Last week on Wednesday, BarefootLaw, a Uganda- based Not- For- Profit Organization that is leveraging the power of technology to deliver free legal information and legal services mainly to Ugandans celebrated 10 years of existence.
This feat is huge considering most Start-Ups globally don’t live long enough to see their first birthday, let alone their tenth.
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We caught up with the team at BarefootLaw to talk about their journey over the past 10 years and their plans ahead.
For starters, BarefootLaw uses technology in the simplest way you can imagine to impact Ugandans – most of whom are “law illiterate”, in a meaningful way.
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They rely on social media especially Facebook to curate and deliver legal content deemed relevant to Ugandans.
They also have an SMS feature that they use to interact with people in need of legal help.
And as they grow, it seems BarefootLaw has expanded its reach by conducting community outreaches and receiving walk-in clients at its physical offices.
“ While at Law School, I realized there was a disconnect between the law and society, and it was then that the idea of BarefootLaw came about. I used to call into radio stations and write articles to educate people about the law.”Says Mr. Gerald Abila, Founder and Executive Director of BarefootLaw.
“ My turning point was when I went to a Court for the first time and saw an accused man who had no idea what was happening. Of course, he was convicted. So I dedicated myself to sharing the law with people like him and started BarefootLaw.”
And the results of this dedication are there for us to see and for the people helped, to feel.
According to Barefoot Law, over 940,000 people have been impacted by their work in the past ten years, which they say is their most remarkable achievement so far.
Their impact can also be felt across borders in countries like Kenya, Malawi, and Tanzania “where we are building the body of knowledge on innovations in access to Justice across Africa and sharing our lessons and experience in the field.”
At the start, that August of 2012, BarefootLaw was run by a small team of four people working from a cubicle but now it says it has a team of 32 implying the innovation is providing a livelihood.
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However, this journey has not been all rosy and the challenges BarefootLaw points out are more structural than individual – something that has affected its scaling-up efforts.
Low resources, slow technological development, and low local expertise are some of the challenges they point out.
“ Getting certain unique skill sets in technology is hard, [and] it is at a high cost even when available.”It says.
But there are more and bigger structural problems – I think everyone interested in the technological landscape of Uganda already knows about them.
For example, BarefootLaw decries the numerous internet shutdowns (at the time of writing Facebook is blocked) and the so-called Social Media Tax (which has since been scrapped), the Government of Uganda has imposed on Ugandans which they say have cut their audiences.
Poor connectivity in some parts of Uganda has also made their work difficult but BarefootLaw says these challenges are being addressed by Uganda’s National Information Technology Authority (NITA).
Challenges notwithstanding, BarefootLaw remains ambitious and focused to achieve its dream of “making the law readily available for all.”
Part of their goal is to reach 50 Million people by 2030.
An Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered legal assistant called “Winnie” is also being developed by BarefootLaw under the belief that AI has the potential of providing legal advice as accurate or more accurate than that given by a natural lawyer.
Last year, BarefootLaw was among the winners of the Airtel ” UG Needs More of You” campaign that sought to support technology-enabled innovations. ( Read our report about that here.)
Benjamin Ahikiiriza is a Legal Writer And Digital Communications & Marketing Specialist majoring in Lawyers, Law Firms And the larger Legal Sector.
Benjamin currently Works as the Director of Content and Business Development At LegalReports.