As a leader on a policy reform project I worked on in Africa a few years back, I learned many things. First, finding policies of African national governments in the open is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
This puts a strain on interventions and investments by Africa’s global partners. Non-profits seeking to work on policy reform, and companies seeking to enter Africa as a foreign market, will need to find existing policies to develop campaigns and make investment decisions.
Second, campaigns targeting multiple sectors in most African countries still struggle to rally stakeholders behind a common goal because policymakers often do not see how policy from one department is extrinsically linked to the other. This hurts collaboration and collective impact.
In addition, the people drafting policies often use complex language, which makes understanding these policies a difficult task.
Policy Vault Africa aims to address these challenges. Ridwan Sorunke, of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, was struggling with access to policies related to a project in Africa when he decided to create a policy bank to remove those barriers.
Since we launched, the response from academic institutions, philanthropic organizations, non-profits, national governments, individuals and investors has been exhilarating.
In one instance, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) – a group that supports human rights, rule of law and democracy in more than 60 countries – has found a nexus between the work of our organization and its own commitment to Africa.
There are more institutions that demonstrate the interconnectedness of our work in Africa – in research, policy, advocacy and development.
That list includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ONE Campaign, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute and several research universities, including the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
I can now say that Africa has something of value in this age of open government. It is a win-win for both African governments and their citizens.
For example, the development of democracy that has eluded Africa for decades can be traced back to bad policies, among other issues.
Fixing this requires active and involved citizens. I believe Policy Vault Africa will spur rapid reform as citizens gain access to these policies, understand the context, and make a demand for reform and implementation, where necessary.
African governments can take this opportunity to scale-up policies that spur investment and strengthen democracy, creating a strong future for their citizens through policy reforms that prioritize quality education, healthcare, economic growth and job creation.
This momentum shows what can be done. Innovative ideas such as Policy Vault Africa can be a catalyst for change on a continent where citizens face an uncertain future due to underdevelopment.
There is an urgency to moving Africa out of a policy backwater - and the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals emphasize how open data can help achieve this. In addition, statistics of measurable outcomes from the implementation of the SDGs can be a pivot for policymaking and reforms.
Thus, the international and local non-profits working in Africa will find the infrastructure built by the Policy Vault Africa a ready tool in their advocacy, as insights into a country's policy on healthcare or agriculture can inform campaign goals and at the same time help determine the most effective paths for action on national issues.
I remember that in my work on an international treaty negotiation, one question that negotiators asked too often in the room was “what is the national policy in countries A and B?” In most cases, the countries referred to were in Africa.
This riddle has now been solved. Policy Vault Africa provides unhindered access and enhances understanding because of a contextual analysis of the policies, while also speeding up engagement with policy leaders.
Finally, let me give you a glimpse into the data. Since Policy Vault Africa was launched, the highest traffic came from the research environment. That tells us one thing: students, academics and think tanks – the go-to organizations for proposals and policy advice on key economic, health, security, social and environmental issues – are all using Policy Vault Africa.
It is worth repeating that fixing Africa’s problems requires active and involved citizens. The moment has come to overturn decades of lost investment opportunities in Africa with this bank of policies.