What Innovative Solutions are Protecting Children in East Africa?

In East Africa, 75.3 million children and youth report to have experienced physical violence — that is the equivalent of 64% of the region’s population under the age of 18 years. Their experience of violence inhibits the region’s aspirations to develop inclusively.

This statistic paints a dark picture of the treatment of children across East Africa but there is another more positive side to the story. Across the region there is a network of extraordinary women, men and young people who are working to protect children in their community. With a crowd of child protectors already active, the foundation on which to build protective norms already exists.

How to protect children in East Africa?

To successfully address violence against children we need a thorough understanding of the differences in culture, economic situations, and various social practices relating to child rearing across the region. Unfortunately, understanding of the local context is lacking, and a divide exists between foreign experts and local practitioners that prevents meaningful, long-term behavioural change. We need to decolonize our understanding of how to protect children by conducting research with community members from across the region that seeks to understand and leverage people’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for change.

Citizens 4 Change, a social lab born out of this understanding, is implementing innovative solutions that seeks to understand the complex social challenge of violence against children and to spread protective norms across three East African nations. With the aim of obtaining critical knowledge about the system, Citizens 4 Change has pioneered a model of Integral Activist Epistemology that enables researchers to conduct studies with personal integrity that will lead to meaningful social change.

An innovative approach to understanding the system of violence against children

Citizens 4 Change is using the ‘Wisdom of the crowd’ approach as the basis of the Configuration Innovation — a social network analysis that taps into the collective intelligence of East Africa’s child protectors to obtain data that maps the system and for the first time reveals how peoples’ relational ties & help seeking behaviour change over time.

A key tool used in collecting data from the child protectors is an innovative SMS platform, developed by ConnectGo, C4Cs partner organisation. The platform is designed to use SMS messaging to listen to the views of citizens who live on the digital margins. The system maps the location of each child protector, tracks their behaviour, and communicates directly with them to build a knowledge base that is critical in determining what works to prevent and respond to violence against children.

The social network analysis conducted by Citizens 4 Change is ground-breaking in its ability to break through rigid social structures within East African society, revealing the informal system and the relationships that underpin how people actually live. The tech enables Citizens 4 Change to overcome digital limitations to reach the true change agents who are actively protecting children in their communities.

Innovating to achieve high levels of co-operation

Citizens 4 Change has an innovative approach to changing people’s pattern of behaviour and to achieving high levels of cooperation — Theory U. Theory U is a change process that helps the system see itself so it can envisage a future, embody new behaviours, and then explore that future by doing. Citizens 4 Change facilitates a process where child protectors, children, perpetrators and representatives of Government and faith communities, determine the fundamental social problems they want to resolve, observe deeply the system that causes these problems that arise, and then prototype their own home grown solutions, before integrating those into National Plans for Action to address violence. Cooperation, personal transformation and collective action are built into Theory U and are the keys to its success.

What works in East Africa to resolve violence against children

Citizen 4 Change has adopted a Customer Innovation cycle that supports development agencies and governments to integrate organisational learning into their practice and in doing so to take up new perspectives & ensure that their actions positively reinforce each other. The aim is that findings from Citizens 4 Change’s research inform the design of government and NGO programs addressing SDG 16.1 and provide evidence of impacts being achieved.

Citizens 4 Change’s innovative approach to understanding violence against children and spreading protective norms has collected and analysed data that reveals a growing swell of community action. There are currently 26,000 child protectors enrolled in programs across Tanzania and Uganda protecting a total of 39,000 children. Citizens 4 Change is on track to enrol 52,000 child protectors by 2022 after scaling up and expanding into Kenya. By 2023 the goal is to have 104,000 child protectors active and engaged with Citizens 4 Change across the East Africa region giving 320,000 children the safe and inclusive start to life they all deserve.

Are you in Tanzania and ready to champion change or are you already uplifting the lives of vulnerable children in your community? Then join Citizens 4 Change by dialling #149*46*11# or you can register on our website.

You can follow the positive impact Citizens 4 Change is having by following us @C4CEastAfrica

By Kate McAlpine

Originally published at medium.com