Please join MIT GOV/LAB for a talk:

Helping Grassroots Organizations Mobilize: Civic Technology in Low-Data Contexts

LUKE JORDAN, Founder and Executive Director of Grassroot (South Africa)

4:00 – 5:00 PM | E53-482
RSVP by Nov. 18th.
Refreshments provided!

Grassroot is a non-profit in South Africa, founded in late 2015 to help low-income communities take collective action using technology. In its first three years Grassroot built a set of tools using protocols such as “unstructured supplementary service data” (USSD) that allow organizers without smartphones, or with smartphones but without the funds to pay for data, to organize their communities. Those tools reached hundreds of thousands of people and supported some of South Africa’s largest social movements and instances of protest.

But after a deep review of the effect of those tools, the team concluded that it needed to find better ways to connect organizers to knowledge and to each other. After several failures involving overly complicated attempts at using graph databases and natural language understanding (NLU) to build automated ways to do that, Grassroot pivoted to pilot courses over WhatsApp that focused on leadership development and legislation. The courses are designed for adult learning and intermediated by coaches and, while initial results are still tentative, may point to exciting new ways to make the world’s most important communications system into a useful medium of pedagogy.


Luke Jordan is the Founder and Executive Director at Grassroot. Formerly at McKinsey in Johannesburg and Shanghai, the World Bank in New Delhi and advisor to municipal and national government in South Africa.

Grassroot is a civic technology organization that provides low-tech, low-cost tools for grassroots organizers working primarily with low-income groups in South Africa.