Reflecting on My Journey as Founder and Leader

Aug 2, 2023

Illustration by Neema Iyer

My last week as the Executive Director of Pollicy has arrived!

Reflecting back, this journey has been nothing short of extraordinary, and I am immensely grateful for every moment, challenge, and triumph experienced.

First, massive gratitude.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to the Pollicy team. Your dedication, brilliance, and passion have been the driving force behind making this role as fulfilling and impactful as it could have been and creating the organisation that I leave behind today. From our spectacular research department that pumps out high-quality cutting-edge reports to our programs team that is leading the way on continent-wide initiative, trainings, events and engagements to our uber talented communications team that consistently sets us apart and our steadfast and reliable finance team, I appreciate and respect each and every one of you and feel very lucky to have had the chance to call you all my colleagues.

To our partners, funders, and supporters, I owe you a special thank you. Your belief in our mission and your unwavering support have been instrumental in making our work possible. Pollicy is on a journey towards creating just and joyful data and digital present and futures using a unique Afrofeminist lens and novel approaches towards shaping constantly evolving and rapidly changing technology in a way that benefits people and movements across the continent. Just as technology evolves, so must we, to keep up with the changing times. Your trust in us has been both humbling and inspiring.

Pollicy’s Next Executive Director

As I step aside, I am thrilled to announce that Irene Mwendwa will be taking on the role of Executive Director from August 1st 2023. It is with great confidence and excitement that I pass the baton to her. Irene's leadership skills have always inspired me, and her ability to guide and empower others is second to none.

Her strong feminist background aligns perfectly with Pollicy's commitment to digital and data equality and inclusivity. Irene's global network has opened doors to new markets and exciting collaborations, which will undoubtedly contribute to our continued success.

Her expertise in partnership building, paired with a deep understanding of the funding landscape, will be instrumental in taking Pollicy to new frontiers. And, with Kenya being a frontier market in the digital and data space, Irene's understanding of the local context positions us for future growth and impact.

Continuing Support and Transitioning Roles

As I embark on this new chapter, my journey with Pollicy does not end here. I am committed to supporting the organisation as an advisor and will remain on the board. Ensuring a smooth transition is of utmost importance to me, and I am excited to continue playing a (small and distant) role in shaping Pollicy's bright future.

Lessons Learned: Reflections on Our Journey

Building Pollicy from scratch was a crash course in data analysis, human resources, finance, fundraising, communication and marketing, event and logistics, program management, strategy development, and the list goes on and on. Everyday has been an opportunity for growth and learning. There were many, MANY stressful and sleepless nights. But, there were also tons of wins and highs. I found myself in rooms that I would never have expected, partnering with people that I deeply admired. I’ve just learned so much and I can’t wait to share back some of these lessons that can hopefully guide others in building joyful and resilient organisations as well.

Here are a few of the learnings I wanted to share for now:

  1. Running a remote team: Pollicy was founded in 2017 in Kampala, Uganda but I haven’t lived in Uganda since early 2019. Running the organisation remotely was an experiment in remote working prior to the pandemic, particularly inspired by organisations such as The Engine Room, proving that it is indeed completely possible when we build with care, trust and intentionality. We have since kept an office open in Kampala and colleagues in Uganda work hybridly whereas the rest of us worked remotely.

  2. Embracing feminist internet: Learning about the feminist principles of the internet and working towards creating just digital futures has been a wonderful endeavour and working within this space with other feminists has been transformative. The lessons learned here have reshaped our perspectives and solidified our commitment towards inclusive and accessible digitalisation.

  3. There is space for art: One of my favourite aspects of working in and building Pollicy has been the ability to combine my love for art with my love for the digital world. I’ve immensely enjoyed creating afrofuturistic artworks for our projects and reports and working on data artistry projects with creatives from all different walks of life. I worked on a mockumentary with a full cast of actors, I’ve painted data murals with artists, created two digital edutainment games, developed a chatbot to share our findings, drawn imagery for tons of reports and I’ve loved every second of it!   

  4. Fundraising for an emerging thematic area: Securing funding for a niche focus area demands strategic thinking, persistence, and an understanding of the funding landscape. Many of the partners and donors we worked with were open to our new ideas, but many still work within established and traditional systems, and it can be tricky to break in as a newcomer.
    Last month, we held a Funder’s Roundtable to understand funding priorities and make a case for funding more feminist technology initiatives. We’ll share that report with you all shortly! Funding feminist technology works towards creating resilient movements, creates better gender data, drives progressive decision making and encourages more women in STEM and digital governance space plus lots more!

  5. Leading with kindness and empathy: We can always choose to be kind, even in the face of challenges and pressure. It's definitely easier said than done and I have very likely failed many times, but I made a conscious effort to hold myself to this standard of leadership and I strongly believe it is possible. 

I want to finally leave you with a few of my favourite projects over the years!

Create Your Kampala
A data artistry project where we worked with communities across Kampala to understand their perceptions of service delivery, collaboratively worked with the communities on data murals and brought local government together with citizens for discussions on improving services.

Digitalisation for Persons with Disabilities in Northern Uganda
We worked with persons with disabilities in four districts in Acholi region to first, understand and assess their use of ICT and assistive technologies, and then partnered with local companies to create awareness on the availability of locally available low-cost assistive devices. We also printed our first report in braille for this project!

Digital SafeTea
A browser-based Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game built with TuesdayJS that covers basic digital safety through three characters from different African contexts. Loved working on the storylines and the art and putting the flows into action (in multiple languages!)

Automated Imperialism, Expansionist Dreams
This project was part of my work with Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS) and focused on identifying methods of digital extractivism across the African continent. I immensely enjoy the experience of working on the topic alongside Garnett, Favour and Uri. 

Afrofeminist Data Futures
A research and mapping exercise that looks at the practices, challenges and opportunities of feminist data amongst feminist activists and organisations. We talked to several feminist activists and movements and it was very interesting to understand what role technology can play in the future of activism and advocacy across the continent.

There are so many more such as our report from 2020 on online gender-based violence across 5 African countries or our 2021 mockumentary “Price is Wrong” on digital safety in UG or our 2022 report on the digital threats faced by Muslim women in the Horn of Africa or our ongoing program on digital resilience for women politicians and leaders. I have immensely loved the work we did at Pollicy and strongly believe that there is so much more to be done in shaping a positive digital ecosystem across the continent.

A New Chapter Begins

As I step into the next chapter of my life, my heart overflows with gratitude for the Pollicy community. The journey we shared has been nothing short of remarkable, and I am incredibly proud of the organisation we've built together. While my role may change, my love for Pollicy remains steadfast, and I look forward to witnessing the organisation soar under Irene's exceptional leadership.

I leave you with the Pollicy playlist for now.
If you will be at IGF in Kyoto, I look forward to connecting!