On behalf of ISA WALI Empowerment Initiative, Justice & Empowerment Initiatives, The Legal Empowerment Network, The Carter Center, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, National Coalition for Community Legal Empowerment (NaCCLE), and the Open Government Partnership, we are pleased to invite you to the Inaugural West Africa Legal Empowerment Summit taking place virtually from October 5th - 9th, 2020.

The virtual Summit seeks to bring together justice leaders, actors, and organizations that support paralegals from across West Africa to begin a regional conversation on legal empowerment and how together we can better face common challenges and realize our collective aspirations in making access to justice a reality for all. The concluding session will draw together key lessons and priorities emanating from the substantive sessions. An outcome document capturing regional commitments and recommendations for a way forward, with the aim of continuing to build regional momentum around collective access to justice priorities will be developed and shared with the public.

The Summit will include a series of 5 virtual discussions organized around key topics identified by legal empowerment practitioners across the region as priorities. The session topics and dates are as follows:

  1. Monday, October 5: High-Level Opening followed by Strengthened Partnerships with Government on Legal Empowerment: How Practitioners are Effectively Engaging

  2. Tuesday, October 6: Legal empowerment, COVID-19 and Beyond: Solutions to challenges and necessary adaptations, including technology

  3. Wednesday, October 7: Financing for Legal Empowerment: Options & Opportunities for Lasting Impact

  4. Thursday, October 8: Benchmarking & Scaling Legal Empowerment Projects: Good Practices

  5. Friday, October 9: Closing Session - Regional opportunities, Networking and the ECOWAS Justice Agenda: Building West Africa Connections for Advocacy & Synergy

Each session will be from 2-3/3:30 pm West Africa Time.

For further information on the summit, feel free to access the summit concept note here. Please click on the following link to register.

We are looking forward to your participation!

We go jam later,

@fatimaadamu @aminahanga @andrewmaki @nancysesay @mohamedjalloh @mutanukyanya @mustafa_mahmoud @deniskimathi @martaalmela @lucianabercovich @marlonmanuel @abigailmoy @michaelotto @aishakhagai @lauragoodwin @davidarach @eileenwakesho @perpetualidealist



We look forward to your active participation at the Inaugural West Africa Summit.

As we look to create a regional momentum on legal empowerment, including a platform for collaboration and learning, we encourage you to share any resources regarding your legal empowerment work under this post. In your work we may find inspiration, encouragement and lessons to take home with us.

In solidarity,


Cher Ami/Chère amie,

Du 5 au 9 octobre 2020 à 14h heure de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, rejoignez-nous pour le Sommet Inaugural sur l’Autonomisation Juridique en Afrique de l’Ouest qui entame une conversation régionale sur l’autonomisation juridique et sur la manière dont nous pouvons réaliser ensemble nos aspirations collectives en faisant de l’accès à la justice une réalité pour tous.

S’inscrire ici

Le Sommet se tiendra chaque jour de 14h heure de l’Afrique de l’Ouest.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, ancienne présidente du Liberia et représentante des anciens, le ministre Malick Sall Garde, ministre de la justice du Sénégal, et Allyson Maynard Gibson, ancienne procureur général des Bahamas et membre du groupe de travail sur la justice, prononceront les discours principaux de la séance d’ouverture qui donnera le ton pour le reste du Sommet.

Pour plus de détails sur les orateurs et les sessions du Sommet, voir le programme.

Ensemble, nous élaborerons un document final reprenant les engagements et les priorités régionales pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest.

Si vous avez des ressources que vous souhaitez partager concernant votre travail d’autonomisation juridique, veuillez les envoyer par courriel à [email protected].

Nous restons encouragés et inspirés par votre engagement en faveur de la justice.

En toute solidarité,

"N’ayez pas peur de dénoncer l’injustice, même si vous êtes en infériorité numérique. N’ayez pas peur de rechercher la paix, même si votre voix est faible. N’ayez pas peur de demander la paix” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf


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What an exciting and inspiring start to the West Africa Legal Empowerment Summit!

The key note speakers each noted the importance of people centred justice given that 5.1 billion people lack meaningful access to justice.

It is legal empowerment practitioners and community-based paralegals who play an essential role in closing the justice gap by preventing and resolving people’s justice problems and enabling people, communities and societies to fulfill their potential.

I am reminded of a famous proverb ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. It has taken some time planning this Summit but it has been worth every effort to have this rich collaboration between local and international organisations.’ Amina Hanga, Executive Secretary ,Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative

‘To make justice a reality we need more collaboration, more openness and more responsiveness; not more brick and mortar, not more courts. We should engage for people centred action’. Hon Allyson Maynard Gibson

The work of justice actors, paralegals and community activists is essential work on the front line during COVID19. We need to open our legal systems and innovate in order to meet the justice gap’. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

‘As we fight COVID19 we must not give up our efforts to fight injustice…,’ Honorable Ministre Malick Sall Garde

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This session focused on how justice practitioners are effectively engaging with each other to address the legal needs of people and communities and the opportunities and strategies for strengthening collaboration.

Questions discussed by panelists:

  1. How does Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative and the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria work together to address the justice problems of people and increasing access to justice in Nigeria?

  2. The Open Government Partnership provides an opportunity for collaboration between formal and informal systems of justice. Share more examples of how civil society and government representatives working in OGP countries can involve both formal and informal actors in advancing access to justice.

  3. Why is the OGP Action Plan a good platform to take your work forward, especially as it relates to increasing transparent, inclusive and accountable justice solutions that can have more impact?

  4. Women are particularly impacted by limited access to and collaboration across informal and formal justice systems, a challenge currently amplified by a rise in gender-based violence during coronavirus lockdowns. How are you considering the specific needs of women and girls in your reforms, and what are the challenges in services for this broader community?

  5. How can governments harness the potential of informal justice mechanisms/actors to help meet the justice needs of people and communities, particularly for women and vulnerable populations who may be underserved by the formal justice system?

  6. How can voices of vulnerable communities be amplified through collaborations and partnerships such as OGP?

  7. Recommendations on how formal and informal justice actors can work together and build off each other’s strengths to advance the legal empowerment of the most vulnerable?


  • Strategic partnerships: During the COVID 19 lockdown, legal aid was not considered an essential service in Nigeria. So CSO’s like Isa Wali partnered with the COVID 19 Government taskforce to be able to carry out some of their work.
  • Recognition of paralegals: Legal Aid Council of Nigeria has integrated paralegals into their system and they register CSO’s to provide legal aid. The Legal Aid Council supports the training of paralegals by CSO’s and provides a cover letter with a list of trained paralegals in target areas for legitimacy purposes.
  • In Burkina Faso there has been the creation of access to justice centres in remote communities managed by informal justice actors who provide legal aid. The government also provides training for paralegals, and has established a legal aid program .
  • The use of the Open Government Platform is a way to facilitate collaboration between CSO’s and government. Governments don’t have enough resources to be present everywhere; The Government should also collaborate with CSO’s in carrying out research on access to justice needs that can better guide the government.

Key recommendations

  • The need to advocate for legal aid to be considered as a priority service during the pandemic, so that the justice gap does not widen further while governments are distracted by public health challenges.
  • The need for paralegals to be fully recognized by the legal system, so that they will have legitimacy both within communities and in the formal justice system.
  • The role of community-based justice providers in tackling domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fatima Adamu (@fatimaadamu) reported that IWEI had set up a special response team comprised of justice actors including civil society organizations, local chiefs, the Nigerian police, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The team uses its network to deal with individual cases — for example coordinating with village heads to provide shelter for women who are experiencing violence — and to train the police and other state actors to respond sensitively and effectively to domestic violence cases.
  • The need to consider women’s lack of access to justice, which is a result of lack of finances, lack of education, and cultural barriers that deter women from seeking such help. In Burkina Faso, women attending legal aid centers do not have to fulfill the specific conditions that are imposed on other groups. In northern Nigeria, IWEI deliberately targets women for training as paralegals, so that female justice seekers will feel more comfortable when dealing with them. (@Sabrina_Mahtani) Sabrina Mahtani of Sierra Leone’s Advocaid suggested that for legal empowerment to take root and multiply, there is a need for governments to understand and support them. Working together, she added, they can reach more people more effectively, and make great strides in advancing the justice for all agenda.

Some of the questions from participants include:

@fredericdjinadja :Thank you for sharing the successes but is it possible to share the difficulties related to the collaboration of organizations with the government?

@joeansu What are some of the challenges of collaboration? How do we tackle gender discrimination, interference of local authorities as paralegal ?

Fatmata Sorie: How do these organizations push their police and justice sectors to action in cases of domestic violence where women are left to seek support from Organisations that provide legal services rather than acting promptly to save lives and alleviate the pain and suffering of women in their marital homes? We see an increase in the number of in-home violence and these women cannot be removed from their homes because of poverty, lack of safe homes, or lack of any alternative.

Shamsuddeen Sani Abdallah : How to tackle a third party interference to your efforts of promoting justice and access to it. Like someone living with you in the same society going against your efforts of justice for others.

Annette Mbogoh, Kituo cha Sheria: How do we navigate competing interests in collaborations especially where government may have a different agenda? Or where some civil society organizations may prefer to outshine others rather than build on commonalities?

@mohamedjalloh: Has Legal Aid Council been able to capture and recognise all CSOs Providing legal Aid services, If so, how? and also how have you recognised paralegals working with CSOs.

Jesse B Cole from DELTA-Human Rights Foundation Liberia : (What) are the other option of law enforcement personnel for the informal just(ice) actors since all governments have challenge of having law enforcement personnel all over like in remote areas?

To continue this conversation, please share your comments and questions in the comment section below.

See you at the next session .

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This session explored adaptations and innovations that have been utilized in legal empowerment work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The session reflected on diverse experiences across both the urban and rural contexts.

Questions discussed by panelists

  • How did the needs of the communities you work with change amid the pandemic?
  • What innovations were required to meet changed needs?
  • Were these innovations temporary (e.g. responsive to lockdown) or likely to be more long term?
  • What challenges are practitioners facing as they adopt new technological models in continuing their legal empowerment work?
  • What significant changes have you seen in terms of sharing and participating with the communities they serve as they adopt online models?
  • How are online outreach methods or technical adaptations being shaped by the communities they serve or their governments?


Moderator : Megan Chapman- Co-Director of Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), Nigeria

  • COVID-19 has increased the need for legal support while restricting the operations and resources for legal empowerment practitioners
  • The economic impacts of COVID-19 have disproportionately affected already vulnerable groups, many of which are our beneficiaries
  • Not only are legal empowerment practitioners themselves restricted in mobility/communication, the government agencies and court systems they work with are much less accessible
  • The closure of borders has impacted our ability to provide support to migrants and move between regions at a time when migrants/ethnic minorities face increased backlash
  • In the face of these evolving/continuing challenges, we are forced to innovate, paralegals have become “jack of all trades”
  • Technology allows us to innovate, but comes with its own challenges and limitations
  • Major barriers not only include not having internet or a smartphone, but not having electricity

Panelist: Fred Patrick- Lead Paralegal, JEI, Nigeria

  • COVID-19 restrictions did not take into account the lived reality of vulnerable groups (i.e. many urban poor live by selling on the streets, so they could not abide by lockdown)
  • Vulnerable groups were disproportionately affected by these restrictions and targeted by law enforcement, increasing need for legal support (plus increase in domestic violence/GBV cases)
  • JEI created a localized network of paralegals so that they were only working on cases within their community (to abide by COVID health guidance)
  • They also created a small team of paralegals who lived near the mobile courts to support those clients (these courts are specifically for those who break covid restrictions, tends to be the poor)
  • They began reporting cases and giving consulting/advice via Zoom – was not easy as many paralegals did not have smartphones or had never used Zoom but became easier over time
  • Conducted online training for paralegals by matching those with smart phones with those without (who were in the same community) to attend trainings

Panelist Daniel Sesay ( @danielsesay) - NAMATI, Sierra Leone

  • When the lockdown started, irresponsible investors took advantage of the fact that NAMATI was forced to work remotely and began taking land/forcing concessions from client communities, destroying environment with impunity
  • NAMATI realized they had to adapt quickly, so organized clients into small groups based on who had a mobile phone, communicated through the clients with mobile phones
    • Through these small groups they were able to have negotiation sessions, support community members to do a mapping of their land, identify community priorities
  • They also activated a toll-free hotline to give remote legal advice .
  • NAMATI had been in the middle of pushing through two progressive land bills when COVID hit, they were forced to a standstill when the government closed, then there was a Cabinet reshuffle
  • In response, mobilized stakeholders and communities to send a letter appealing to the President, including creating a Whatsapp group to obtain community inputs when drafting the letter
  • NAMATI also formed a coalition with similar organizations in order to advocate that paralegals be allowed to enter and work in in key institutions (i.e. police stations, prisons) despite covid restrictions
    • Their appeal was successful, paralegals are now able to go to these areas

Panelist Messan Kounagbe- Legal Officer, JEI, Benin

  • JEI conducted phone surveys in communities to collect data on their experiences during COVID-19 (notably if/how rights were infringed upon by the state) to better target legal support and support advocacy efforts
  • Like other countries, found that government interventions for COVID were not well tailored to vulnerable groups
    • Gave example of how masks were required by the state but not provided to communities – how can people living on less than $1 a day purchase a mask?
    • JEI responded by making/distributing thousands of masks to protect community members from arrest
  • Due to covid restrictions, supervisors began reviewing/editing paralegals work via email rather than in-person/hard copy
  • Formed advocacy teams that convened via Zoom (in French as well as local languages)

Panelist: Nankunda Katangaza- Co-Founder, Africa Law and Tech Network

  • The majority of law practitioners remain rooted in traditional, manual (face-to-face) practice
  • Technology provides an opportunity to reach more people in need, increase geographic reach, reduce cost of legal fees, increase overall efficiency
  • Covid has increased use of technology in Africa, but overall law practitioners struggling to adapt/integrate technology
  • Examples of how law-tech is being used: courts sitting via Skype, websites with chatboxes that provide legal information, SMS based services where you can send texts to get answers to basic legal questions, websites that connect you directly to a lawyer
  • Integrating tech in the practice of law poses new regulatory challenges - most regulatory framework are outdated and do not address/respond to modern tech developments or cover non-traditional legal services provision, this has stifled innovation
  • Government has a responsibility to provide broader ICT infrastructure and reconsider the full effects of restrictive policies (i.e. internet shut-downs, taxation of digital economy), also to support and adopt tech innovations in their own practices
  • Legal tech companies have difficulty securing sufficient, consistent funding – overreliance on short term grants/competitions
  • Need more creative collaborations between legal tech providers and large tech providers, private sector, civil society, governments, as well as collaboration/lesson sharing between countries
  • These collaborations could make a huge difference in effectively scaling successful initiatives, increasing capacity, and diversifying sources of capital to ensure sustainability

Key takeaways

  1. COVID-19 has posed significant challenges for legal empowerment practitioners by increasing their clients’ need for legal support (particularly among the most vulnerable communities) whilst restricting their day-to-day operations, cutting essential funding, and decreasing capacity/responsiveness of government actors.
  2. Technology can serve as essential tool to adapt to/overcome COVID-related mobility and communication challenges to meet client needs, however technological solutions are difficult to implement in practice when many clients do not have cellphones, internet, or electricity, and frequently lack experience using these devices/platforms.
  3. Despite such barriers, organizations and communities have developed creative ways of providing legal aid in a COVID context, including through technology. Example include setting up toll-free hotlines, organizing individuals with cell phones so they can relay messages/collect input from others, creating localized networks of paralegals (since mobility is restricted), training new paralegals via Zoom, conducting phone surveys and creative Whatsapp groups to gather community concerns and input.

Key recommendations

  1. Establish regular sharing of innovative ideas and best practices among regional legal empowerment practitioners to encourage the effective use of technology, with the objective of both mitigating current covid-related challenges and ultimately enabling greater reach and impact.
  2. Increased advocacy for government to support and enable the effective use of technology by law practitioners, including building a broader ICT infrastructure, reconsidering the full effects of restrictive policies (such as internet shut-downs, taxation of digital economy), updating outdated regulatory frameworks, and adopting technological developments themselves.
  3. Foster creative partnerships between legal tech providers and large tech companies, the private sector, civil society, and government to increase/diversify the funding for legal tech developments and support scaling of successful initiatives across countries and communities.

There was also a general recommendation with respect to COVID 19: Increased advocacy for government to better tailor COVID response to more vulnerable groups and prevent disproportionate targeting of these groups for breaking COVID restrictions.

Some of the questions from participants include:

Hauwa Muhammed, JEI Paralegal, Nigeria : What strategies can be used to extend paralegal services to persons held in prison for prolonged periods of time?

Hauwa Muhammed, JEI Paralegal, Nigeria : How do we establish strong partnership and commitment to help more people through partners in other states where people need our help outside the states where we operate?

NACCLE , Sierra Leone : Have you ever experienced an instance where there has been some level of resistance from stakeholders leading to a stalemate. How were such critical moments managed?

@fredericdjinadja , ADHD, Togo: Question adressée à Daniel : Nous sommes très intéressés par l’utilisation des smartphones en milieu rural pour continuer de travailler avec les para-juristes en pleine période de COVID-19. Comment avez-vous résolu le problème d’énergie en milieu rural pour charger les smartphones ?

(Question for Daniel: we are really interested in the use of smartphones in the rural area to keep doing our paralegal work during the Covid-19 pandemic. How did you solve the issue of power to charge phones?)

Clinton Mabilo, ICAHR, Nigeria: What other groups of paralegals also cater to the needs of sexual minorities? I want to also ask if there is a directory I can use in reaching out to them.

*Hauwa Muhammed, JEI Paralegal, Nigeria: How can advocacy help tackle cross cutting issues arising from cases handled by our paralegals from different parts of the country into a national discourse?


Augustine Wloba Williams ,Law Offices of SAYEH &SAYEH, Liberia : The topic under discussion is quite an interesting one, which I hope that the legal community will see this as a awake up call in remodeling its approach in dealing with and engaging the vulnerable population, conditions and communities affected by the COVID19. Especially the fraction of the population seriously impacted economically, socially activities have been greatly impacted aimed at addressing some of the challenges that have been brought to bare in dealing with COVID19.

Darling Ogbulu, Nigeria: I think Paralegals should be recognized in our various countries, for us to work every effectively, through the Legal Aid

Augustine Wloba Williams ,Law Offices of SAYEH &SAYEH, Liberia: I quite agree that technology is transforming communities, whether it be local or urban. The question is (1) what are national governments doing to meet this emerging and fast industry head on? (2) How much are national government investing in Science and technology education. (2) Where are the institutions and the quality staff ready and trained to embark on the venture of training the future generation? (3) what incentive are there for the fraction of the population who show interest in pursuing such venture. (4) what infrastructures are in place to apply or make use of the acquired knowledge?

‘General’ Sani : The missing technology is technology that enables one to have laws that abound with a geopolitical area to be able to be generated on mobile app. This will be ready tools for Paralegals and lawyers to function effectively in different jurisdictions

Cerue Konah Garlo: It is very difficult for rural women to use tech as they don’t have access to internet so there should be ways to get the information to them that comes out of tech

Augustine Wloba Williams ,Law Offices of SAYEH &SAYEH, Liberia: Developing countries reliance on aid will greatly undermine their effort in advancing and competing in technological world. I think a deliberate effort has to be made by national governments to tackle this initiative head on by investing its national resources to realize this effort.

From Panelist: Nankunda Katangaza, :Some examples of legal tech organisations DroitDirect , Mali, He!Lawyer, Benin; Lawpadi, Nigeria; JusticeBot, Uganda, Lawyers 4 Farmers, Uganda

To continue this conversation, please share your comments and questions in the comment section below.

See you at the next session : Sustainable Financing For Legal Empowerment Programs


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This session presented a number of sustainable financing options, including regional examples of public financing, both from donors and governments, social enterprises connected to legal empowerment organizations, and various program innovations that expand scale, improve efficiency or cut costs. The rich discussions in the session showed that diverse combination of funding sources make legal empowerment programs more financially sustainable.

The session began by asking participants how sustainable their organization’s funding situation is for the coming year. The results are below:

Questions discussed by panelists

  • How do legal empowerment organizations employ a diverse range of financing options and models to increase the sustainability of their financing?
  • How should legal empowerment initiatives maintain their independence while seeking funds from both public and private sectors?

Contributions from Panelists

Moderator Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei- Program Manager, OSIWA

OSIWA has supported legal empowerment work in West Africa for many years, through financial and technical assistance. OSIWA invested $5m for legal empowerment in Sierra Leone 2016-2020. But sadly this initiative has ended and from donor perspective, I emphasize that donor funding is time bound, project based and priorities change. It is important to have a multi stakeholder commitment to legal empowerment work to make it sustainable - while maintaining independence of institutions.

Panelist Nancy Sesay (@nancysesay) - Program Coordinator, OSIWA

Before 2012, many NGOs on working legal empowerment were 100% donor funded. Based on advocacy from Timap, in 2012 an act was passed, recognizing the work of paralegals as critical legal aid providers. This gave rise to the establishment of a Legal Aid Board with the right to deploy and pay paralegals, as well as enter in cooperation with paralegals and others so they could provide community based justice services. In reality, while Legal Aid Board has paralegals funded by the government and some donors, due to resource restrictions it has not made cooperation agreements with NGOs. So NGO-based paralegals still do not receive public financing. In the 2020 national budget there is $50 million for access to justice designated for the Ministry of Justice, not sure what the details are. What should happen? Government funding is secure and helps in sustaining paralegal work. But the Legal Aid Board is underfunded, and money is not going to community based services. I am hopeful that this will change going forward. The $50 million to the Ministry of Justice is a good show of political will, but money needs to be channeled to NGOs that are effective and experienced in communities. Also hopeful that OGP and SDG processes will enable NGOs to leverage funding from government funding - these global processes are opportunities.

Panelist Mademba Gueye- Maison de Justice, Senegal

Funding for Senegal’s ‘Maisons de Justice’ is ensured by state and financial and technical partners. The government has understood the importance of including legal aid in its budget. Financing goes directly to Maisons de Justice; financial transfers are done regularly via Treasury so urgent situations can be handled, as well as long or short procedures. Each ‘maison’ can control and execute as needed. This is a major advantage for sustaining services, especially for vulnerable populations.

We also have financing from territorial collectivities that are partners - mayors and universities. Technical and financial partners such as OSIWA & World Bank help with construction of maisons and strengthen capacity of actors.

Donors always want to know if there is sustainability, and state financing gives that confidence.

Panelist: Chelcy Heroe- Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Domestic Helpers Organisation, Sierra Leone

Set up as a social enterprise - a business not to make profit but have money to run your activities. It is time to change our mindset from donor funding to different options about financing; need to be creative because this work is a passion and should not end because of donor funding.

Members pay dues in this model and receive benefits such as training so that they can advocate for themselves, as well as connection to employers. We also have a savings loan scheme, and organize different activities that will bring in support for work.

Panelist Seth Tladi - Social Change Assistance Trust, South Africa

Trust raises external funding and then gives monthly core grants to 30 organizations across South Africa to do access to justice work. 95% are dependent on Trust for sustainability. About 24 of 30 deal with cases of gender based violence, child support grants. But have evolved from advice offices to include programs and activities that are in response to social challenges in communities. E.g. income generating and income projects.

These organizations need to learn how to ensure sustained financing and minimize dependency on the Trust. Trust helps through fundraising workshops but also by incentivizing. e.g. fundraising incentive scheme to identify local philanthropy and foster community participation and ownership. Other fundraising activities include family fun runs, food sales, concerts. As reward for fundraising, Trust matches what they raised, and money goes back directly into activities, such as paying staff.

Key takeaways

  • Donor funding is time-bound, project-based and strategic priorities change. Donors themselves are acknowledging this and encouraging grantees to shift from donor-funded model for sustainability.
  • Government funding is secure and helps in sustaining paralegal, community-based legal empowerment work. However, financing models should rely on multi stakeholder involvement, not donors or government alone.
  • Innovations in financing models are on the rise in West Africa, and there is interest in how some of the existing, successful examples can be taught to and adapted by other organizations to ensure their sustainability.

Key recommendations

  1. NGOs and community based legal empowerment organizations should use domestic and global processes such as the national OGP platform and the SDG platform to advocate and leverage funding from the government.
  2. Governments should demonstrate their political will for legal empowerment of their poor and vulnerable citizens by committing resources that will be directed at community-based organizations and legal aid.
  3. NGOs should think creatively about how to change their models of support so that they can begin sourcing their own funding, whether this means transforming into a social enterprise or membership-based model.

Some of the questions from participants include:

@abigailmoy: Does government funding create any tensions or conflicts of interest in cases where the government may be an involved party? I’m thinking of cases relating to accountability of services, corruption, or abuse of power.

@eleanorthompson :The Fundraising Incentive Scheme (from South Africa) is really interesting. To what extent do the communities/public feel as though they are contributing to the ability of the legal empowerment organisations to provide them with services?

NACCLE, Sierra Leone- Good Initiatives from Senegal on public financing: With the experience and successes from Senegal, which role can the institution play to scale up public financing across the sub-region, specifically regional protocols?

Question for @chelcyheroe from @eleanorthompson: Thank you, Chelcy, for emphasising the need for creativity in resourcing legal empowerment, including self-sustaining models. Since introducing the domestic worker collectives and them developing their own fundraising methods, have you seen it make a significant difference in DHO’s ability to expand the services provided to and by domestic workers?

Question on social enterprises from Cerue Konah Garlo - Social enterprise is a good option but we need to take into consideration small economies such as Liberia that majority of the people are poor so they are not able to support CSOs/NGOs on large scale. We also need to take into consideration the laws of our various countries- do they allow NGOs/CSOs to operate social enterprise especially when NGOs/CSOs are requesting government to give them exemption to input equipment that are use for operation of the NGOs/CSOs? Also we need to push for donor funding to build local capacities so INGOs leave and the national CSOs can continue to operate, seek donors such as USAID, EU, SIDA and others and don’t be in competition with small national NGOs/CSOs.

Question about donors from Sarnyenneh M. Dickson, Esq. - As much as there are other creative ways to sustain funding of entities, there are reports of budget recasting at some recipient institutions that secure funds to support sustainability. Even though there accountability concerns regarding this practice, how have donors dealt with this?

@Nii, Ghana: How are the youth engaged in paralegal issues at the regions. Secondly how can the government support intiatives


NACCLE : Public financing is indeed a novel and a more sustainable source, again depending political will and change of governments. CSs keeping their non-political values should be an important asset.

Abdul Karim Habib : In my opinion what NGO’S needs now is institutional support. that is what a well established NGO’S now in Africa rather than project based

@eleanorthompson Very insightful, @nancysesay . The political will displayed by government including a dedicated budget line for increasing access to justice in the 2020 national budget is an opportunity to make Sierra Leone’s strong legal framework for legal empowerment via government and civil society paralegals a reality. As CSOs, let’s use platforms like the OGP, where we are co-creating and engaging directly with government to ensure that the commitment to increasing access to justice goes beyond financially supporting government paralegals and also reaches civil society paralegals.

To continue this conversation, please share your comments and questions in the comment section below.

See you at the next session: Benchmarking and Scaling Legal Empowerment Projects: Good Practices

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This session highlighted various legal empowerment service delivery models, how they’ve been able to deepen impact, and what opportunities exist for sharing good practices and models across various partners.


Panelist: Mohamed Jalloh (@jabobs) , Executive Director, Lady Ellen Women’s Aid Foundation - Sierra Leone

Question: What does legal empowerment mean to you?

@jabobs: Legal empowerment work is not a short-term investment. It is a long-term intervention. Legal empowerment is not only knowing the law or using it to solve day-to-day justice problems, but being able to identify justice issues happening in one’s community and having the ability to advocate for the rule of law/access to justice, holding community members accountable, and advocating for systemic change.

Question: Showcase the model of legal empowerment used by your organization, sharing details of how you approach programming, good practices you’ve adopted, and how you’ve addressed/overcome challenges.

Panelist: Mohamed Jalloh (@jabobs) , Executive Director, Lady Ellen Women’s Aid Foundation - Sierra Leone

  • We have paralegal offices in the region that open their doors to operate as a drop-in center of sorts where paralegals provide mediation and legal advice. We organize town halls, provide legal education, and capacity building as is common with other legal empowerment organizations.
  • The core context of legal empowerment work is often not all that different when comparing the work of various organizations, that is putting paralegals at the forefront.
  • There seems to be agreement that the need for legal empowerment is prominent across the region, especially for marginalized populations, but it cannot be done in an effective manner by simply going out in the communities and bringing people together for brief sessions. There is a need for legal education to be more concrete and robust.
  • Populations should be engaged in a setting where they can actually learn the law and apply it in their day-to-day lives. Knowledge of the law is essential to legal empowerment.
  • We must also keep in mind that it is not just about knowing the law and using it to solve those day-to-day problems, but it also about having the ability to see violations that are taking place and then having the capacity to enforce the rule of law, hold your fellow citizens accountable, and advocating for systemic change.
  • Our model looks to provide both legal empowerment and economic empowerment so that community members can be knowledgeable enough to advocate for systemic change.
  • We looked through our legal act and determined that most women don’t actually know what is in the law. We developed a legal education album that contains picture-based legal messages. If an illiterate woman sees these pictures, we want them to be able to understand the law and how to get help if they are experiencing injustice.

Panelist: Annette Mbogoh, Executive Director, Kituo Cha Sheria Legal Advice Centre – Kenya

  • We have a team of lawyers who provide direct legal services, but we also have volunteer advocates around the country who support the work that we do. We conduct training for specific community members to work as paralegals. We sustain a close relationship with these community paralegals but allow them to work independently for the most part.
  • Providing legal aid is not sustainable in the long term so it is essential that we conduct targeted capacity building for communities so that they can respond to the specific issues that affect them.
  • The provision of direct legal services is very demanding. It is important that we take on strategic litigation related to those issues that many clients come to us with. Filing strong public interest litigation is crucial in this line of work. We have also started to consider litigation at the regional level.
  • The use of information is very important. Knowledge of the law is essential to legal empowerment. We are very active in developing materials specifically tailored around our laws. We are not only developing booklets and brochures, but also animations. They simplify various aspects of the law for the most marginalized.
  • The use of technology in access to justice initiatives has become increasingly important. We developed an SMS platform/mobile app that any member of the public can use to message a lawyer and they will receive a response within 48 hours.
  • We have been working to expand our sphere outside of Kenya so that we can have conversations with other organizations around Africa to share experiences and lessons learned. There must be consistent dialogue among the communities, government, and civil society.

Panelist: Adrien Tossa Montcho, National Coordinator, MDT, Guinea

  • We also depend on a network of paralegals. We engage a model where we mobilize paralegals through volunteerism. Our specialization focuses on providing access to justice to the most vulnerable populations in Guinea.
  • It is fundamentally important that we consider context when thinking about legal empowerment. The situation and justice needs vary from country to country and community to community.
  • We think one of the most important things that organizations need to keep in mind is that we have to bridge the gap between traditional justice needs and modern ones.
  • Many of the panelists have mentioned that women/marginalized populations often have the greatest need for access to justice initiatives. It is necessary that we work collectively to find a way to assist the most vulnerable populations. We should reinforce the notion that legal empowerment should be a collaborative effort.

Panelist: Sheila Grace A. Formento, National Coordinator, The Alternative Law Groups- Secretariat – Philippines

  • We have a dual focus of empowering the most marginalized populations and effecting justice reform. We work to enhance the capacity of these marginalized groups and empower them to reliably engage both formal and traditional methods of justice. We seek to protect and inform communities of their rights. We also focus on pursuit of favorable policy and litigation support, especially as it relates to the poor and marginalized.
  • Our paralegal trainings are more so focused on specific sectors. Paralegals are capable of conducting various trainings based on the situation at hand.
  • One of our major accomplishments is engaging in community-based dialogue with the security sector (police and military). We have developed modules for engaging the security sector that work to ensure that they incorporate human rights work into their practice.
  • Collective action/coalition building is key to this kind of work being successful. Organizations should share those ideas, resources, and models that are successful in their communities so that they can be adapted and applied in different contexts. While models cannot be copied and pasted from one community to the next and context should always be considered, the sharing of ideas and building coalitions is essential to seeing progress.

Panelist: Michala Mackay, Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation, Government of Sierra Leone

  • When we are talking about solutions, it is not as simple as copying a model and applying it from one community to the next. We have to consider the specific context and law at hand.
  • Information is critical in this line of work, but equally as important is the need to ensure that this information is readily available to citizens. Basic access can be provided through mediums such as mobile phones, but we cannot guarantee all citizens have access to technology.
  • We have been working on interactive voice recorded messages and have found that these can be very useful for illiterate/marginalized populations.
  • It is important that community members are brought to the table to develop, refine, and adapt legal empowerment models.

Question and Answer Session

Question: I am wondering how many of the women you are working with use social media? Do you have a way of pulling some of the best social media comments to take to those who cannot access social media?


  • Michala: Many phones that citizens use cannot access social media. In our case, this is where we use radio programs to be able to educate women and vulnerable groups about their rights and the type of information that they have access to. However, there are people who cannot afford a radio set. This is why it is important to have humans on the ground to provide community engagement on a one to one level.
  • Mohamed ( @jabobs) : As it stands now, the level of literacy is just too poor. If women cannot afford to buy a simple button phone, then they definitely cannot afford an android phone. This is why I do believe that face to face engagement must happen sometimes. We must engage directly in legal empowerment issues in certain circumstances. We hope to one day have technology across the country, but as it stands now, we are far away from that. Alternatively, engaging on a one to one basis is productive and sustainable.

Question: How can organizations improve good practices for legal empowerment in the countries where governments are not receptive to these practices which can bring about reform?

  • Mohamed (@jabobs) : We have seen that what we are doing now is not very far from the government mandate. All organizations working around access to justice very much align with government mandates and that is exactly what we try to do on a more concrete basis. At the same time, we want government to know that civil society organizations that provide community justice services are in a better position to compliment the efforts of the government in providing access to justice for all by 2030. Governments should not lose sight of that. It is very important that members of organizations form a network of coalitions and provide the paralegal services/access to justice and provide evidence-based findings for government to actually see that the informal justice sector through paralegalism is working. Coming together as a coalition adds more power and more value to support the government effort in achieving access to justice.

Key recommendations or calls to action

  1. This summit could be a starting point for community-based paralegals and legal empowerment organizations to establish systems of learning and to share and engage on common solutions and challenges, regardless of geographic location.
  2. Coalition building is key to this kind of work being successful. Organizations should share those ideas, resources, and models that are successful in their communities so that they can be adapted and applied in different contexts. While models cannot be copied and pasted from one community to the next and context should always be considered, the sharing of ideas and building coalitions is essential to seeing progress.
  3. The use of modern technology in legal empowerment models can provide a notable impact when developing innovative approaches to address justice challenges in the 21st century.

Key takeaways

  • Organizational strategies and tools are distinctly targeted to meet the specific needs of the populations they serve, but it is also evident that they all use somewhat similar elements of legal empowerment to promote legal awareness, education, and support advocacy initiatives aimed at placing communities at the center of solving their own unique justice and development challenges.
  • Given the great demand for legal empowerment, elevating strategic litigation to the national level and effecting justice system reforms can have a notable impact to get governments to listen to systemic issues and subsequently address them.
  • Knowledge of the law is essential to legal empowerment. Though it is not just about knowing the law and using it to solve day-to-day problems. It is also about having the ability to see violations that are taking place and then having the capacity to enforce the rule of law, hold your fellow citizens accountable, and advocating for systemic change.
  • It is fundamentally important for community-based paralegals and legal empowerment organizations to work towards adapting their models so that they answer to the specific needs of their communities and local contexts. Innovation is key in this regard and the importance of developing models that give agency and voice to the most marginalized cannot be understated.

Some of the questions /comments from participants include:

From Cerue Konah Garlo : @jabobs I like the approach to blend economic empowerment with legal services, this might encourage more women to take up legal cases using the formal justice systems instead of always using the informal justice systems that most of the times favor men and create the environment for comprising cases and settle at the family level

From Nabe Kanfiegue , President of Union Syndicale des Agriculteurs ,Togo : How can we improve law and justice for rural and poor urban communities who are ignorant of law and their country constitution?

From @FatmataKanu : The picture-based legal messages ( presented by @jabobs) is great and could be useful in our land negotiation and Environmental justice work with large land scale investment. will love to chat with you later to share these brilliant approaches in our legal empowerments journey. thank you for that excellent presentation.

From Nabe Kanfiegue , President of Union Syndicale des Agriculteurs ,Togo : How can organisations improve Good Practices for Legal Empowerment in the countries like Togo, Cote d’IVOIRE where governments refuse to accept democracy?

From @nancysesay : great examples of strategic litigation cases (from Kituo cha Sheria). Well done Anette! Other west Africa countries can definitely learn from this. In Sierra Leone, we face the same issues but the Judiciary rarely assign these kinds for cases for trial.

From Ismail Ismail Abdullahi : That’s great innovation Annette. What about location that may not have access to network? We would please like to know if you have any strategy on that.

From Godwin Jonah (JP). : Good day guys, what can we do when it come to the negligence of our law enforcement agents in carrying out their official duties?

From @FatmataKanu: Interesting presentation presentation Adrien. thank you. by the way what kind of Legal Empowerment support/strategies do you use to support host communities of large Land-scale Investment that help them to pursue their justice problems without going to court

From @nancysesay : Interesting point on engaging on the issue of appointment of judges at the highest court and independence of the judiciary. I would like to learn more about this especially on how you (Adrien) engage on this issue.


English Recording

French Recording

This session drew together key lessons and priorities emanating from the substantive sessions of the Summit .An outcome document capturing regional commitments and recommendations for a way forward, with the aim of continuing to build regional momentum around collective access to justice priorities was developed.

We asked participants in what areas they would likely make justice commitments ( Programmatic, Policy , Financing). The results are as below:

Very interesting !

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