Using Discord to Advance Legal Justice in 10 African Cities

Overview

According to International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), in many African nations over 60% of the prison population languish in pre-trial detention for months, if not years. Women detainees are particularly at risk: they are often too poor to afford legal representation, making them particularly vulnerable to prolonged detention, gender-based violence (GBV) and other forms of abuse. More often than not, these women will languish in a system with little hope for a fair or just outcome. In addition, female lawyers are the minority across the African Continent, so finding a lawyer that understands their specific situation and needs can further negatively impact their access to timely legal advice. 

IBJ is a global leader in the effort to improve access to justice with over 20 years of experience. IBJ is dedicated to helping the hundreds of thousands of people who are arbitrarily detained, tortured, and denied access to counsel in countries throughout the world. The organization works to provide needed protection for the vulnerable individuals accused of a crime through early access to lawyers in police stations, prisons and courtrooms.

In recognition of the urgent need to address this gender-based disparity and the harms that flow from it, International Bridges to Justice established the African Access to Justice Women’s Network (AA2J Network), a transnational network of female lawyers delivering pro bono defense for women in conflict with the law. The Network spans 10 African countries and involves 10 country chapters made up of over 100 lawyers, connecting incarcerated women to legal aid. AA2J Network members are supported with training, digital tools, and networking opportunities, provisioned on the Discord platform.

 

Problem

The initial focus was on improving communications both within ten cities on the African continent and across the organization. The communications within the city community helps people in legal trouble to find a lawyer and for that lawyer to borrow expertise from across the IBJ staff and volunteer network.  IBJ envisioned a solution to support communications and the sharing of information between lawyers in the field and expert resources elsewhere. IBJ was eager to quickly develop and deploy a tool that could be easily built, used and maintained.   

 

Approach

With this focus in mind, the CIC suggested using Discord, a digital platform designed to support the development of communities. While Discord is primarily used by online game enthusiasts, it is also proving useful for supporting community outreach, engagement and organizing. Discord allowed IBJ to set up individual “servers” for each of the ten cities, for the organization and other topic specific needs. Discord proved to be a better fit than a new platform built from scratch, as they were able to begin using it immediately and get to work helping women. It is also more cost effective than a new platform and IBJ didn’t have to build anything. It also allowed IBJ to easily integrate the new Discord server into it’s existing platforms through the use of room-specific invitation links.      

Supporting Artifacts

There are no supporting artifacts for this project.

Next Steps

The IBJ team was easily able to set up the AA2J Network using Discord on their own at no cost. Discord offered an accessible application that lawyers in the different cities can download onto phones. Users can post questions to the network and share information and content all on the servers. IBJ is in the process of rolling out the  AA2J Network and is eager to see how it helps improve the access to legal support for women in Africa. 

About the ASU CIC

The ASU Smart Cities Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) is a strategic relationship with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and is supported by AWS on ASU’s Innovation campus - SkySong. The mission of the CIC is to drive Innovation Challenges that materially benefit the greater Phoenix metro area and beyond. The CIC will do this by solving pressing community and regional challenges, using shareable and repeatable technology solutions from ideation through prototype, as a service for the greater human good.

The CIC also provides real-world problem-solving experiences to students by immersing them in the application of proven innovation methods in combination with the latest technologies to solve important challenges in the public sector. 

The challenges being addressed cover a wide variety of topics including homelessness, water conservation, vandalism, pedestrian safety, digital service delivery and many others. The CIC leverages the deep subject matter expertise of government, education and non-profit organizations to clearly understand the customers affected by public sector challenges and develops solutions that meet the customer needs.

For more information on the ASU CIC, to read about projects or to submit a challenge, please visit https://smartchallenges.asu.edu.

 

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