Digital Grassroots at RightsCon 2023: Empowering Young Leaders in the Digital Rights Space

By Muhammed Bello Buhari | July 8, 2023


Digital Grassroots, in a landmark partnership, teamed up with the RightsCon team to co-create and deliver the Young Leaders Summit (YLS), a key component of RightsCon 2023. We engaged from the preparatory stages, putting our expertise to work and shaping the event to effectively cater to young digital rights advocates from around the globe. RightsCon 2023 was a global event organized by Access Now that aimed to bring together over 8,000 participants from 174 countries to discuss and promote a rights-respecting digital future. With a diverse range of programming across 15 tracks, RightsCon provided a platform to address various topics and challenges related to digital rights. The event occurred in San Jose, Costa Rica, from 5th to 8th June 2023, with registrations to the various sessions open to the public.


Workshop: Movement Building for Youth at RightsCon

Our organization had the opportunity to contribute to the RightsCon Young Leaders Summit by hosting a workshop titled ‘Movement Building for Youth at RightsCon’ on June 5, 2023, which was facilitated by David Aragort, our stellar community member from Venezuela, researcher, and advocate in the field of tech, democracy, and human rights. David played a pivotal role in the workshop, adapting the session design and methodology to create a space that effectively married learning and networking. Leveraging his extensive experience, David ensured that the workshop catered to the needs of the participants, who were mainly newcomers to the RightsCon space.


In addition to his active role in facilitating the workshop, David further contributed to the event by actively participating and representing the youth voices of the global south. Drawing from his experiences on the ground, David shared invaluable insights, his perspectives shed light on the challenges and opportunities faced by young leaders advocating for digital rights in regions such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Some of the key insights he shared during the event include:


  • The urgent need for increased international support and solidarity to amplify the voices of activists working in authoritarian states, address challenges they face and promote collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and open dialogue to counter digital authoritarianism.
  • The importance of leveraging innovative technological solutions to address censorship and surveillance challenges faced by digital rights advocates.
  • The importance of resources and support for youth engagement in digital rights advocacy, including networking opportunities and social spaces, to enhance the overall experience for newcomers and participants.
  • The significance of promoting digital literacy and skills training programs to empower marginalized communities in the global south and bridge the digital divide.


These insights from David underscored the critical role that youth leaders from the global south play in advancing digital rights, and they sparked meaningful discussions and exchanges among participants. We extend our gratitude to David for his invaluable contribution to the success of this workshop.


RightsCon Costa Rica Youth Social Hour

In addition to the workshop, we hosted the ‘RightsCon Young Leaders Summit Social Hour.’ This virtual session was facilitated prior to the Young Leaders Summit on May 29, 2023, by our Chief Strategist, Esther Mwema, our Global Lead, Uffa Modey, our Communications Lead, Hanna Pishchyk, our Programs Lead, Morisola Alaba, and our Tech Support, Rachad Sanoussi, brought together approximately 50 participants from over 20 countries. The social hour allowed young participants to engage with one another, build connections, and network. 


Our guest speaker delivered a presentation introducing attendees to the history, mission, and impact of RightsCon, while also sharing best practices and pathways for remotely participating in RightsCon Costa Rica. Participants were self-divided into three discussion groups based on their interests related to RightsCon and its key topics, focusing on connecting and networking, collaborations for digital rights advocacy, and available digital rights advocacy resources. The interactive format allowed participants to connect, exchange ideas, and explore potential partnerships. This session highlighted the significance of fostering international connections and cooperation among young leaders, paving the way for future joint efforts in promoting digital rights worldwide.


In conclusion, our organization’s participation in RightsCon 2023 proved to be a valuable experience. The Young Leaders Summit and its Social Hour provided meaningful engagement opportunities for young leaders, facilitating connections and collaborations. They highlighted the importance of interactive sessions, inclusive networking spaces, and ongoing discussions on pressing digital rights issues. 


Reflecting on the event, we also recognize the need to do more. We must strive to include more young people, particularly those from marginalized communities, in spaces like RightsCon. This year, the unfortunate reality of exclusion manifested when over 300 participants from less-recognized nations could not attend due to visa complications. Additional challenges emerged from financial constraints tied to visa procurement and travel expenses. These challenges are even more pressing for young people, who often lack the resources and support to participate fully. Therefore, it is our collective responsibility to advocate for more inclusive policies and measures that address these barriers, allowing for diverse and representative participation of voices at events like RightsCon. Moving forward, our organization remains committed to empowering young leaders, amplifying marginalized voices, and actively working towards a more inclusive and accessible digital rights landscape.