As the Senior Programme Manager of Code for Africa's Academy, I was pleased to be able to represent my organization at the Festival de Datos in Uruguay. The program offered a dynamic platform for discussion and peer exchanges on topics that aligned with Code for Africa’s overarching missions and goals, as well as providing exciting opportunities for learning and networking.

Code for Africa (CfA) is a nonprofit civic tech organization and Africa's largest network of digital/data journalism labs. From boosting data literacy, increasing data use, and fighting disinformation, to promoting data-driven journalism, and open government data, the role of data is crucial in CfA’s work.

Each day of the festival was filled with engaging discussions and left me with valuable resources and lessons to take home.

Navigating AI realities

Across several sessions on the impacts and opportunities of AI, discussions on job displacement due to task automation sparked reflections on the pressing need to invest in AI-related training. I believe this investment is crucial not only to keep pace with technological advancements but also to empower our academy.AFRICA, participants to harness AI's full potential and application. While addressing biases in AI training data emerged as a critical challenge, emphasizing the importance of robust data governance practices. Meanwhile, the exploration of generative AI's impact on media and arts underscored the delicate balance between technological advancements and preserving cultural authenticity. 

Crafting inclusive data narratives

Sessions on the importance of inclusive data practices and approaches highlighted how recognizing the interdependence of elements such as gender, disability, and many other dimensions of diversity is critical in shaping and understanding diverse experiences and perspectives. The discussions on engaging citizens in data generation resonated strongly with the goals and work of CfA, as we continue to build and maintain open data infrastructures and collaborate with various stakeholders, including governments, CSOs, statistical organizations, academia, and media in Africa. Significant efforts lie ahead for all of us to establish clear policy and legal frameworks that acknowledge and safeguard the rights of citizens involved in data generation. 

Paving the way for an African GDPR

My learning journey culminated in the session titled Towards an African GDPR: What would it take? During a group discussion on the need for a data protection framework tailored to the specific socio-economic, cultural, and political contexts of African nations, we explored how a regional approach can address unique challenges, while fostering data-driven innovation and digital transformation. The insights I gained in this session not only reflect CfA’s commitment to navigating the complexities of data management and governance from one context to another but also to fostering strategic collaborations to achieve positive outcomes in the data landscape.

Souvenirs to take home from Festival de Datos 

I was invigorated and inspired by the perspectives, approaches and learnings during the conference. Returning back to my desk, I take with me three key lessons I will be applying in my work at Code for Africa: 

  1. Capacity building initiatives: The need for capacity building came through in most of the sessions I attended, which presents an opportunity for CfA to expand its capacity-building initiatives through academy.AFRICA. By implementing targeted training programs, we can empower government bodies, National Statistical Offices (NSOs), NGOs, and CSOs in data collection, management, and analysis. This includes enhancing skills in data quality assurance, secure handling practices, and the utilization of modern data technologies like AI.
  2. Data for storytelling and advocacy: Leveraging the insights gained, particularly regarding showcasing the tangible impact of integrated local data, aligns with CfA’s WanaData network. Through empowering the network of over 750 female data journalists, scientists, and activists to use data for storytelling and advocacy can support their work in influencing policies and fostering positive social change.
  3. Strategic partnerships: The importance of strategic partnerships cutting across traditional boundaries directly supports CfA's collaborative approach. We will continue to facilitate partnerships among CSOs, private sectors, government entities, and other stakeholders to optimize resource mobilization to enhance the collective impact of our collaborative initiatives. 

In summary, the insights gained from the sessions reinforce and give an additional point of reference to our approach at Code for Africa. We will continue to champion data integration, invest in capacity building, amplify the impact of data through storytelling, and foster strategic collaborations to drive positive change in the data landscape.