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Technology within Civil Society Organisations: A Call to Action!

Indeed society is dynamic. Man evolved from Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, Industrial Age, etc. to Technological Age. Technology has proved to be a blessing to humanity when one considers the inventions of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, who has made the use of computers more easy and lively, the late Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and a host of others who have worked tirelessly to make life comfortable for us (Awuni, 2014). “Ultimately, it’s the way human beings, with our vast stores of ingenuity, deploy the power of the technology and tools makes the biggest difference,” says Bill Gates. It has been revealed that more than 90% of projects across Africa are now driven by communication hence the growing importance of information and communication technology. But to what extent are civil society organisation (CSOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Africa taking advantage of technology and its applications in their field of work? 

Notwithstanding the fact that Local and National Human rights organisations in Africa have contributed significantly to addressing a wide array of socio-cultural and economic problems especially over the last two (2) decades, challenges with communication of human rights abuses, effective documentation, proficient application of technology and communications geared towards strengthening networks locally and internationally seem to be prevalent amidst an era in which information technology is king.

With this in mind, the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), selected the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) from Ghana as well as Convention de la Société Civile Ivoirienne (CSCI) and Regroupement des Acteurs Ivoiriens des Droits Humains (RAIDH) from Cote d’Ivoire to participate and benefit from the implementation process of the Technology Capacity Strengthening Project aimed at assisting organisations in West Africa to boost their efficiency through technology. The overall goal of the project is to strengthen the capacities of CSOs regarding their information management systems, software and hardware, data security, storage, document sharing systems and evidenced based advocacy.

Consequently, the four carefully selected local human rights organisations operating in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are benefiting tremendously since the program’s roll-out in July 2017. In the initial phase, an assessment team comprising of representatives from WACSI and the beneficiary institutions focused their appraisal on internal technology capacity and functionality including IT infrastructure. This was meant to gather information about the IT environment and practices within these organisations and also to ascertain how much technology is or can be utilized to enhance their operations and productivity.

Subsequent to an exhaustive and meticulous appraisal it was confirmed that the organisations lacked variedly yet moderately in various aspects of IT applications, especially in areas of data security and licensing of software applications. A common discovery was that all of the data analyses in these organisations are done manually without any use of available technological tools. There were no knowledge of these tools which makes the essence of the Project most ideal for them. Another revelation was that, social media is their most widely used medium for sharing information such as videos, photos, audios and paper documents on organisations’ various activities, reports and other communications to keep stakeholders updated. Yet, archiving systems are absent and there seems to be no policies governing the management of the digital output of their work.

At the end, a two-layer training or capacity building process is being recommended to address the foundational IT systems management and data analysis challenges identified. This leads to the next phases of the entire project which are set to last until April, 2018.

One could gather from the above findings that these are a few of the challenges faced by CSOs and NGOs particularly in West Africa in their attempts to apply technology in their areas of work. For example, absence of encryption means that the organisations stand a risk of their sensitive data being leaked in the event of stolen, lost or compromised devices or systems. Also, there are many more benefits organisations could derive from technology beyond social media. Technology within CSOs must therefore be seen as a tool to strengthen their sustainability and welfare.

Conclusively, technology seems to be the order of the day and organisations are gaining benefits particularly with regards to social media. Organisations must however be empowered to develop and implement their own comprehensive IT policies to strategically maximize the potential of technology in monitoring and evaluation, communications, knowledge management and many other fields. By doing this in a concerted and strategic way, organizations stand to bolster institutional memory and learning and cement a lasting legacy for their work that goes beyond their lifetimes. The attempt of WACSI and OSIWA to empower the technology application capacities of CSOs and NGOs in West Africa is therefore a justifiable and necessary call which requires the support of governments and all stakeholders to reach institutions on a broader scale.

*Perpetual Tindana is an intern under the Next Generation Leadership Programme at WACSI*

 

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Perpetual Tindana

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