In the centre of what was once the Women’s Gaol on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, five startups gathered yesterday to pitch their ideas to the HiiL Justice Accelerator Boostcamp.

Flanked by the dormitories which once housed political prisoners (including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela), entrepreneurs pitched their ideas for using technology to open up legal systems to all.

Three judges picked a winner of the Boostcamp, while all five remain in contention to enter the HiiL Justice Accelerator in The Netherlands. This gives a startup access to mentoring, development, global networking opportunities and access to an exclusive crowd-funding platform and potential investors. Is also gets them a straight cash injection from the R2.5 million fund which HiiL operates on behalf of its partners (which include the Ford Foundation).

So who are the most innovative minds bringing tech and legal services together for the good of all?

We’re glad you asked…

Business M Plus (Mozambique)

Many of the businesses owned by women in Mozambique are informal, which limits their access to services. The trouble is that when a women attempts to formalise her business she can face bullying and harassment at the hands on the institutions she needs to formalise her business.

Julio Maria, trainer and mentor at Business M Plus.
Julio Maria, trainer and mentor at Business M Plus.

Business M Plus plans to address these issues through training. The startup will provide legal mentoring and training in business to show these women what the government requires from them.

The startup is backed by Mozambique uses legal resources Ideialab and draws on legal experts Taciana Peão Lopes & Advogados Associados (TPLA)  to educate women on the legal aspects of business. It is set to launch a pilot project in March 2017.

Citizen Justice Network (South Africa)

There are so many news stories about social injustices that go unreported. Human trafficking, abuse and more are seldom brought to light in the mainstream media save for high profile cases. Citizen Justice Network (CJN) addresses that problem by training paralegals in radio journalism.

The point of this is so that these paralegals can report on stories within a community to a local radio station. The benefit of this is that reporting on a story of eviction can disseminate information about tenant rights to a number of people all at once.

Paul McNally, Citizen Justice Network
Paul McNally, Citizen Justice Network

What’s more is that because CJN trains paralegals from legal advice centres within the community, these voices are trusted. What CJN has seen is that because this information is given in an easily

What CJN does is make it easier for people to access justice resources through radio, a medium that reaches 90% of adults in South Africa.

Ufulu Wanga (Malawi)

Legal jargon is a very real problem when it comes to accessing justice. The complexity of the language means that often a person doesn’t understand what their rights are.

Rachel Sibanda, founder of mHub presents Ufulu Wanga.
Rachel Sibanda, founder of mHub presents Ufulu Wanga.

Ufulu Wanga is a project within the mHub incubator in Malawi that seeks to provide easily digestible legal information. The goal is to distribute information about human rights, domestic violence, child custody, separation and divorce procedures in a way that the layman can understand.

The project is based on the web and also has an SMS service where a person can text a question to an expert and get an easy to understand response. While literacy is a big consideration, Ufulu Wanga hopes to address this through a voice service but is reliant on mobile network operators to bring call costs down.

There are also plans to make the service accessible via a USSD code to further increase its reach. An app is also being considered but as with voice, cost is a big determining factor.

The project also plans to facilitate the anonymous reporting of injustices which can then be sent along to authorities for investigation. Ufulu Wanga plans to launch on 16th December.

Legal Legends (South Africa)

As described by co-founder Kyle Torrington, Legal Legends is the Zando of legal services.

Kyle Torrington co-founder on Legal Legends.
Kyle Torrington co-founder on Legal Legends.

Through an e-commerce website, Legal Legends provides access to high quality legal services through a web portal. The benefit of this is that a business knows exactly what it is getting with no hidden costs. Should a business require a contract of employment they are able to get that without having to worry about hourly rates.

Legal Legends offers these services relatively cheaply when compared to other legal services as its lawyers which drive the system are freelancers or based in smaller law firms.

Origin Systems (South Africa)

Like Legal Legends, Origin Systems seeks to provide legal services to SMMEs at an affordable rate. Origin Systems uses algorithms and big data to draft custom legal documents.

A legal document can be drafted on the phone or through a web portal where a business owner answers questions that help Origin Systems draft a custom document.

Thandi Lamprecht, Business Development at Origin Systems.
Thandi Lamprecht, Business Development at Origin Systems.

The time taken to draft a document by as much as 90% through this process. The services offered by the startup extends to legal services on call. Everything is backed by legal experts and lawyers lessening the risk that SMMEs are often subject to when simply drafting documents themselves.

Business owners are able to access Origin Systems’ services through SMME support programmes funded by big corporates and financial service providers. This approach allows Origin Systems to offer custom legal documents and advice at 3-5% of the costs of traditional law firms.

And the winner is…

We’re sure you can tell that having to select a winner from this list of entrepreneurs was a tough decision, one we’re thankful we didn’t have to make.

All five of these startups has a unique idea that is not only being executed, but is being executed well.

Hiil selected winners of the three criteria all startups were judged on. This criteria was the impact the startup had on its community, the sustainability of the startup and the presentation of the pitch at the Boostcamp. An overall winner was also announced.

Impact Winner – Ufulu Wanga

Sustainability Winner – Origin Systems

Presentation Winner – Legal Legends

And congratulations to the overall winner of the Johannesburg Boostcamp was Legal Legends. Congrats to all/

[Main Image – CC BY SA 2.0 Tom Woodward]