A huge population can prove an asset rather than a liability. This counter-Malthusian thinking has been vindicated by many countries in southeast Asia, China, India, and Indonesia, for example. These countries’ emergence as major economic forces in global reckoning owes as much to their population as their management skills and policies. This much however cannot be said for Africa. The continent has, for the most part, laboured under a seemingly intractable population burden, having failed woefully to harness its own demographic potentials. The many reasons for this are not the subject of this account though. Instead, we wish to focus on the efforts of an organization sufficiently bothered by the situation to desire to do something about it. Enter Paradigm Initiative, a change agent of an NGO.
The energy and latent potency of every population lie in its youths. The neglect of this section of the population portends grave danger to any community. Southeast Asia’s success story is anchored on its investment on the young. The story is different in Africa, but Paradigm Initiative has come to change the narrative. Having invested heavily in an ICT-enabled support system, with Nigerian youths in mind, it has created a roadmap towards youth empowerment and national economic revival.
Background and Vision
Founded in 2007, Paradigm Initiative works towards the recognition of digital inclusion and internet freedom as a basic human right. It believes that if made available, such rights would enable many Africans, especially young people, to attain economic freedom. Hence, it visualizes a society where the livelihood of young people is improved as a result of their access to the internet and their ability to use other digital tools. The organisation works to ensure that young people between the ages of twelve and twenty-eight are able to fully utilize digital tools in an environment free of unnecessary governmental policing or restrictive policies that stifle innovation.
Digital rights and freedom, accessibility of the internet, and social policy that encourages constant and productive engagement with digital technology are what the organisation advocates for many African countries. When young people are able to fully maximise the potentials and advantages that digital technology affords in a free and non-repressive society, innovation thrives and so does the overall development of the nation. As drivers of economic development and the labour force, young people can determine the fate of any economy, for the better or the worse. Therefore, a youth-dominated labour force that is vibrant and skilled in ICT can make a world of difference in an economy. This becomes even more imperative in a global economy primarily driven by digital technology and e-commerce.
To achieve its vision, the organisation employs a range of approaches. One of these is its strong advocacy in favour of digital rights in Africa. This entails concerted lobbying of African governments to promote digital rights and inclusion in their various countries. For some African countries, what is needed is the expansion of digital access to parts of their populace that do not have internet coverage or digital literacy. The idea is for governments in Africa to create the right structures and incentives to expand digital reach and literacy. Similarly, the organization seeks to intervene in the formulation of government policies that guide the use of the internet and digital technology in Africa. It believes that through government-private sector partnerships the right kind of framework can be developed to advance digital technology on the continent.
As part of its policy-influencing activities, the organisation in 2013, established an ICT Policy office in Abuja. The office was established to focus on ICT-Policy related issues and the pursuit of freedom of internet use. Dedicated to ICT capacity building, the office helps educational institutions and non-profit organisations to develop digital capability, to deploy ICT for digital security, and to promote online and social media advocacy. It also monitors legal and policy frameworks on ICT in Africa, publishing regular reports about the state of the internet and freedom of its use within the continent.
Another pivotal medium by which it promotes digital rights and inclusion in Africa is trainings. This in fact forms the arrowhead of its strategies to empower African youths. These trainings are run to bridge the gap between those who already have digital competency and those who do not. Two of the programmes in this regard stand out in the form of L.I.F.E and Techtiary.
L.I.F.E. is the acronym for Life skills, Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship. It is a capacity-building programme for under-served youths who lack access or financial ability to gain digital and life skills to compete favourably in the marketplace. For the youths who are already in one form of employment or another, they are given training to help them do better in their various workplaces. The training programme focuses on young people who do not have the financial means to acquire these skills.
By targeting under-served communities (that is, communities with minimal access to the internet and/or digital technology) Paradigm Initiatives can reach only under-served individuals in the target communities, relying on a unique selection process. Young people within the ages of twelve and twenty-eight are thereafter provided access to web-enabled technologies, digital literacy training, entrepreneurship, and online work training. Before the actual training though, an orientation session is held for the selected participants, as well as their parents or guardians. The orientation enables the organizers to outline the details, training requirements, conduct, and discipline expected of the participants. This helps to curb cases of truancy and other untoward acts. Each participant is apprised of what is expected of him or her and what he or she should expect to gain from completing the training programme. Places that have already benefited from the programme include, Ajegunle in Lagos, Dakata in Kano, and Aba in Abia State.
The Techtiary programme caters to the dearth of technology-based entrepreneurship among tech-savvy young people in Nigeria. Due to the high rate of unemployment, there is a need to keep young people, and in this case, those that are technology-inclined, profitably engaged. Entrepreneurship is the panacea that the organisation offers through its Techtiary programme. Seeing that a steadily growing number of today’s higher education graduates possess some digital technology skills, the Techtiary programme provides a place where such individuals can be nurtured and developed into technopreneurs. It also provides a platform where they can showcase their work, connect with a network of other budding technopreneurs, and share technology business ideas on a sustainable basis. One such platform is the Techtiary club found in a number of higher education campuses in Nigeria.
Organized and run by students who are technology enthusiasts, the clubs are created to help tech-savvy students unlock opportunities and potentials that could be useful for them in the workplace after school. They also promote self-engagement among the student club members by providing the space and atmosphere for them to assign product development assignments among themselves. Such engagements enable the students to unleash their creative genius towards developing useful technological products that could be of economic value to them after school. Universities that already have these clubs include Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; University of Lagos, Akoka; Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka; University of Ilorin, Ilorin; Federal University of Technology Akure; Bayero University Kano; Yaba College of Technology, and a few others.
Paradigm Initiative is run by a team of young researchers and digital natives. The activities and projects of the team are directed by an Executive Director, ‘Gbenga Sesan, who has many years of experience consulting for international organizations such as Microsoft, Harvard University and a number of United Nations agencies.
Okunoye, Babatunde. “Digital Rights and Inclusion Advocacy is Making Impact Despite Challenges.” The Guardian, 8 May 2019. https://guardian.ng/technology/digital-rights-and-inclusion-advocacy-is-making-impact-despite-challenges/ Accessed 17 July 2019.