The Penplusbytes Story Series – Celebrating 20 years of Change
In the early 2000s, journalists worldwide had a problem – lack of skills, knowledge, and new digital technologies to enable better journalism as the information society was evolving.
The solution: we established Penplusbytes on 18th July 2001 to support journalists and newsrooms, starting in Ghana thereafter to the rest of the world, on how they can use information and communication technologies to improve the quality of journalism.
To understand this context, the early 2000s was a period when digital technologies were getting mainstreamed, with even countries grappling with creating an equitable information society while reducing the digital divide. In recognizing this situation, the United Nations’ World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) set out “to develop and foster a clear statement of political will and take concrete steps to establish the foundations for an Information Society for all, reflecting all the different interests at stake.” The birth of Penplusbytes coincided with this period.
Our first event, “1st National ICT Seminar for Working Journalists in Ghana,” held on 18th July 2002 at Busy Internet, Accra was attended by 60 selected members of the Ghana Journalists Association. This event was groundbreaking in a lot of ways with the objective of ensuring that ICTs assume prominence in the mass media. It was supported by the Ghana Institute of Information Technology (GIIT). Trainees at the event were ecstatic since it was the first time, they were exploring how they can use new digital technologies effectively in their newsrooms. It was indeed an eye-opener.
Our major international event – East African Regional Media Training Workshop, sponsored by ICANN and Afilias for East African journalists took place from 25th -26th June 2005 at the African Regional Centre for Computing (ARCC) in Nairobi, Kenya, under the theme “The role of the Media in enabling the growth of the Information Society”. It is instructive to note that ARCC was the location, the Internet was born in Kenya.
Given this incredible start of our nascent organization, we expanded geographically across the African continent and into several other areas beyond new media development work to areas such as governance and technology, oversight over the extractive sector (oil, gas, and mining resources and revenue), and civic technologies.
Our achievements over these 20 years will fill volumes of pages however these are highlights:
1. Proudly served over 1000 journalists, citizens, civil society actors, governments, companies, and parliaments in 19 African countries, including Mali, Ghana, South Africa, Senegal, Uganda, Mozambique, Cameroon, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Liberia, Kenya, Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea, Togo, Mauritania, Nigeria and Niger.
2. We have generated a lot of new knowledge in the areas of new media, tech and good governance, and extractives which are well respected and cited in many reputable publications.
3. As part of our capacity-building efforts, we have provided knowledge and skills on extractives, new media, and digital technologies across the globe to diverse stakeholders.
4. We have designed and deployed several tech innovations to solve important problems such as: connecting citizens to parliament, enabling collective voices, supporting citizens to make informed decisions at elections, improving the quality of health care delivery, fighting corruption, newsrooms automation, and fighting fake news and misinformation, etc.
5. Supported the deepening of democracy on the African continent through innovative new media development and civic technologies deployment
Words cannot express our gratitude for the sacrifice, devotion, and commitment to our vision by our core founding group members; Eric Osiakwan, Kofi Mangesi and Andrew Kafe. For being there from the very beginning and making Penplusbytes’ journey possible, we say thank you.
To our first board chair, Dr. Kwabena Riverson, our past board chair, Bryan Pearson and our current board chair, Dr. Charity Binka, we say thanks for your exceptional leadership. It is the anchor on which the organization is striving.
Ethan Zuckerman, Dan Gillmor, Gregg Pascal Zachary and Nnenna Nwakanma; thanks for your long years of service to the board. To our current board members, we are forever grateful for your leadership and support.
To our over 500 full staff members, service persons, interns, service providers, consultants, trainer and support staff who have served the organization over these 20 years, we recognize your invaluable support.
Congratulations to our current Executive Director, Juliet Amoah and her able team members who are driving our vision for many more years to come; you have a solid foundation.
The Penplusbytes’ tiny seed we planted has grown into a big forest of Change driving good governance through the power of media and new digital technologies across Africa.
It is our distinct privilege to serve for 20 years and counting