I’ve recently been watching the excellent Danish crime drama, Follow the Money. The basic premise of the show is as follows: Renewable energy firm, Energreen, is exploiting migrant workers and indulging in some creative accounting practices in its search for ever greater profits. Enter Danish police, in the shape of fraud squad officer, Alf, and experienced detective, Mads. Alf – the patient, geeky, paper-trail-following, by-the-book, cop – is used to piecing together complex fraud cases over the course of months and years. Mads, meanwhile, is everything a TV cop should be – he lives on the edge, bending the rules to breaking point when necessary and impatient for results. He has little time for the genteel subtleties of Alf and would rather be smashing down a door than pouring over financial accounts. Together, though, Alf and Mads make a good team – Mads does the on-the-ground police work by speaking to people and tricking suspects, while Alf’s techniques allow them to put together a watertight case against Energreen through careful use of accounts, stats and data. (Disclaimer: I’m two episodes from the end, so don’t yet know if the fraud case will amount to anything, but for the purposes of this post let’s pretend it’s wildly successful and pays off).
Okay, but what does a Danish drama have to do with our work at Indigo? Well, detractors of our work may well highlight the fact that mobile and particularly web technologies are beyond the reach of many in sub-Saharan Africa. We’d agree – the digital divide is still a huge issue and there are many parts of the continent where equitable access to fast, cheap and reliable digital tech is a way off. We don’t pretend that digital technologies are a cure-all and nor do the majority of our grantees. In the same way that Alf and Mads bring very different skills sets to solving crimes, so we want to support projects and organisations that take very different approaches to solving social problems. One of our Nigerian grantees, CODE (formerly Follow the Money, coincidentally), is a prime example. Their work combines social media and open data with real, community work. Using technology to highlight and promote the needs of communities without their own digital presence, CODE’s blended approach to social change and development is one that we champion. Likewise, Kenyan parliamentary monitoring group, Mzalendo, have discovered that from their starting point adding in more basic and accessible SMS is paying dividends. In their recent People’s Shujaaz awards – to reward Kenya’s hardest working MPs – Mzalendo discovered that allowing SMS voting enabled thousands more to contribute to the vote than through internet alone. But one of the most positive results of their online work is that it has led to better offline relations with parliamentary staff.
By maximising opportunities for both digital and non-digital participation, we believe that our grantees are maximising their chances of success. These blended approaches that seek to couple the availability and accessibility of technology while recognising the importance of building real relationships with others is one that we believe can pay real dividends (whether in Danish crime dramas or transparency and accountability work in sub-Saharan Africa).