Digital skills and citizens’ digital rights
2007 Tutu Fellow Gbenga Sesan’s Tutu Fellowship community project has evolved over the years into his life’s work. He started it as Ajegunle.org, and now, more than a decade later it is the Paradigm Initiative. The programme saw its beginnings in Nigeria, but has gone on to becoming pan-African in scope, offering digital policy to nation states, with funders that include Google, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Paradigm Initiative is a non-profit social enterprise that builds Information and Communications Technology-enabled support systems and advocates for digital rights in order to improve the livelihoods of underserved young Africans. Its digital inclusion programs train young people from underserved communities in digital skills, so they can be connected to opportunities in the digital economy. Some examples are trainees like Famous Onokurefe who is now a Senior Associate at KPMG Nigeria and Esther Olatunde, a Product Engineer at Intercom.
Paradigm Initiative's digital rights advocacy programme is focused on the promotion of a positive rights environment and support of public policy towards internet freedom in various regions of Africa. With offices in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe, their policy advocacy efforts include media campaigns, coalition building, capacity building, research, report-writing, hosting the annual bi-lingual pan-African Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum, and promotion of Digital Rights and Freedom legislation.
Gbenga's organization has worked to advance Internet freedom in Africa and implemented large multi-country programmes and managed funding from organizations such as the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and Google.org. Paradigm Initiative has a robust partnership network made up of non-profits, youth groups, businesses, international organizations and government agencies who provide opportunities to the communities that it works with.
Paradigm Initiative organized the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF) in Nigeria and championed the drafting of, advocacy for and eventual passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill by the House of Representatives and the Senate in Nigeria. The organization has strong competencies in advocacy, media and communications, capacity building, research and coalition building. It has organized Internet Policy Training/Digital Rights Workshops across Africa - in Cameroon, Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia. It has also led efforts to promote freedom of expression and privacy by challenging surveillance regimes in the Gambia and Nigeria and intervening in Digital ID programs in Kenya and Nigeria. It has trained security agencies on privacy and other citizen rights in Nigeria; parliamentarians on digital rights in Malawi, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; and engaged at the highest level to ensure internal government accountability on digital rights. It has brought stakeholders together to strategize on navigating oppressive environments where freedom of expression has been under threat, such as in The Gambia and Tanzania and challenged governments on Internet shutdowns around elections. It did so in Cameroon and Ghana. Its policy work has included developing frameworks for rights-respecting legislation in Cameroon, Gambia, Malawi, Nigeria, and Togo.