Suggested Citation: Zomer, Alisa, Luke Jordan, and Kelly Zhang. 2020. “A Novel Approach to Civic Pedagogy: Training Grassroots Organizers on WhatsApp.” Draft Outcome Brief: Grassroot (South Africa) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Governance Lab (United States).


Grassroot, a civic technology organization based in South Africa, launched a first-of-its-kind leadership development course over the messaging platform WhatsApp. The distance-learning course, Leadership through Storytelling, was designed to build the capacity of organizers for sustained community activism. In 2019, Grassroot piloted the course and collaborated with the MIT GOV/LAB to conduct mixed-methods research on the effectiveness of the course content and its potential to advance long-term community organizing goals. This Outcome Brief discusses pilot results and the possibility of reimagining social media platforms such as WhatsApp, often in the spotlight for their negative role in spreading misinformation and sowing the seeds of distrust, as a new avenue for advancing civic pedagogy and networking for long-term social movement building. Though additional iterations are required, initial results suggest that the WhatsApp course was able to connect grassroots organizers in a novel way that encourages learning and information exchange.

For details on the pilot course and a guide for teaching on WhatsApp: “Teaching on WhatsApp: Leadership and Storytelling for Grassroots Community Organizers“. Course materials are also available online

Image: Durban, South Africa (Alisa Zomer).