Hamzat Lawal knew that he had to do something about what he saw in Zamfara state, Nigeria.
In 2012, news reports of more than 1,500 children poisoned and over 400 children dead prompted him to act. Where were the promised funds that were supposed to clean up the lead contamination?
That year he co-founded Follow The Money, a grass-roots organization of citizens, journalists, data wranglers, information analysts, lawyers and others who advocate for, track and visualize data on aid and government spending to ensure that promised funds end up where they’re supposed to go. Now, Follow The Money is an initiative of Connected Development (CODE), a nongovernmental organization whose mission is to shine a light on government spending, improve access to information and empower Africans.
Lawal believes that individuals who want to create a successful campaign or movement must understand at the outset that they are working to change a mindset. Before starting to organize people around a grass-roots campaign, Hamzat says, organizers should consider how and where they get information. How do the people they’re hoping to organize get information? And how would organizers reach an audience that does not have access to mass media?
Most importantly, Lawal challenges organizers to engage stakeholders face to face: “Leave your comfort zone so that you go and become one of them. Go to the community and do outreach — document the voices of the people and how a problem has affected them and their community. People will join your campaign because of the information you have to share and their agreement with your ideology.”
Once they’ve met their stakeholders, organizers should analyze the data collected — clearly identifying the issue or problem, setting priorities, identifying possible solutions and enlisting friends as potential volunteers and workers. Lawal encourages them to identify the necessary skills and start to define roles and responsibilities among the team, agree on messaging and begin to fundraise using various platforms (online/offline).
According to Lawal, “If you run a successful campaign, you will get noticed, you will mobilize people, and you will get funding.”
Hamzat “Hamzy” Lawal is an activist who has successfully supported grass-roots campaigns in over 40 African countries with over seven years’ experience in the nonprofit sector. He specializes in practical issues associated with climate change, open data and development policies as they affect rural communities. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Connected Development (CODE), leading the development and implementation of the overall organization’s strategy with responsibilities of creating, communicating and implementing the organization’s vision, mission and overall direction.
Hamzy is also the co-founder of Follow The Money, a grass-roots, data-driven movement, and leads a team of technology and innovation–driven campaigners to amplify voices of marginalized communities while promoting accountability and good governance as it affects utilization of public funds focusing on specific communities in Nigeria.
He sits on the executive board of the largest youth movement in Africa, the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC), advising on communications with over 40,000 young people to share best practices and leading campaigns using technology tools in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).