The term Creative Advocacy is a “not-so-new” term which refers to the use of creative means to push for attention to social issues to encourage private and public reforms. It is worth noting that advocacy, executed through creativity, is capable of drawing empathy and inspiration, leading to social good and effecting change within society. It is a tool organisations and individuals can use to motivate a deeper level of awareness and understanding, bringing about commitment and eventually, action. It is important that those using creative advocacy do so intentionally and aim at engaging diverse target audiences while providing them with the opportunity to become better informed, inspired and connected.
On April 14th, 2023, during the 10th Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF23), which was held in Nairobi, one of the sessions hosted by Paradigm Initiative was Strengthening Digital Rights Through Creative Advocacy. The session featured Njeri K. Mwangi, Investigative Reporter at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), who is also the Team Leader/Co-Founder of Pawa254, a creative hub in Nairobi that uses art for social change, now widely known as Artivism, Kenneth Oyeniyi Communications Officer at Paradigm Initiative and Winnie Kamau, President /Editor, Association of Freelance Journalists/ Talk Africa. It was anchored by Judith Ogutu, Communications Manager at Paradigm Initiative.
Discussions during the session focused on three key areas; telling stories through visualisation, use of data and infographics, usage of art to influence social change and usage of short films as advocacy tools. The panellists were able to highlight the effectiveness of these tools and the importance they have played in communicating various violations-both online and offline in an easy-to-understand fashion and impact of usage of data, graphics and visuals in putting across facts, and sharing information.
To set the tone for the discussion, trailers from two movies, Softie and Paradigm Initiative’s Finding Diana were played to the audience. Softie is a 2020 Kenyan film based on the life of political activist and photojournalist, Boniface Mwangi and his family. Njeri, who is also Boniface’s wife, mentioned that the movie was shot within a period of seven years, documenting the riveting story, step by step.
Finding Diana follows Aisha Cocker, a 28-year-old down-on-her-luck journalist chasing a story about debauchery in the ranks of her state government. She quit being any kind of hero for any cause of justice- her days of wanting to make the world a better place are behind her. Her goals are not fame and recognition, and she believes this story will put her on the map. What follows is a dive into the underbelly of a conspiracy threatening to consume her soul.
As the audience digested the movie trailers, Judith introduced the panellists, explaining what creative advocacy is as well as the purpose of the session, what creative advocacy entails, increased awareness on the usage of this tool and ways in which it can be implemented in advocating for the respect of digital rights.
On her part, Njeri highlighted Pawa254’s background in photography and how the Softie film was originally envisioned as something different, but the artistic direction took a slightly different direction and became a film later. She also highlighted how Pawa254 came to be, emphasising the importance of art as an invaluable channel in pushing for advocacy.
Kenneth gave a brief history of Paradigm Initiative’s short films and how they were birthed from the need to further articulate the annual Londa reports by breaking them down to ease understanding and appreciation among a wide audience.
The impact of the movies have been strongly demonstrated through their wide reach and how relatable they are to the target audience.
Winnie illustrated the importance of using data in the art of storytelling; she emphasized the need for following the due process of collecting, filtering, and visualizing before using them for storytelling, explaining that an inaccurate process would ultimately lead to misrepresentation of data. She also emphasised the importance of teamwork and collaboration in telling the right stories through data, citing live examples from the Association of Freelance Journalists (AFJ).
Overall some key takeaways from the discussion on the importance of creative advocacy were as follows:
- It is a creative’s channel of expression
- It provides context to the reason for advocacy
- It provides exposure to the social issue being criticised
- It sensitises and awakens the public directly on how these issues affect them.
- It can serve as a point of reference for future similar arguments
- It serves as a process of documentation