Looking to the World

The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL – best known for its early pioneering but ill-fated rechtwijzer) – continues in its role as technological development organisation. Its traditional jamboree in the Hague’s Palace of Justice moved online last week for ‘a demo day’ of their justice accelerator project. This showcased 18 startups from seven countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe (pre-invasion Ukraine).

One of the impressive part of the programme is the bit you dont really see. HiiL have taken the competitive hackathon model and sought to give it a bit of substance: ‘Startups selected for the programme participate in an intensive 4-month training programme, gain access to customised coaching and mentorship, and receive a €10,000 non-equity fund to help scale their innovation.’ HiiL has ‘innovation hubs’ in East Africa, Southern Africa and Ukraine. The programme has been running since 2011 and, by 2020, 75 supported projects were up and running. 

The winners this year was Nigeria’s Think Help Restore Media which is a social enterprising using technology and media to help victims of domestic and sexual violence. It produces a ‘herfessions’ app . This ‘provides an anonymous platform designed to enable support to victims and survivors (of SGBV); ensuring that any woman requiring assistance will be able to reach the requisite support, access relief, and would be provided with the education and tools necessary to heal and thrive.’ The project has also developed CAST (Community Advocacy and Storytelling) as an advocacy tool that allows victims and survivors to tell their stories in material which can be used in a community educational context. The mobile app serves to map the resources available to women experiencing violence, building a community of support, and also providing anonymity. It will be a mobile and virtual ecosystem of collaborative agencies that will provide legal aid, vocational/educational, health, psycho-social support, shelter, feeding, and government enforcement agencies. 

In second place was Tunisia’s Civitas, a platform to help users deal with government bureaucracy. Third was South Africa’s Legal Ascend which guides families from the administration elements of dealing with a death.

There is an enormous value – both to the entrants and to the wider world – in start ups from countries with developing economies presenting their wares to the world. It emphasises the global nature of technological innovation. There were, however, some signs of stretch. This year’s crop of demonstrators were as diverse as ever and some might be seen at the edge of the envelope of what might reasonably be called access to justice innovation. Kenya’s Vindex Systems  provides GPS tracker systems for motor vehicles which allows their easier tracing if stolen. That might alternatively be promoted as a business aid to the motorcycle and taxi owners whose property gets stolen. Kenya’s Upeasy programme is really a subscription based emergency service.

The format is difficult. It is effectively a politically correct version of the TV hit known in the UK ‘Dragon’s Den’ (and, its country of origin, Japan as ‘The Tigers of Money’) but, as often in the programme, the audience cannot really be given enough information to make a decision themselves. It might be that HiiL should provide more of the documentation that underlies the project so that we can have an informed view of sustainability and coherence. Alternatively, the demonstrations could wrap around a wider discussion of relevant issues – as they have in the past. That would mean that too much weight did not fall on them. 

All of which adds up to saying that HiiL is carrying on with sterling and original work in a series of countries we rarely associate with technological innovation. But the packaging of the eventual presentations might need a bit of freshening up. No doubt, the end of Covid restrictions will cause this anyway. And, no doubt, it is inherently pretty hard to graft what is, in effect, an entertainment element onto a solid development process.


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