ICT and Civil Society: An inevitable marriage.

In this 21st century, almost everything is at a ‘go’. It is a ‘click, tap and done!’ People are fast, smart, and accurate. They do less and achieve more, matter of fact, they do not move at all but reach out to the world! At least that is what we all have been made to believe. Yet, this generation is one of the most violent, stressed and depressed, angry, hungry but mostly quite destructive and rights deprived  in very many aspects. Had anyone thought about that? Or do we ever think about how much relation there is between technology and certain critical elements to life like food, economy and climate? How the two can complement each other for a better society? Let us find out how strengthening the marriage between ICT and Civil Society could be used as the magic pill to solve the above crises. What is ICT and what is civil society anyway?

Information and communication technology (ICT) can be defined as a diverse set of technological tools and resources used to transmit, store, create, share or exchange information. These technological tools and resources include computers, the Internet (websites, blogs and emails), live broadcasting technologies (radio, television and webcasting), recorded broadcasting technologies (podcasting, audio and video players, and storage devices) and telephony (fixed or mobile, satellite, visio/video-conferencing, etc.)

Civil society comprises of organizations that are not associated with the government—including schools and universities, advocacy groups, professional associations, churches and cultural institutions (businesses that are sometimes covered by the term civil society and sometimes not). Civil society organizations play multiple roles. They are an important source of information for both citizens and government. They monitor government policies and actions and hold government accountable. They engage in advocacy and offer alternative policies for government, the private sector, and other institutions. They deliver services, especially to the poor and underserved. Furthermore, these defend citizens’ rights and work to change and uphold social norms and behaviour.

Civil society organizations today, base on ICT to the extent that without ICT, 70% of their work is impeded. If there exists an argument against this view or an attempt to deny this, then the COVID-19 outbreak was/is evidence enough to defend it.  Almost every section was/is reliant on ICT. ICT enables such organizations to access many government services online, which weakens the beauraucratic tendencies of those who act as intermediaries between the government and the public. Moreover, organizations can use the “social web” to communicate their opinions, suggest possible solutions, expose undesirable behaviour and promote ethical behaviour over long distances very quickly. Most importantly, ICT greatly facilitates investigation and asset tracking. Empirical findings reveal that ICT does indeed have a significant role in reducing corruption, promoting good health and proper diet choices. The question is though, ‘why is there less technological advancement in the area of ICT with regards to the Civil society?’ It can be seen that there is a huge technological advancements in the FINTECH, TRANSPORTTECH and Smart Mobility, HEALTHTECH , FOODTECH, and many other areas except for the civil society where less research and coding has been done to  uplift the sector

The other question could be,’Who is to blame for the failed marriage between ICT and the civil society? ‘

My personal experience when I joined Civil Society was not the most appealing. As a technophile, Civil Society was a bit boring, with no defined frameworks, repetitions here and there, having to co-ordinate with folks who didn’t understand my tech-language/how somethings are done. The civics personel had no idea about how long some things should take in the ICT world of creation before delivery. This created unnecessary pressure in my work and less involvement in innovation of new and exciting things for the advancement of the organization. There were many other difficulties that at some point, made me feel like I had taken a wrong turn. Just as you reading this, I asked myself why my input had to be important in the talk about food rights. Most confusingly, in my first week of service, i was doubtful about how my input was ever going to impact the fight against non-communicable diseases still with the element of food. For anyone in my shoes, this was quite a challenge. I came to learn that unlike in the ICT world that I am used to where there are straight frameworks, coding and software with languages for this and that, backed up by rich literature around everything, the civil society world is contrary mostly for the organizations using the human rights based approach to advocate for food, climate and economic justice. It is entirely different, with time, I started understanding the importance of my role in this chain and  started seeing how the little knowledge I can borrow from what I already knew would be built on to advance a very critical journey. It is therefore for a fact as I discovered that the advocates who speak-up on behalf of those who do not know their rights  or for those who know but are not aware of how to challenge the antagonistic forces, need us, the technocrats a lot. This marriage is inevitable.

However, for the time this marriage has existed, there are a number of things that have not been addressed on both sides. Say for example, there has been very little effort from the ICT world to develop technologies or adjust the already existing ones to make these people’s work easier. Say for example, a human rights organization has to go through the same procedure to open an account on the top social media platforms like a regular business company. It has to fight for visibility like any other company and on some platforms, like an individual. They have to pay the same amount of money to promote a post and reach the same targeted audience like the rest of the world. I find this very unfair! They are basically fighting for all people’s rights and tackling extremely delicate areas of all of our lives and some of them, even risk their own lives for this. They are the unsung heroes who are making the world a better place without whom, there would be no room to enjoy any kind of development. I believe the ICT world needs to make a consideration of doing more than what they are doing now to make the work of Civil society organizations easier. I also believe more technological advancements need to be done to protect these advocates of equality and peace. FINTECH has made the financial world easier, safer and cheaper. Can’t the Civil Society get their communication custom protected, made cheaper and advanced? Can we have more platforms custom made for these advocates? Where they do not have to fear for their lives if they speak the truth against the more powerful figures. Where they can easily express themselves and reach the targeted audience with ease without having to compete with everyone else.  Can there be an easy and cheap if not completely free means of fundraising for their causes? As we speak, there are  a very few trusted donation platforms online (Most of which have unfavourable conditions and charges) compared to the hundreds of inter-continental money transfer apps. Thanks to a few companies like Kobo Inc who have been able to facilitate the civic with open-source software to aid them in research data analysis but I still think there is  more required here and globally. The technology should be made more user-friendly to the none-technocrats. There should also be a number of them up for choice depending on the user’s needs. To a greater extent, there is a lot that ICT experts need to do to spice up and bridge the gap between now and the future that the civil society organizations are advocating for.

To some extent, the  Civil society organizations ought as well to give-in/ aid or fund ICT.  ICT is a back born for most of the Civil society work as discussed above but the budget allocated to this section in most of these organizations does not speak to it. I believe that attention to Issues pertaining to purchase of the best equipment, availing adequate internet, not forgetting strategically investing in development of systems that could change their game like the other sectors are doing, could be of great help in this marriage.

To sum up, as  technocrats, we aim at achieving the result of our creativity and hard work. It feels different when you have a goal that builds to a purpose greater than just money and work credit. It’s a big step having to impact and bring positive change in the lives of the vulnerable through that one strategically taken photo or short video clip, well edited, captioned and shared on the social web and amplifying the voices of the advocates who work to bring justice to the victims of adequate living rights violations. I believe that when the few elements mentioned above by both sides and more are addressed, then there is going to be no hiding place for the perpetrators of human rights and the two bodies, ICT and Civil society will then live happily married ever after!

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