How can young leaders champion data to spark changes in their communities?

The Data Zetu team met with young parliamentarians to explore ways that evidence-based decision making can help youth advocate for change using data in their communities.

Young Members of Parliament and Data Zetu Team (TBI) together ready to champion data for change.

In May 2017, Tanzania Bora Initiative (TBI), a Data Zetu partner, hosted a workshop with the Young Members of Parliament Caucus in Dodoma, Tanzania. These MPs represent the Tanzanian Parliament’s youth cohort (defined by the country’s 2007 National Youth Development Policy as people aged 15 to 35 years), and we were there to explore some fundamental questions, namely: How can they use data for evidence-based decision making as a voice for the youth and women agenda on important topics such as drug use, unemployment, early pregnancy, and quality of education?

This question sparked a long and vibrant discussion. It was evident that these young parliamentarians recognize the importance of data as part of their daily decision making process — both during and outside of parliamentary sessions.

Parliamentarians recognize the importance of data as part of their daily decision making process.

Take for example the Honorable Salome Wycliffe Makamba, a special seat representative from Shinyanga Town, situated in Shinyanga District. Shinyanga is one of Tanzania’s DREAMS priority districts with high rates of HIV prevalence, particularly among young women (young women, in fact, is a strongly represented group among Tanzania’s Young MP Caucus; 23 of the 35 workshop participants were female).

Hon. Salome has long been an advocate for maternal and adolescent girls’ health, and she relies heavily on data to serve as evidence for that advocacy. For instance, she examined data that suggested that, in her words to our team, “maternal mortality is on the rise because of child marriages”, and used that evidence to propose a change to the country’s 1967 Marriage Act in order to raise the minimum marriage age for girls above the standard of 14.

Hon. Salome shared how her advocacy has been strengthened by the use of statistics

Stories like hers gave us real insight into the need and urgency of using data to address challenges facing everyday Tanzanians. It also reminds us of the importance of finding, sharing, and using data that is relevant and authentic to everyday pain points (read about Data Zetu’s problem-driven approach here).

After a half day workshop, we were fortunate to meet with the Hon. Abdallah Mtolea, a representative from Temeke District (which is among the three target districts of Data Zetu). Like his colleague Hon. Saloma, Hon. Mtolea is passionate about specific issues, including curbing alcohol and drug use. He shared with us his vision for ensuring that Temeke District indeed turns out to be a data-driven community.

That process, like with Hon. Saloma, starts with using evidence to understand a challenge. Drug and alcohol abuse (which are core topics for Data Zetu program given our focus on SDG 3 Health), is highly affecting youth — specifically male youth — in Temeke District. In our Listening Campaigns conducted there last month, we heard countless stories from the community about alarming growth in the use of drugs among youth in the streets. And according to a 2016 research paper, of 105 Temeke Hospital patients aged 12–49 who were affected by drug abuse in December 2014 93.3% were male. This data, while not complete, helps expose and explain the scale of the problem in Temeke community.

Data collected from our Listening Campaigns highlights the magnitude of the “drug abuse” problem (24.5% of community members identified this issue). Data Zetu will soon make this data openly accessible.

Based on this evidence and moving forward, Data Zetu hopes to work with young people, youth representatives like Hon. Salome and Hon. Mtolea, and community organizations tackling issues like adolescent health and drug abuse, using tools — both online and offline tools such as visual and performance arts — to enrich the use and relevance of data in making evidence based decisions among these stakeholders and their communities.

As our meeting with the Young MPs demonstrated, young people can be valuable champions in this effort. Already, our sister program, the Tanzania Data Lab (dLab), has worked with Youthmappers — a global initiative of young people who fill data gaps in their communities using tools like OpenStreetMap — and the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) East African Regional Leadership Center to map key infrastructure in Tanzanian communities. And the US State Department recently launched a virtual internship for Mobilizing Youth on Data for Action and Transformation in Africa (MYDATA).

We’re excited to continue collaborating with stakeholders like the Tanzanian Young MPs’ Caucus to ensure that youth are driving the subnational data revolution across Africa. Let’s all be young enough to stand up and champion data to bring changes in our communities through effective, efficient, and evidence-based decision making.