Technology and Civil Society in West Africa: the Advent of a New Era

Technology and Civil Society in West Africa: the Advent of a New Era

We currently live in a dynamic world where people are constantly creating new innovations to find better ways of doing things. Thanks to these innovations, our world is witnessing a new era sparked by technology.  By changing old practices and being at the centre of any activity undertaken, technology has revolutionalised organisational development. Companies, businesses, and entities both in the private and public sector are shifting from old and traditional practices to using information and communication technology (ICT) to boost performance, maximise resources, and improve efficiency.

Technological innovations attract immense rewards to its beneficiaries. However, it is evident that CSOs still lag behind with regards to getting a hold of ICT as they encounter several challenges in this domain. CSOs have so far not been able to fully adapt to this new era of the digital revolution.

I recently participated in an onsite coaching exercise under the technology capacity strengthening project for human rights organisations in Ghana; the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). This experience exposed me to the impact and usefulness of technology to CSOs. I garnered a first-hand experience on how CSOs can use technology to better manage their workload.

The capacity strengthening project is the outcome of a collaboration between the Open Society Foundation’s Human Rights Initiative (HRI) and the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). The project was borne out of the ICT related challenges faced by many human rights organisations in West Africa. The project has the objective of boosting the efficiency of human rights organisations through technology.

Some technology challenges faced by human rights organisations in Ghana

According to a survey conducted in 2017 by MARSH & McLENNAN Agency, the most serious technological challenge that non-profit organisations face is related to data security.

Data security challenges: During the first phase of the project which consisted of a needs assessment, the team found out that the HRAC and the CHRI had difficulties in protecting data. The two organisations had challenges in having a fully operational antivirus. Additionally, CHRI had an unstable server with no standard data backup system. Such a situation is risky for any organisation. Data could be lost from computers and other electronic storage devices in the advent of a disaster such as a flood or fire. Some of the staff revealed that documents can disappear and pop up at any time hence making it almost impossible to access information at particular moments when they are most needed.

Use of outdated software: According to WIPFLI Brittenford System, one of the challenges facing CSOs in this modern era is the use of very outdated software. In some parts of the region, some CSO staff use unlicensed software such as Microsoft Office. CHRI and HRAC experienced similar challenges. Some staff admitted using outdated software. CHRI did not have a facility that could facilitate staff to work online. For example, to edit a word document by several colleagues, they had to exchange several emails. “I can literally not work from home”, a staff of CHRI said.

HRAC and CHRI indicated that the situation was retarding their work and was a source of frustration.

Non-representative Websites: An observation during the assessment was that the organisations did not have representative websites that could effectively communicate their messages to their audiences and facilitates engagement with them. According to WIPFLI Brittenford Systems, a clean and adequate website is the most important asset for a non-profit organisation. This is the only way for them to attract and keep donors, and better communicate about their activities for more visibility.

Insufficient technical capacity: Some staff of CSOs in West Africa do not have the skills to handle highly technically demanding tech roles; to develop or manage websites, set up and manage social media platforms, prevent or resolve network bugs or email hitches among others. The tech lead of HRAC admitted that managing their website was very cumbersome. This responsibility was handled by a resource person whose availability was not wholly guaranteed. This is common with many other CSOs and it attracts challenges such as the untimely updating of the sites, hence no visibility of many African CSOs.

Solutions implemented by the project team.

Although many CSOs in West Africa encounter significant ICT related challenges in their day-to-day work, there exist several user-friendly technological tools that CSOs can use to enhance their efficiency and scale up their interventions and impact.

WACSI developed a three-phase programme to support CHRI and HRAC to address the few tech-related challenges they encountered. The first phase focused on short training to build up the technological skill of the organisations. This led to the development and adoption of an action plan. The second phase focused on the implementation of the action plan to overcome the challenges. Then, came the third phase of onsite coaching and mentoring where the organisations were closely supported.

During this third phase, the feedback received by WACSI’s team reflected very positive changes. “I am now able to work faster”, said Esther Ahulu, Programme Officer at the CHRI. The improvement came after the purchase of adequate network equipment (Windows Server User Cal) and an appropriate configuration and network setup. This stabilised the server, increased its speed and now allows the staff to better retrieve data and work even offline. This gave Esther and her colleagues an experience they never had prior to WACSI’s support.

The organisation also registered with TechSoup. WACSI partnered with TechSoup to enable West African CSOs to access highly affordable and efficient technological tools that will enhance their work.

Thanks to TechSoup, the organisations were able to purchase the licensed software at a highly discounted cost. Some of the software purchased were the Windows Server User Cal, Microsoft Office 2016, Office Professional, and many others. These contributed to enhancing both their productivity and efficiency.

HRAC is currently running the trial version of Office 365. This will improve the mail system and promote teamwork online through the working group system. The software will also allow them to edit documents in live and help them work even when they are out of office.

With the help of the funds made available by the project (seed funding), a proper backup system was built with the purchase of an external drive. This system ensures that all information can be protected and retrieved in the event of a data crash. By securing their computers with BitDefender, data produced and shared is more secured. The acquisition of two new computers changed the game and outlook of the CHRI by helping them work faster.

The IT personnel of HRAC also highly commended the project. “The only thing I can say is thank you. Our old website was incomplete, and all the coding needed to upload a single document or change a simple title was time-consuming and could not allow me to do other things. Today, there is no need for an IT person to work on the website as it is now user friendly. I can now work on other tasks.”

Considering the experiences of both organisations, it is evident that employing technology to the work of CSOs is a game-changer. The feeling of fulfilment, achievement and satisfaction expressed by CHRI and HRAC is indicative that a new era of progress on the back of ICT has come. The joy expressed by their staff is a testimony of the relevance of ICT to development actors. ICT is indeed a game-changer that every progressive CSO must embrace to cope and compete in this fast-paced global society.

 

NOTE: Opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.

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FIIFI BOATENG

Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.

NANCY KANKAM KUSI

Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.

AGNES ADWOA ANIMA

Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.

DORIS ODEI

Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.

PRINCE AKOWUAH

Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

MAXWELL APENTENG

Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.

GEORGE ADU-MINTAH

George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.

IBRAHIM KWAKU GBADAGO

Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.

RUTH YAKANA

Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

BETHEL KWAME BOATENG

Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.

WHITNAY SEGNONNA

Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.

STELLA YAWA WOWOUI

Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.

KWAME ASANTE

Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.

GRACE AKPENE ZIGGAH

Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.

LILLIAN DAFEAMEKPOR

Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

JOHN P. FRINJUAH

John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.

GERVIN CHANASE

Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.

LEANDRE BANON

Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.

SAMUEL APPIAH

Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.

JIMM CHICK FOMUNJONG

Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.

FRANCK A. SOMBO

Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.

OMOLARA T. BALOGUN

Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 10 years progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa. She joined WACSI in November 2009 as an Advocacy Consultant. And later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer in 2010 and Head of Policy Influencing and Advocacy unit in 2015. As head, she offers strategic direction to the institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organized and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality.


Previously, Omolara served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria. She also served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa where she teamed up to design and implement two programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

KWABENA KRODUAH

Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.

CHARLES KOJO VANDYCK

Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.

NANA ASANTEWA AFADZINU

Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.