Filming as a means of raising awareness: For WITNESS, Adebayo Okeowo, a human rights advocate, is committed to empowering people to use video effectively to document and stop human rights violations.
See it. Film it. Change it. That’s the guiding principle of Adebayo Okeowo. He works as the Associate Director of Programs, Regional & Partner Engagement of WITNESS, an international human rights organisation that is using authentic video footage to expose human rights violations and humanitarian abuses worldwide. With Social Media omnipresent and a mobile phone at everyone’s hand, videos are today one of the most important means of raising awareness and educating people. They help affected people to tell their stories and gather evidence of human rights violations. Adebayo has also won – as a self-taught photographer and filmmaker – two human rights photography awards and has organised campaigns focusing on the rights of vulnerable groups.
What problem do you solve with Witness? Why exactly does it need your solution?
At WITNESS, we help activists use video and technology to defend their human rights. Since 1992 we’ve worked with communities and human rights defenders to expose human rights abuses, obtain justice for victims and hold the powerful to account. Now with technological advancements that make it easier to blur the lines between what is true and what isn’t, our work has become more critical as we empower communities to fortify their truth by documenting videos that withstand disinformation tactics.
What did you do before you started the current project?
I joined WITNESS in 2019 as the Africa Program Manager and I led the implementation of our projects across Sub-Saharan Africa including cases relating to War Crimes, Land Defense and State Violence. However, in my current role as Associate Director of Programs, I oversee our global initiative focused on decentralizing, diversifying, and democratizing access to the skills, and tools dealing with emerging verification technologies for the benefit of journalists and activists in the global south.
What or who motivated you to become a social entrepreneur?
The seeds of social change were planted in me by my Dad. He was a journalist who never hesitated to confront any form of injustice. He taught me the importance of standing up for what is right even if it comes at a personal cost and so my studying Law and then working in the field of human rights for the past 15 years has been my way of living by the principle that the world can be a better place if we stand up for one another.
Which of your achievements have been particularly memorable for you?
I am grateful for the several opportunities I have had to work with some of the bravest people I know and supporting them to effectively document human rights violations by the State in order to secure justice for the victims of abuse. An example is the work my colleagues and I did with frontline activists in Nigeria during the #EndSARS protests of 2020 which enabled them expose cases of atrocities by government forces and pursue accountability after the gruesome incidents of that year.
Were there any moments that were especially challenging? What have you learned from these?
One of the very challenging moments was the excessive disinformation campaign mounted by the Nigerian government in a bid to quash the truth. This further confirmed what we have come to realize at WITNESS, which is that, in addition to training frontline activists on how to effectively document and expose atrocities, we must also empower them to fortify their truth by leveraging technology to verify video evidence as well as present compelling narratives in the defense of their human rights.
„Now with technological advancements that make it easier to blur the lines between what is true and what isn’t, our work has become more critical as we empower communities to fortify their truth by documenting videos that withstand disinformation tactics.“
— Adebayo Okeowo, Associate Director of Programs at WITNESS
Where do you want to take your journey in the future and what are your next big goals?
With the pervasiveness of disinformation and the increasing proliferation of synthetic media, it has become imperative to decentralize skills such as verification & open source investigation, especially in communities within the global south so that they can bolster their own testimony and documentation in a rapidly changing and volatile information landscape. So my goal is to support more activists and journalists in the global south to embark on verification that serves to fortify their truth.
What podcast do you listen to regularly? Which book is an absolute must-read for you personally?
A podcast I listen to regularly and which I will recommend is HARD FORK hosted by Kevin Roose and Casey Newton. It’s about developments in the world of tech. While my must-read book recommendation is Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie.
What are your tips for doing good in everyday life? Where do you find it rather difficult to live sustainably?
One tip I will share is wrapped up in a quote by my late Dad. It says: “Small deeds done are better than great acts planned.” Sometimes, when we consider the magnitude of the problems across the world, it can overwhelm us to the point of feeling like we are incapable of making a difference. But the truth is, those little deeds actually change someone’s life and if we must aspire to create big changes, we must begin by attending to the smaller needs around us daily.
Which organisation or start-up impresses you and is in your opinion a true role model?
There are so many but I am presently inspired by the impactful work being done by Hope Behind Bars Africa who are focused on reforming the criminal justice system in Nigeria and bringing more dignity to incarcerated individuals. This is a difficult thing to do in a country where the prevailing socio-cultural response to incarcerated individuals is one of disregard and abandonment. Nevertheless, Hope Behind Bars keeps forging ahead with determination and grit. It is simply inspiring
Complete this sentence: The world needs more …
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work and the things that motivate me.
Every month, we interview interesting entrepreneurs and focus on their personal stories. The interviews are intended to inspire, motivate and encourage people to put their own ideas into practice.
Do you know any social entrepreneurs with an inspiring story that we should interview? Then write to us!
Andrea Rebensburg, GOOD Impact Portfolio: email@example.com
In January 2023, we are supporting Witness. Find out more on the project page: