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Introducing our Equity & Inclusion Consultant: Nonso Jideofor

Words by Lorin Camargo • Jan 25 2021

Nonso is helping Code for All and our 31 member organizations become more equitable and inclusive in all that we do.

As a global civic tech network, we promote diversity and inclusion in our communities — but we also know that walking this talk can be a difficult thing to do.

In the wake of a year that’s intensified and highlighted inequalities for marginalized groups across the world, we’ve sat up and asked ourselves, “How can Code for All do better? How can we make our Network more inclusive and representative?”

The first step, we decided, was to hire someone who could approach these questions with a fresh point of view — someone who’s well versed in working with global communities, and has the skills to courageously take on this task.

We found that person in Nonso Jideofor.

As the Founder of PresentLab, and formerly The Engine Room’s regional lead in sub-saharan Africa, Nonso’s career is anchored in work with multidisciplinary, multicultural and distributed teams.

His work in the last 8 years has helped develop internal policies and guides which enable more representative and diverse organizations — recently, he helped design and manage the implementation of an equity and inclusion project for another global network: Open Heroines.

Nonso is working collaboratively with the Code for All team, as well as with our 31 member organizations, so we can all work toward making our communities more genuinely inclusive, inside and out.

We sat down with Nonso to chat about the journey that led him to this role and what he hopes to accomplish with us — here’s what we learned:

Several people posing for a group photo inside a conference room.
Post-workshop photo of Nonso with the Malawi Economic Justice Network Team.

How did you find yourself working in the realm of equity and inclusion?

My initial experience came from my first job within the field of global development — which was with a multicultural, diverse team. Prior to that experience, I hadn’t had to talk about equity and inclusion — then, all of the sudden, it was a thing that needed to be discussed and deliberated upon. From there it progressed to conversations in the field, seeing this was something that we’re all struggling with.

Why do you think equity and inclusion is important?

It’s a bit of a tough one, right? Because, I would say that — the first time I was actually in a meeting and thought, ‘Oh, this is a diversity and inclusion meeting’, I couldn’t process it fully. I kind of felt like, ‘Isn’t this a given? Do we have to have conversations about it?’

But in time you see that it’s actually complicated. And it does indeed require some amount of strategizing and intentionality to see those results.

If I’m asked why I think it’s important — I think it’s the whole point of our politics and governance. It’s the bedrock of the values that we profess (whether it’s true democracy or otherwise), but it also does beg the question of — who should be including who?

The whole mission of ‘Let’s go for equity and inclusion’ — it sort of has this undertone that someone is making the effort to include another person, and it’s like, you can just use the power and resources available to you to make the changes rather than putting that burden on the person who seems to be excluded.

A person giving a presentation on stage at a TICTeC event.
Nonso giving a presentation on access to water and civic tech in Freetown, Sierra Leone at TicTec 2018.

How do you think the civic tech field can improve when it comes to equity and inclusion?

I’d say there perhaps needs to be a two-pronged approach — and it’s reflected in the design of this Code for All project. I think it’s both an internal improvement within organizations, and also an improvement on what we put out into the world.

What I see sometimes with the internal improvements is emphasis and focus on certain aspects of what can be done differently to achieve greater equity and inclusion — and then other aspects are missed. Who’s to say which aspects are more important? I don’t know which are more important, but I think the improvements need to be comprehensive.

With the internal, sometimes I find the emphasis begins around compensation or payrolls, welfare and then there’s a bit of oversight around more practical things, like the tools we use, our ways of working, or even the way we hire. So I think there’s that internal wriggle that might be required for us to progress.

Then with what we put out into the world (with the projects we create), there are three things that have been at the top of my mind lately: design, communication and evaluation.

  • Design: there’s so much documented work on the need for projects to be user-centered and the need to design with users but much more still needs to be done for the latter (project designers should increasingly take the back seat, be patient, take a learning posture and let communities shape things).
  • Communication: a lot of people are excluded and not treated equitably on projects simply because they communicate concepts in a way that is different from the norm (although our intentions are to amplify their voices, we listen with our bias and we end up sorting and filtering so much that their voices are removed and we just tell the stories we want to tell).
  • Evaluation: similarly for measurement, we need to open up our measurements to the viewpoint and values of what is important to others, so that we avoid measuring outcomes, products and end goals that are consistently non-inclusive and inequitable.
Several people standing and talking animatedly in a conference room.
Nonso at a workshop with climate change activists, discussing how to apply design thinking to their advocacy.

What do you think organizations need to do to avoid having a ‘checkbox-style’ diversity?

I think there’s a disposition that organizations need to take that can make a difference, and it starts with being intentional but there is more to it. I think they need to be more intentional but the trick shot is that intentionality can give us a sense that it’s a destination, but it’s not. The moment we become intentional about something, somewhere in our minds we start to see an endpoint, and it becomes a destination. But actually, it doesn’t have an endpoint. It’s a balancing act.

What helps strike that right balance is starting off from a point where we recognize and acknowledge that everyone’s — those who hold power now and those that don’t — perspective matters. A level playing field will cure us from that sense of a destination.

This sense of an endpoint is further reinforced because we approach this type of work as a project. We get this policy document in place to create an equitable and inclusive environment, and we think it will continue to be relevant for all time — or even for the next 5 years — and I don’t think that’s true. It’s an ongoing process.

And that leads to the final piece, which is that — we need to embrace that discomfort. We need to be less driven by some need to be efficient and create room for ourselves to actually begin undergoing this journey with many directions of travel.

A book, MacBook and mobile phone on a table at a restaurant outdoors.
Nonso wrapped up with work and ready to take a break for the day at Art Cafe in Lagos.

What do you hope to accomplish through this project?

I’m hoping that at the end of this project, we’ll start a conversation and develop tools to keep the conversation ongoing. The idea for me is that — again back to the fact that I don’t think this a one-stop destination that we’re going to arrive at, there is an immediate outcome in front of us, and I’m seeing that as finding the right tools to keep this conversation going.

These changes will be different from the notion that there is somebody that needs to make the system more equitable for another. How do we get to a point where this is not about ‘othering’ or tasking ourselves to include a certain group that we think is excluded — but instead is about collectively moving from where we are currently to new spaces? It might unsettle things a bit but it will be for the good.

What makes you excited to work with Code for All?

It’s a unique platform to drive change from. The Core Team is small, but a body of work like this can go further than this project. When I imagine the possibility of members taking this back to their individual organizations or sharing it throughout the civic tech community — it’s something exciting to imagine.

A composite of two images showing a person holding a puppy and a person posing with a small dog.
Nonso with puppy, Kamsy (left) and his dog, Zane (right).

On more of a personal note, what do you like to do in your spare time? What are some of your favorite things?

I like Nigerian pop culture, particularly entertainment — growing up, the industry was dominated by content that wasn’t created here, but seeing that change over time sort of sucks you in. Whether it’s the pride in seeing that happen here or it’s just that it speaks more directly to you as a person, it’s always exciting to hear songs or watch movies that are based off of things that you’re familiar with. Some of my favorite artists include Omah Lay, Bella Shmurda, Wizkid, Burna Boy and Adekunle Gold. I also enjoy dancing.

I have a dog (Zane) — he’s a great dog, always energetic. I also have plants — I have a couple and I keep adding to them. Also on the side, I like to spend time reflecting on the spiritual — I find that sometimes we limit the way we process life to the frames of questions and answers. But I think there’s room for more, and that more for me is faith and doubt — so yeah, I try to have my questions and my answers but stay open to my faith and doubts.

Further reading on Equity & Inclusion:

Thank you Nonso for sharing these!

  1. ‘Checkbox Diversity’ Must Be Left Behind for DEI Efforts to Succeed
  2. When Words Do Not Matter: Identifying Actions to Effect Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Academy
  3. Move from “checkbox diversity” to valuing a “diversity of perspective”

Author picture

Lorin Camargo

Co-Director at Code for All

As a Co-Director, Lorin helps shape communication, team, and organizational strategy for the Network. Before Code for All, she was involved in civic tech through work with Code for San José (a Code for America brigade), and Code for Australia. From seamstress to civic techie, Lorin formerly worked in fashion production and as a freelance sewing instructor.

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