A spotlight interview with 2021 Data Fellow Rosemary Okello-Orlale (Kenya cohort)
AP: Can you describe your background and past work experience, and what made you passionate about data journalism?
RO: I started my career as a journalist, wrote development stories, founded the Africa Woman and Child Feature Service, and worked for the Ford Foundation where I was central to the conceptualization and successful execution of the 2013 presidential debate. These experiences have made me recognized as an expert in the field of communication, media, and gender. I am also passionate about creating African narratives through data storytelling.
For more than 18 years, I have been focusing on development journalism and exploring the intersection between media, gender, and development journalism. I am currently working with Strathmore Business School as the Director of the Africa Media Hub whose mission is to enhance access to quality, relevant, accessible, timely data, business and financial information needed to allow governments and decision-makers to extend services into communities. My work is focused on harnessing data revolution and reshaping the Africa narrative through creative communication and social justice storytelling.
AP: You’ve worked on so many gender issues for so many years. What’s one of the main issues facing women and girls in Kenya at the moment?
RO: One area where women are facing challenges is in leadership. This therefore calls for a transformative shift in governance structure where the government needs to focus on gender disparities in the executive, legislative, judiciary branches, private sector, and also the media. Covid-19 has helped in shedding light on many issues like gender-based violence, women’s security, women’s roles in caregiving, and the safety of girls. Even though the media reported high cases of GBV, the issues facing women and girls in Kenya during the Covid-19 pandemic have always affected women most and many women also face violence through social media.
AP: What is the general perception around these issues, and are they based on data?
RO: Even though data can help in bringing out gender issues by using facts and figures, culture and traditional practices strongly influence how men and women think about themselves within their gender roles. This latter affects women in education, decision-making, work environment and generally within communities. Therefore, having a comprehensive data policy coupled with proper skills can help in understanding what challenges women and girls face and enable decision-makers to make interventions where they are needed most. Developing a gender and data policy can help in shaping how data is collected, used, and analyzed to inform decision-making.
Gaining extra skills on gender and data analytics through the Tableau Fellowship has shown the Fellows that there are better ways to analyze data, especially when it comes to gender issues. Skillful use of data and understanding data can make a difference in addressing gender inequality at national, regional, and global levels.
AP: How does data visualization help communicate these numbers into something understandable?
RO: Unless we can make someone understand the story we are trying to tell, then we will not make an impact as a data storyteller. Understanding, for instance, the skills that Tableau can bring and communicating that in ordinary language for an ordinary woman, we might make data reachable for many women. Numbers are important but they create an impact when they are grounded into stories and visualized.
AP: Is there anything else you’d like to add that wasn’t reflected in the questions so far?
RO: Having experts that understand data in relation to gender issues is going to create a space for gender mainstreaming for various organizations and ensure that certain policies are implemented. These skills are not ordinary skills, and the time in this fellowship has brought a new dimension to my study of gender issues. It is not like any other avenue of analyzing data. When we create visualizations, it is a deliberate choice to use certain diagrams and charts. As a data professional, it is useful to understand what the best visualization is for certain types of data or communicating certain messages. Whoever has been trained to use these skills needs to have the space to utilize them and communicate with more people using this platform.
Rosemary Okello-Orlale is a well-recognized communication, media and gender expert who finds interest in creating African narratives through data storytelling. Currently she is the Director of the Africa Media Hub, Strathmore University Business School whose mission is to increase expert knowledge amongst business and finance journalists in the coverage of economic issues using data visualization. She is on the Advisory Board of the Strathmore Data Analytics Centre (SADAC) and the founder of the African Woman and Child Feature Service and the Kenya Media Council.