Why I joined Digital Action: our new Executive Director

Anne Ikiara speaking at Skoll World Forum

Digital Action’s new Executive Director Anne Ikiara shares a bit about her background and why she wanted to join our global campaigning organization.

I’m from Nairobi, Kenya. Although it’s only 200km from the equator, it’s still part of the ‘global south’. The term ‘global south’ could connote organisations and communities that are geographically south of the equator. But if you look at a map, in terms of funding and resources, what it really means is anywhere south of the US and Europe. That’s why sometimes the term ‘global majority’ is used instead. This feels more correct.

Africa, the Middle East and Latin America (and more) make up the global majority. And yet when it comes to Big Tech, it feels like we’re in the minority. Communities in these parts of the world are less safeguarded by Big Tech from digital threats. And I have personally witnessed how disinformation, hate speech and algorithmic bias leads to harms in real life.

For example, disinformation and hate speech stoked countrywide violence when the new Kenyan president was announced in December 2007. Thousands were displaced in protests, and about 1,000 Kenyans were murdered during targeted attacks for months. At the time, I was working in Nairobi, running NairoBits, an organisation empowering youth to use ICT multimedia. I vividly remember a young person coming in and telling me their home had been burnt down. The UN had to step in to reunify our country.

But rather than feel helpless, I knew from experience that people’s power can make a difference. In one of my past roles, I worked for a network of organisations. There I collaborated with 47 organisations to align the Kenyan children’s’ legal environment to international standards. That gave me a taste for collaboration and coalition building.

Ironically, in the 2000s I was working on closing the digital divide, so Africa’s marginalized youth weren’t left behind. But Big Tech companies haven’t ignored Africa. It’s estimated that 61% of Africa’s population will have a smartphone by 2025. But Big Tech has vastly underinvested and understaffed their platforms aimed at the global majority. And as a consequence, countries like Kenya and continents like Africa, are feeling the brunt of digital threats more than the global north. Much more is needed to safeguard, monitor and even censor content that can lead to harms on and offline.

As 2024 marks the biggest election megacycle in a century, more than 70 countries will be hosting major elections. Now is the time for Big Tech to really step up the safeguarding and investment. After 20 years of experience leading organisations, I’m delighted to join a vibrant and motivated team at Digital Action and a coalition of great organisations that form the tech accountability movement. It is a privilege and honour to be part of this innovative, timely and impactful endeavour.

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