School of Built Environment & Development Studies

Community Scholar Workshop on Activism and Technology

Participants at a Centre for Civil Society Workshop.
Participants at a Centre for Civil Society Workshop.

The Centre for Civil Society (CCS) within the School of Built Environment and Development Studies hosted a Community Scholar Workshop on the Howard College campus on Activism and Technology.

Organised by community scholars at CCS, the event zoomed in on various technologies that civil society organisations and activists could apply in their campaigns and advocacy initiatives. The event also aimed to highlight existing technologies that facilitate citizen participation and activism and to start a debate on whether there is a need to develop new technologies and mobile applications to facilitate the work of civil society and enable active citizenship.

The workshop was inspired by recent waves of global protests and movements where participants were armed with digital cameras and smart phones. This has prompted the development of a number of Apps to assist modern protest movements.

Seesmic that allows for live updates on social media; Ustream which streams videos from a mobile device to the world and easily promotes broadcast on social media channels; Find My Friends which easily locates everyone who has agreed to share their location info; Sit or Squat which provides information on the nearest available toilet, and I’m Getting Arrested that alerts family, friends or lawyer via SMS on an arrest, were among the Apps discussed at the workshop.

CCS Community Scholar, Ms Philisiwe Mazibuko, introduced Grassroot as an App used to mobilise and inform citizens about campaigns while her colleague, Ms Nisha Naidoo, introduced AmandlaMobi as an online petition tool changing the way democracy is practised.

‘Grassroot is free to use and does not require a smartphone for operation,’ said Mazibuko. ‘This App is not limited to setting up protests but can be used for any form of meeting or mobilisation,’ she said. Mazibuko shared a story of how Right2Know used Grassroot to assist Transnet workers to mobilise in a way that was efficient and cost-effective during a recent campaign.

Naidoo logged on to the AmandlaMobi website to show the audience how the feature works and some of the campaigns that were currently running on it. She showed a variety of social justice issues that could be supported by signing up and how to start an online campaign on the website.

‘Using AmandlaMobi ensures that local campaigns can easily and effectively reach a global audience and it reduces costs,’ said Naidoo. For her, ‘technology can only bring genuine social change when it is informed and supported by meaningful democratic participation on the ground’.

There was also a brainstorming session on what comprised an effective App for social campaigns and grassroots/community mobilisation. The brainstorming exercise was done by setting up three groups, where participants were asked to consider how technology could assist campaigns and the work of civil society.

There was a consensus that Apps designed for campaigns and community mobilisations should be free and accessible; and while technology should serve to support the work of on-the-ground movements, it should not replace or displace them.

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