Practitioner Fellow, Digital Civil Society Lab, Stanford PACS
‘Gbenga Sesan was a Non-Resident Fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab (2019-2020, 2020-2021).
‘Gbenga is the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, a pan-African social enterprise working on digital inclusion and digital rights through its offices in Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia. Prior to starting Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga led the Lagos Digital Village, a joint project of Junior Achievement of Nigeria, Microsoft and Lagos State Government. Originally trained as an Electronic & Electrical Engineer at Obafemi Awolowo University, he completed Executive Education programs at Lagos Business School, New York Group for Technology Transfer, Oxford University, Harvard University, Stanford University, Santa Clara University and University of the Pacific. ‘Gbenga’s consulting experience includes assignments completed for numerous institutions, including Microsoft, Harvard University and United Nations agencies, among others, in over 30 countries. A Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year and former member of the United Nations Committee of eLeaders on Youth and ICT, he is a CyberStewards Fellow, Crans Montana Forum Fellow, Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow, Ashoka Fellow, Our Common Future Fellow and Cordes Fellow. ‘Gbenga served as a member of the Presidential committees on Harmonization of Information Technology, Telecommunications and Broadcasting Sectors (2006) and Roadmap for the Achievement of Accelerated Universal Broadband Infrastructure and Services Provision (2013), and was listed by CNN as one of the Top 10 African Tech Voices on Twitter and by Ventures Africa as one of 40 African Legends Under 40. ‘Gbenga is married to Temilade Sesan, PhD, an expert on Energy Poverty and Development.
Ayeta: Proactive Toolkit for African Digital Rights Actors
Project Lead: ‘Gbenga Sean
The ayeta project will develop a Digital Rights Toolkit that can prepare civil society actors for when their work puts them in harm’s way. From Algeria to Zimbabwe, civil society actors – especially those on the frontlines of human/digital rights advocacy – continue to face challenges as governments clamp down on a group that seeks to maximize the opportunities that the Internet provides as a public space that remains fairly open compared to traditional channels used previously. While the toolkit will focus on the entire continent, it will be sensitive to unique national and regional contexts. The development of the toolkit will build on stakeholder mapping exercises completed by Paradigm Initiative, and other partners, as well as feedback from 6 years of training at Paradigm Initiative’s digital rights workshops. The toolkit will include learning materials on general introduction to digital rights, tips for digital security, case studies to learn from, among others. In addition to these, an explainer section of the kit will highlight, define and contextualize key terms that are used by experienced digital rights actors. The toolkit will also, subject to verification of its need by actors, include links to model policy briefs of key issues, model press releases that can be used around incidents, model coalition statements that can be used for regional (or far-reaching national) incidents and details of digital rights actors (who will be potential action and resource partners). The tool will also include an events’ calendar that will be relevant towards networking opportunities by actors.
The preparation for the development of the toolkit will build on the stakeholder mapping exercise completed by Paradigm Initiative, the project’s research assistant, other partners, as well as feedback from 6 years of training at Paradigm Initiative’s digital rights workshops. This will be followed by meeting with various stakeholders in order to verify and add to the list of identified tools needed for digital rights work as at-risk actors. Apart from African civil society actors who daily face the challenges that the toolkit seeks to prepare them for, the academic community at Stanford will be able to provide input into how similar tools have been developed/deployed, and also serve as a community that will provide feedback at various stages of the project, including immediately after the toolkit content is finalized, when the structure of the kit is being finalized, once the draft version is released for testing, during the testing process and after the first version is launched. Through the life of the project, various stakeholders will be consulted for birds’ eye view feedback, and rigorous testing of the tools.
After the initial consultations that verify and help update the elements of the toolkit, expected to start in February and end in April 2020 (to coincide with the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum that hosts over 300 African digital rights actors from over 35 countries), the first version of the tool will be developed between May and August 2020. The first version will be discussed with an expert panel in September 2020 and will then be announced as an available resource during a public virtual event at the end of September 2020. October and November 2020 will serve as test months for the tool, with the possibility of releasing the Digital Rights Toolkit during a special session at the Internet Governance Forum in November 2020 or similar events between November 2020 and January 2021, that will have the right audience mix. The toolkit will remain a living document that will get the opportunity of continuous review with users and experts, and a new version will be announced at the annual Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum every April.
‘Gbenga Sesan understands that you cannot have digital rights without digital inclusion–what could it possibly mean, he says, to protect digital rights if people are not digitally included? While the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the awareness of the general public for the need for both digital inclusion and rights, there is still a long way to go. With work, school, and much of social life moving online for the past year and a half–and to at least some extent moving forward–everyone has become more dependent on technology. Sesan worries, however, that this is creating a technology skills gap–especially in our youth and for our elderly–that we will need to work hard to fill. His central project, the Ayeta Toolkit for African digital rights activists developed under the Paradigm Initiative, goes some ways to bridging this gap by safeguarding digital rights defenders across the global South.
Sesan found the intensity of his project growing as the pandemic signified its necessity. The fellowship in particular, he says, took on a new meaning during this time; with all the fellows “trapped” in the same new kind of space–the digital space–their geographic differences and cultural protocol prerequisites to conversation melted away. In a way that would not have been the case otherwise, Sesan says it felt like they were all walking in the same shoes, traversing the same ground. For those who are connected, they could feel more connected than ever while working to ensure connection and rights for those without.
Speeches & Presentations