Welcome to the second part of our “getting to know you” blog for the ONE Africa Award finalists. In this post we speak to BudgIT, an NGO specialising in financial transparency.
Why was your organisation started?
The organisation started in 2011 as a civic organisation using creative means to make the budget more creative and interesting for Nigerians. We saw that there was a huge gap in terms of access and understanding of the Nigerian budget. Most people are confused when they see a thick budget document and opaque figures and identified the need to use creative tools to make it simple and accessible.
We have also worked on tracking government projects in local areas using our Tracka tool that crowdsources project performance from the public and civil society. Our core work is around making sure that we raise an informed populace who demand accountability and public sector efficiency from government. The key approach is to use creative tools to intersect citizen engagement and institutional reform.
What do you think is the most important issue facing Africa today?
The core issue we think Africa faces is optimising the use of domestic resources for the benefit of its people. We see that despite the huge revenues of several African countries, large-scale corruption and poor leadership choices discount the gains that the continent might have witnessed. We think Africa needs more transparency on how funds are expended and also need to be more responsive and accountable on how these funds are optimised for the good of the people. This is core to our work and we strive to do that within Nigeria and the West African sub-region.
What is it about Africa that holds the key for its development?
The key to Africa’s development is data transparency and solutions that promote inclusion. We have a lot of narratives on the rising growth in Africa but a lot of people are excluded from the skewed growth raising the margins of inequality in the society. We think more projects have to consider how to raise the skillsets of young Africans, create sustainable systems for the poor and also raise Africa’s competitive index to be able to optimally benefit from trade. Africa needs to use data-driven approaches to measure development and ensure that it is wholly inclusive for a secure and better society.
What’s your best memory working for your organisation?
It makes me so happy being able to improve access to the budget and allow citizens to make sense of it. Every day we get a comment that we are improving advocacy and strengthening the rights of the citizen is a delight for me. With visualisations built using public data, it shines light on winding corners for everyday people. Our approach is to bring forth human angle stories by converting stacks of information to a moving narrative that drives a sense of ownership in the user.
What’s your proudest achievement as an organisation?
The trajectory growth of our online platform was mostly due to our budget cut app during the 2012 Occupy Nigeria Movement – a protest against removal of fuel subsidies and corruption in government. With an app used by over 4,000 young people in 60 hours, we started the first national creative engagement on the budget. It was a shining moment in the lifecycle of our organisation and we are working hard to recreate that exciting moment.
What’s the biggest struggle you’ve come up against as an organisation?
Our key struggle is to meet expectations of excited citizens about government data especially at the sub-national level where data is grossly opaque. With the budget also provided in non-readable formats by government agencies, BudgIT has to contend with putting data through several format conversions and still ensure accuracy. On the demand side, apathy to governance is a very strong factor especially citizens at the bottom pyramid of the society who are mostly prone to populism and handouts by elected officials. It is also hard to get key response from core government institutions, as they are yet to be fully accountable to the citizens.
Why did you apply for the One Africa Award?
Having worked with ONE on the “Do Agric” project in Nigeria and as an organisation striving to raise service delivery and transparent outcomes in Nigeria, we think the ONE Award helps in validating our work and asserting our depth of impact in Nigeria. We are willing to do more by ensuring that development plans such as Post-2015 goals are managed in a prudent, transparent and data-driven way for benefit of Africans. We think this concept of this award resonates with that and we are glad to be among the finalists.
How would winning help your organisation?
I think we would use the funds to deepen our work in Nigeria with more emphasis on using smart visuals to make the budget more accessible and interesting for Nigerians. We also have immediate plans to expand to Sierra Leone after the Ebola crisis is over. This award would help our organisation in raising awareness on the need for accountability for post-2015 agenda. Our focus is to ensure that public resources, grants by donors and other private initiatives work for people. We also have plans to quit Co-Creation Hub, a co-working space in Nigeria, for a private building.
Do you have a message for any young Africans who are thinking of starting a charity or NGO?
My message is for young Africans to raise their interest in development making sure to support the quest to reduce information asymmetry on core issues around governance, health, power, education and other thematic areas. Young Africans need to amplify their voices in educating others on their rights as citizens and also help in the right kind of information that drives economic empowerment.