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Review: Pollicy

A review of Pollicy, a digital initiative that aims to bridge the gap between government and citizen in southern and eastern African countries, directed by Irene Mwendwa

Published onApr 29, 2024
Review: Pollicy


Project Director
Irene Mwendwa, Pollicy

Project URL

Project Reviewer
Titilola Aiyegbusi, University of Toronto

Project Overview

Irene Mwendwa

Pollicy is an organization that functions at the intersection of data, technology and design to improve government service delivery. VOTE:Women is a Pollicy project that functions as a leadership springboard for women political aspirants and incumbents that leverages digital tools to support their ambitions for civic leadership. VOTE:Women supports women political leaders elected across Tanzania, Uganda, and Senegal. It also focuses on government bodies, tech companies, the media industry, and local African community members, to address challenges that women political leaders face while they are online. We engage this audience to provide them with solutions for how women political leaders need to be engaged, protected, and included in the digital spaces. We harness the power of partnerships, convenings, and co-creating solutions that are relevant to women political leaders by prioritizing their needs and challenges. 

Since 2021, we have used several approaches to ensure the program really responds to the needs of women political leaders.

Research, Documentation and Publications: We have come to appreciate the need to understand the realities for African women political leaders on the internet amidst digital transformation. The birth of VOTE:Women was a result of our Amplified Abuse Report, Uganda Election 2021, which found that women political leaders experienced greater abuse online than their male counterparts. During the dissemination of these findings, women political leaders called on us to design projects that will enable them to navigate these challenges, leading to the creation of VOTE:Women. Women in other African countries, like Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, have also acknowledged that they have experienced online abuse. Our cross-sectional study Alternate Realities: Alternate Internets across Africa showed lived experiences of women using the internet and the challenge of online abuse that they experience. 

Consultations: Since 2021, we have hosted six local convenings with feminists, data experts, and digital enthusiasts, and we have taken part in high-level discussions at the 2022 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and Mozilla Festival 2022. We have also visited the White House and Silicon Valley to influence policies, frameworks, and mechanisms to ensure digital resilience for women political leaders by sharing lessons from VOTE:Women.  

Co-creating an Open-Source Curriculum: To understand the needs of women political leaders, we positioned them at the forefront of creating a safe internet for all. We have consulted more than 100 women leaders across Tanzania and Uganda to understand which digital skills they think are relevant to their resilience on the internet. This in turn led to development of our open source curriculum, which can be accessed by women in their free time. The open-source curriculum offers skills and knowledge on digital literacy and data literacy. 

Interactive Digital Tools: VOTE:Women uses interactive tools, such as our Digital Safetea Game, to achieve its core objective: equipping women political leaders with digital resilience to help them navigate the internet effectively and safely. This has helped us increase women political leaders’ exposure to digital tools and enhance their understanding of digital safety in a fun learning environment. 

Media Engagement: VOTE:Women has also sought visibility to amplify the realities of women political leaders as they navigate the internet. We have involved over 20 journalists across different media and created content about the experiences of women political leaders with VOTE:Women.

The learning platform focuses on interactive content, peer learning, networking, mentorship, and fundraising opportunities to build digital skills that power successful political campaigns and careers. We are currently implementing a two-year VOTE:Women program in Uganda, Tanzania, and Senegal, scaling up from the first one-year cohort. Our aim is for other African countries to create a peer-to-peer network to increase the digital resilience of elected women leaders while performing their civic duties and addressing issues of digital transformation. 

The program’s core goal is to strengthen digital resilience and knowledge of digitization and digital rights among women leaders across five countries in Africa through capacity building, networking, and convenings over a two-year period. We aim to: 

1) Onboard 90 aspiring and incumbent women leaders and politicians onto our open-source learning platform to inform their decisions about interacting with the internet and to affect policy on internet governance. This will take the form of administered and self-paced learning; 

2) Increase knowledge among these leaders on key emerging technologies and digital rights issues, including, but not limited, to freedom of expression, access to information, online violence, and impact of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and digital IDs through hybrid engagements and trainings; and 

3) Convene 30 women leaders to network and exchange insights on important issues impacting women’s digital political participation, such as gendered disinformation, online violence, and censorship, with the aim of encouraging them to push for progressive policies in their contexts

VOTE:Women received funding from the National Endowment of Democracy for 2022 to 2024, after successful implementation of the first cohort of the program in 2021. The Apolitical Foundation’s Futurelect Programme has recognized VOTE: Women as a critical political leadership incubation program for collaborating on for their East African Expansion, and we were invited to co-host other leadership and coaching programs in Kenya in August 2022 after the Kenyan elections. The National Democratic Institute acknowledged VOTE:Women as a project committed to ending online violence during the celebrations of International Women’s Day 2023. 

Project Review

Titilola Aiyegbusi

Pollicy is a not-for-profit digital initiative that aims to bridge the gap between government and citizen through the deployment of data that is targeted at influencing service delivery across African countries. Created as a response to citizens’ problems with trust in government, Pollicy provides support by helping governments identify important and specific needs of the people while also empowering them to be a part of solution conversations. Pollicy’s focus revolves broadly around three interconnected mandates: undertaking research projects that are focused on data acquisition, the use of data for advocacy and grassroots sensitization, and provision of digital training platforms. While these mandates are not exclusionary in terms of gender, the target audience tends to be women. 

So, what does Pollicy actually do? To answer this question, one must understand how Pollicy functions as a digital platform and as an organization. As a digital platform, Pollicy provides several resources such as data training programs, digital games, toolkits, and reports that are designed to help people acquire skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in a data-driven world. For example, Afrofeminist Data Futures is a project that maps feminist movements across Africa, Digital Advocacy Toolkit is primed for anyone interested in formulating plans or devising strategies for activism and policy advocacy, and Digital Safetea is an interactive fiction game that helps users understand the many ways to navigate digital spaces safely. Pollicy also publishes research papers that investigate the impact of digitization on the governments and peoples of Africa. For example, “Towards Effective Data Governance in Africa (Progress, Initiatives and Challenges)” reports on the state of data governance across Africa; “Byte Bullies'' investigates the role of social media platforms in perpetuating online violence against women in politics using the Kenya general elections in 2022 as a case study; and “(In)visible” explores the implication of digital threats made against Muslim Women Human Rights Defenders located in the Greater Horn of Africa. With this mix of resources, Pollicy’s digital platform becomes a space that appeals to government agencies, academic institutions, advocacy groups, and individuals. 

As an organization, Pollicy organizes both online and in-person seminars, art exhibits, and community engagement programs. Some of these programs include "DATA Ladies," a community engagement initiative that equips young professionals, especially women, in Uganda and other East African regions with the skills required for success in the data industry; “VOTE:Women,” a training program that prepares women for leadership and community service; “Art and Covid Misinformation Project,” a grassroots awareness project targeted at “socially excluded” low-income communities that have limited access to information; and “Digital Ambassadors,” an initiative run in selected universities in Uganda and Tanzania aimed at creating a network of young people who are equipped with digital safety skills and positioned to take advantage of digital opportunities in a fast-paced world.

While Pollicy is a useful platform for institutions and individuals interested in acquiring digital training, accessing data for advocacy, or engaging in community development, its outreach appears to be limited to Eastern and Southern African countries and may exclude a significant percentage of African communities. It would be interesting to see how Pollicy scales up its services, and how this expansion might influence the quality of work it produces, and by extension, digital literacy in Africa.

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