Earlier today, we had a chat with Ahmed Farah, the Kenyan Agent for The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL). The platform, which is headquartered at the Hague, Holland, started the Innovating Justice Awards in 2009 to scout for justice innovation via the Innovating Justice Challenge. The 2018 competition is its 7th and primarily searches for products and ideas that can help alleviate injustice cases across the globe. Generally speaking, HiiL finds and funds the best innovation justice products.
What is Justice Innovation?
According to Ahmed Farah, innovation justice products are systems or platforms that improve people’s access to justice. Such products are premised on the fact that up to 4 billion people in the world have no access to justice. Products that leverage the need for fairness can therefore exercise their mandate in many forms, including dispute resolution, reconciliation as well as timely access to justice-related services, to mention a few.
“Last year, one of our participants pitched an SMS-based product that deployed its services as a noticeboard for the court. For instance, users could check their court appointments, the documents required for a court date, adjournment announcements and so forth,” says Ahmed. This is one of the examples that demonstrates HiiL’s targets.
Another innovation justice product that is a beneficiary of HiiL’s acceleration program is Sauti, a mobile-based trade and market platform that empowers women-led businesses in the East Africa region to allow them execute their tasks legally and safely across borders. Sauti gives access to real-time market prices exchange rates and trade procedures via SMS and USSD to deliver such information to traders promptly.
HiiL has also lauded Usalama, a smartphone-based service that comes in handy in dangerous events. Users can alert their next of kin or contact an emergency service by a single click of a button. It is founded on the benefits of community policing activities that go in line with current security practices.
Some of you may have come across M-sheria, a cash-bail platform for matatu drivers who commit petty traffic offences. Rather than take them through lengthy legal actions, M-sheria, which operates via USSD and an Android app, cuts the time taken to process bail as there are M-sheria agents who are contacted to address bail and legal consultancy requirements. It also eliminates cases where drivers are coerced to pay bribes in situations where no traffic offence has been made as observed in our roads.
The app has about 1200 direct users, with an indirect reach of over 5000 people.
Ahmed argues that the ‘justice’ aspect of the products they are targeting should not limit its definition to legal stuff as quality innovation can take several routes as showcased by Usalama.
Focus on Kenyan Justice Innovation Products
“Kenya is an interesting market for technology products as it has demonstrated key abilities in accommodating innovation. Kenya is also among the countries that signed the UN convention against corruption cases. Additional merits of Kenya as a hub for innovation justice is its dynamic population and interesting legal system. It is a vibrant ecosystem,” noted Ahmed.
HiiL’s presence is also in Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa, among other African states.
According to HiiL’s research in Kenya that covered 6005 people in 28 counties (54 percent men and 46 percent women primarily in rural areas (71 percent of the sample size)), up to 81 percent of the group was subject to one or more legal problems in the past four years. What is more, 54 percent of the group admitted experiencing extreme stress or mental health problems, while 46 percent lost a significant amount of time trying to pursue justice.
Interestingly, the research revealed that about 41 percent of people fail to seek legal advice on serious legal problems such as crime, land, family, employment and money. Still, 19 percent of people do not take action to resolve their issue.
The estimates from this study indicate that more than 6 million Kenyans struggle to get access to justice, which is a significant size of the population.
HiiL hopes that these numbers can be used to innovate products to bridge the justice gap.
The threshold of quality products
According to Ahmed, applications that have been tested for an extended period have always done well during pitching. It also means that such applications have been improved based on the work that has been put in.
Also, HiiL looks for the potential of an app to execute its idea successfully, as well as uniqueness, scalability, impact and most importantly, sustainability.
Merits of successful teams/products
HiiL performs interviews and evaluations before announcing a shortlist of qualified teams. For instance, interviews for the 2018 challenge will be done toward the end of June.
Regional pitches are also done in different parts across the world. Stakeholders, including governments, NGOs, among other corporations and relevant partners, sit together to showcase what competitors have brought to the table. Pitching is usually preceded by training. From here, finalists are picked, and this is often done in December. Some of the successful groups are taken to HiiL’s HQ in the Hague.
Notably, HiiL funds up to KES 2.4 million per startup.
In the past two years, four Kenyan start-ups made it to the finals (per year). Two of them managed to secure a spot at the Hague, where they attended the Justice Entrepreneurship School for product development, sales and marketing studies, among other training sessions.
After a session at the Hague, the teams are awarded with grants, business development support and access to HiiL’s mentor network.
Currently, HiiL’s most successful products include Sauti (operates in East Africa) and Mulika Hongo that operates in 12 counties as of this writing. Mulika Hongo provides a platform for people to report corruption cases via SMS. The information goes up to the top of the chain to allow effective tracking and address the complaints being made.
By the way, Ushahidi was once funded by HiiL back in 2013.
Interested parties can send their applications until May 31 when the call will be closed.