Can Digital Social Innovation Work in Sub-Saharan Africa?: Drawing Lessons from Taiwan’s Successful Pandemic Response

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LIVE Webinar on Facebook 27 May 2020 (Wednesday), 10:00 – 11:00 GMT/ 12:00 – 13:00 (South Africa)/ 18:00 – 19:00 (Taiwan)



Social innovation, defined as “people’s participation from all walks of life in order to benefit society”, is said to be cornerstone of Taiwan’s collective intelligence.  The country’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with less than 500 confirmed cases and 6 deaths in a country of 23 million people, also largely hinges on people’s access to, and use of, reliable and credible information.


With an almost universal internet, mobile phone and cable TV penetration, Taiwan has been able to successfully engage its population to be part of the solution to both enduring and emerging societal problems, including the COVID-19 health crisis. Taking this into account, the question arises whether digital social innovation can work in contexts where there is less developed technological or digital infrastructure. Sub-Saharan Africa serves as a case in point.

According to the 2018 survey of a US-based think tank Pew Research Center, Sub-Saharan Africa has a lower level of internet use than any other geographic region. The GSM Association, an industry organization that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, also reported in 2019 that mobile internet in the region is only at 24%.  Part of the reason for this low penetration, is the high cost of the internet, with the Alliance for Affordable Internet reporting that African consumers are paying some of the highest rates in the world for internet access as a proportion of income.


Apart from access to digital technology, there are other contextual issues in the region that may impinge on digital social innovation.  The key findings of the Africa Liberal Network (ALN) and Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) Sub-Saharan Africa’s “Freedom and COVID-19 Survey” conducted on April/May 2020 provide a glimpse of those issues:


  • 92% of Africans support restrictive measures to control the spread of COVID-19, although a sizeable 40% sees them as a risk to individual freedoms;
  • 62% of Africans (in East Africa even 71%) are prepared to give up some or many of their freedoms for a longer period of time to get the virus under control;
  • 65% of Africans (in East Africa, this goes to 71% and in Southern Africa to 77%) believe that the virus is especially risky in Africa because “health systems have suffered from corruption and dishonest government”;
  • 60% of Africans do not think that all the news about the virus are correct and take the news with a pinch of salt;
  • 15% of Africans trust their government more than before the pandemic, whereas 16% trust their government less than before; 11% trust their government completely anyhow, 41% only up to a point, and 15% simply never trusted their government and “still don’t”; and
  • 28% of Africans were and still are in favor of strong government control on freedoms, another and 14% are now more in favor of such controls; 34% always did and still do support maximum individual freedoms, and another 16% said that “the crisis has made clear how terrible it is when the government takes citizens’ freedoms away to organize their own lives”.

Taking these issues into account, ALN and the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), in cooperation with FNF Sub-Saharan Africa, are planning to organize a one-hour interactive webinar entitled “Can Digital Social Innovation Work in Sub-Saharan Africa: Drawing Lessons from Taiwan’s Successful Pandemic Response”.  In particular, the webinar hopes to address the following questions:


  • What are the key characteristics of Taiwan’s digital social innovation, particularly in relation to the country’s pandemic response?;
  • Would digital social innovation work in Sub-Saharan Africa? What could be the possible innovations or changes to make it work in the African context?; and
  • How can Sub-Saharan Africa use digital social innovation to improve its pandemic response?



Gilbert Noël Ouédraogo – Africa Liberal Network President;
Hakima Elhaité – Liberal International President

Keynote Address:
Audrey Tang – Digital Minister, Taiwan

Moderated by:
Jules Maaten – Freedom Foundation Africa, Regional Director

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