Reflections on Civic Tech Organisations in the African Continent

Speakers: Gabriella Razzano (Open Up), Nelson Olanipekun (Gavel), Rebecca Chiao (HarassMap), Caroline Giathi (Transparency International Kenya)

This session invited those in the African civic tech space to share their regional perspectives and experiences and explore key trends, challenges and opportunities. The four speakers were from Egypt (North), South Africa (South), Kenya (East) and Nigeria (West). While there were a lot of similar issues raised, certain key aspects were specific to their regional context.

Regional Perspectives on Civic Tech Organisation Challenges

Gabriella Razzano, the executive director of Open Up kicked off the session by highlighting key issues in civic tech funding from a South African perspective. Civic tech continues to be reliant on grant funding from development funders and philanthropies. While there are emerging opportunities for alternate funding, allocation is usually to organisations with a very demonstrable impact on the ground, and a limited understanding of what different forms of impact look like, may prevent certain civic tech organisations from receiving funding. Funding has also steadily decreased as South Africa is seen more as a middle-income country. Therefore, it is important to diversify and look to a variety of potential funders including development funds, philanthropic funds as well as private sector and government partnerships.

Rebecca Chiao, the co-founder of HarassMap continues the funding conversation. Early on, their organisation opted to balance funding with income generation activities and charged certain partners fees for services rendered. However, after the Covid-19 pandemic, most of their income generating partners have pulled out. Chiao explained that they are now down to one donor and are at risk of closure. They have had to begin to build relationships and fundraise again in hopes that they will be able to keep their doors open. 

Nelson Olanipekun who works with Gavel, an organisation working to accelerate access to justice in Nigeria, then shared their experience around funding. Gavel was able to access grant funding but soon realised they needed to be intentional about how to maintain sustainability. They began to look at two key areas: – 1) how could they save better and 2) how could they make better use of their resources. Firstly, they began to cut down on their running costs and secondly, they began to leverage their digital resources to provide services. They are also looking to develop paid apps whose profits will be used to support non paid products and projects. These strategies allow them to still stay afloat when donor attention shifts to other thematic and regional areas.

Partnerships with Government

Another key area of discussion was partnerships with the government. Razzano states that for Open Up, government partnerships remain a strong source of funding and support. They have partnered with government at different levels on a variety of projects. Chiao explained that in Egypt, the government’s bureaucratic processes around the regulation of funding, such as the verification of income, slows down the process of fundraising and executing projects. Olanipekun’s reflections on the government’s relationship with NGOs, including those in the civic tech space, was much more dire. Often in Nigeria, NGOs and the government are at odds. He references the End SARS movement and the government’s twitter ban response. Olanipekun argues that legislation is often used to restrain and silence those that are vocal about challenges and issues faced in Nigeria. He also explains that new legislation is often brought under the guise of improving business, but in reality restricts the activities of civil society organisations.

Caroline Giathi from Transparency International Kenya highlighted that partnerships with other organisations around Africa have been pivotal for their organisation. When different organisations work together, they can seek better funding opportunities and leverage different platforms. Giathi discusses the MediaTechUp platform which collaborates with software developers, investigative journalists and creatives as a platform to encourage innovation and knowledge and resource sharing. Chiao held a different view and explained that for their organisation, they prefer to work independently as they have found that when they partner with other organisations, they lose decision making power and influence over the end product. 

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