipation measure assesses the opportunities governments are providing to civil society and the public. Accessing relevant information on public resource management as well as finding opportunities to engage government in the formulation of the national budget is therefore a significant challenge in the Southern Africa context. The OBI 2017 survey highlights the need for civic actors in Southern Africa to advocate for greater accessibility on information pertaining to public finance management as well as the provision of meaningful opportunities for the public to engage in decisions about how public resources are raised and spent.  Although the launch of handbooks setting standards for fiscal transparency is to be praised and is a step in the right direction, standards and guidelines on fiscal transparency are meaningless and empty if they are not accompanied with citizen participation in fiscal processes.

Why citizen participation in fiscal processes matters

Civic engagement is being increasingly viewed as a promising approach to improving development. Citizens’ involvement in public policy processes and their participation in the use of public funds is believed to be an effective empowerment tool also contributing towards good governance and improved public sector performance. In recent years, a growing number of authors and practitioners have offered civic engagement as the solution to the crisis of failed service delivery. It is believed that citizen voice and the involvement of ordinary citizens in the formulation, monitoring and implementation of public resources can address service delivery shortcomings such as dilapidated school buildings, clinics with no electricity or medication, absent teachers and nurses, the lack of water or electricity and the like. Citizen participation is understood as having potential to improve government responsiveness and influencing decisions over spending and policy.

The concept of social accountability draws from a participatory democracy premise which acknowledges that elections will always be insufficient a  mechanism for citizen voice and accountability. It also implies the right for citizens to hold elected representatives accountable for their performance and their right to directly participate in decision making in policy and governance.  Participation by citizens in public policy and decision-making are fundamental principles of democracy. However it must be pointed out that although citizen participation is potentially a powerful accountability tool, it is often quite dormant and apathetic. It is therefore important to design mechanisms and set standards that help to translate the potential power of citizen participation into action and results.

Barriers to citizen participation in fiscal matters

Leading thinkers such as John Dewey made the case for direct citizen participation by arguing that “citizens are highly capable of understanding complex scientific and technical information.”  The excuse that most governments give for not providing citizens with opportunities to participate in fiscal matters is that citizens are not capable of engaging with financial information and policies. Whilst this may be true to an extent, the lack of capacity (which can be overcome) is only a part of the problem. There are other contributing factors that exist within the context preventing citizens from participating.

Challenges such as economic inequality and the absence of interest can hamper participation by citizens. This therefore means that the capacity for citizens to engage in participatory governance can be constrained by a lack of economic resources, access to information and low levels of education among citizens and civil society organisations (CSOs). Citizen’s interest in participation depends on the perceived costs and benefits of participation. Costs could include time and transportation costs. The costs could also include the perceived risk of challenging public officials weighed against possible benefits such as the transfer of real decision making power over public resources and improved access to public services.

The capacity of citizens to participate effectively in fiscal matters is further weakened by financial information relayed in formats that are inaccessible and not understandable to the average citizen. This often requires translation of documents into indigenous languages as well as the use of visual techniques. However, most governments lack the capacity and resource costs to implement such practices which impacts on the quality and sustainability of the participatory processes.

Standards for meaningful citizen participation

An important component of evaluating citizen participation in fiscal matters is an assessment of the citizen participation opportunities and experiences during the budget formulation process.  Remember being consulted and informed about what the government plans to do with public resources is not a favour, it is a right! Participation opportunities become tick box exercises if they are not meaningful. Not only do citizens require opportunities to participate in fiscal processes, they also require that these opportunities be meaningful. Some guidelines on key features of effective, meaningful and inclusive participation or deliberation is provided by the Institute for Development Studies (IDS).  The IDS argues that in order for participation to be meaningful, it must meet the following standards:

  • Careful consideration, debate and discussion of reasons for and against.
  • Active involvement of multiple social actors and usually emphasises the participation of previously excluded citizens.
  • Social interaction in the form of face-to-face meetings between those involved.
  • Multiple positions are given equal opportunity and respect.
  • Discussion and presentation of positions and perspectives is based on information and evidence.
  • Negotiations, public reasoning and dialogue aimed at mutual understanding takes place, even if consensus is not being sought.
  • Unhurried, reflective and reasonably open-ended discussion is required.
  • Citizens have accurate and accessible information on resource allocation, performance and service delivery

Conclusion

The benefits of fiscal transparency are dependent on citizen’s willingness and ability to attend participate in fiscal processes. In order to maintain public interest in participation meetings, simply organising opportunities for participation is not enough. Citizens must see a link between their input in public meetings and what happens on the ground. Furthermore, to maintain public interest and engagement in participation initiatives there must be meaningful engagement.  This will require that international financial institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, the OECD also work towards building standards and capacities for developing citizen participation practices in fiscal matters. The lack of meaningful citizen participation in fiscal matters can undermine as well as weaken attempts to promote transparency and accountability in the use of public resources.