Community-led responses to challenges posed by digital technologies
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Community-led responses to challenges posed by digital technologies

Vassilis Chryssos

In the wake of a swiftly changing post-COVID landscape, there is a notable surge in digitization and datafication within economies and societies, raising concerns. Advocacy efforts for digital inclusion and internet rights face fragmentation, with diverse actors addressing overlapping issues. This article presents five cases from the global South, spotlighting challenges related to communication rights, digital governance, access to and control of the digital commons, and other issues posed by digital technologies. These cases exemplify how community-driven initiatives worldwide can collaborate to generate digital and social innovations that surmount these challenges.

Zenzeleni, translating to “Do it yourself” in isiXhosa, is a South African social enterprise dedicated to empowering communities by bridging the digital divide. Their two-tier community network model, developed through participatory action research, fosters community empowerment, education, health access, entrepreneurship, and social change.

This year Zenzeleni completed a multi-year project through which they have done considerable work in (i) organisational strengthening; (ii) national capacity building of several community networks; (iii) policy advocacy, awareness raising and impact activities.

As a result of their consistent engagement, the Zenzeleni networks are well known as a model for community networks and the term “community networks” has begun to appear formally and for the first time in South African policy.

The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) in Nigeria is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation that promotes ICTs for development and good governance.

In partnership with another Nigerian organisation, the Fantsuam Foundation, they empowered 80 young rural girls and women with IT and digital entrepreneurship skills addressing gender and urban-rural digital divide. The project had an impact at multiple levels of the communities involved: at a personal level for the participants who gained new digital skills; at a collective level in terms of creating a shared space of trust and respect between Muslims and Christians; and at a community level in terms of empowering women and their role in their communities.

A year earlier, they had worked with the Association of Technology, Education, Development, Research and Communication (TEDIC), a Paraguayan NGO, to train women media professionals in Nigeria on how to stay safe online, protect their privacy and combat gender-based violence. The impact has been profound, contributing to women’s political inclusion and giving Nigerian women the confidence to have an online presence.

Not far away, in the south-east of Nigeria, in the Republic of Congo, another APC member organisation, AZUR Développement, is waging its own battle against online gender-based violence. Drawing on the experience and digital expertise of a Colombian organisation, Colnodo, they are translating a mobile application into the local context to raise awareness and support victims.

Another Nigerian organisation, Media Awareness and Justice Initiative (MAJI), uses “people-centred” methods and technologies to democratise information, raise awareness, build capacity and work towards sustainable development. Working with the Taiwanese Open Culture Foundation (OCF) and using the Community Networks approach, they are using environmental (air quality) monitoring sensors to generate environmental data in their communities. This data is used to inform local communities and support their environmental advocacy and data-based journalism.

In Argentina, another organisation, Nodo Tau, has been working on the digital inclusion of social and community organisations for 28 years. In recent years, they have focused on the environmental impact of technology, while also working on the refurbishment and donation of used digital equipment for social use.

For the last few years, they have been working with a Spanish organisation, Associació Pangea, an independent non-profit organisation founded in 1993 to promote the strategic use of communication networks and ICTs for development and social justice. Together, they are putting into practice the “Guide to the circular economy of digital devices”, developed jointly by the APC Environmental Sustainability Group.

 

Fantsuam Foundation, Nigeria, empowers young rural girls and women with IT and digital entrepreneurship skills addressing gender and urban-rural digital divide. Photo courtesy of the author.


 

Power of the network

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC), a global network of grassroots activists and organizations primarily from the Global South, plays a pivotal role. Addressing communication rights, digital governance, and advocating for a feminist internet, APC facilitates regional collaboration and global advocacy.

These examples underscore the ongoing local struggles in the Global South for digital inclusion and communication rights for the less privileged. Through digital and social innovation, cross-regional collaboration, and the support of a global network, such initiatives illustrate how we aim collectively to shape the world we desire.

Vassilis Chryssos is an Internet access and digital tech activist. Free source evangelist. Interested in the social impact of digital technology and how digitech can help defend the environment. (Previously an) IoT startup founder in Greece. Currently working for APC as the sub-grants coordinator. LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vassilischryssos/

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