The inaugural cohort of the Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows met in New York last week for only the second time face to face. Working remotely from Lima, Washington DC, Boston and London, the 6 fellows meet weekly with Melissa Romaine from Mozilla’s San Francisco office, and with me from my home office in Victoria, British Columbia. This was an In Real Life™ meeting we were all looking forward to, if for nothing else than the important reminder that we aren’t squares on a video conference call – we are talented and complicated humans.
The six fellows are placed within Internet Freedom organizations, working on a mixture of team and individual projects.
- Paola Villarreal, American Civil Liberties Union, Massachusetts.
Paola is working on Data for Justice, a data-driven advocacy tool that visualizes information critical for eliminating injustice in communities.
- Tim Sammut, Amnesty International. Tim’s projects are:
Secure Communications Framework: An approachable framework for human rights researchers that helps them understand how to communicate with contacts around the world safely in the context of varying threats and information sensitivity.
Community Incident Response: Help human rights organizations in Amnesty’s worldwide network access technical assistance during active digital attacks.
- Andrea Del Rio, Association for Progressive Communications
Andrea is creating the web version of the Feminist Principles of The Internet, which aims to inspire people not only to imagine a Feminist Internet but actually build one that is fair, inclusive, empowering and safe for everyone.
- Drew Wilson, Free Press
Drew is embedded in Free Press’ Internet2016 campaign and is building tools that internet rights advocates can use to bootstrap their own activism projects.
- Gem Barrett, Open Technology Institute
Gem is a member of the MLab team at OTI, helping to build the largest collection of open Internet performance data on the planet.
- Tennyson Holloway, Public Knowledge
Tennyson is working on projects that inspire and educate future web advocates. “What can i do for the internet.org” is a website that represents a vision of a story based platform that educates, inspires, and assists users to join the open web movement. His other projects involve creating web games that explain tech policy Washington issues, such as copyright and patent trolls.
The Weather Report
Being the first cohort, the 2015 fellows have their fair share of challenges and opportunities. The challenge: we’re living a plan that is being executed for the first time. Almost everything needs to be answered by “I don’t know. Let me get back to you”. On the plus side, this cohort will likely play the largest role in shaping the program and will have the highest degree of input on where we need to make adjustments. This day was about navigating that tension and also identifying where we are starting to win.
A random sample of substantive issues we discussed:
-How do we design a fellowship program that serves both established and emerging careers?
-What’s the right balance of individual projects and independent research within a fellowship year?
-How do we identify our mentors? Can these people be found for us, or is it in fact something we need to find time to do? (spoiler alert – that’s on us)
Some key takeaways for the Mozilla program team:
-The Mozilla network is a key asset. We need to present the “menu” of potential contacts and access to people that we can provide
-We need to find a way to bring the work of the fellows to Mozilla audiences
-We can assist fellows in finding mentors – those individuals that fellows can go to for advice and that have their best interests at heart
We ended the day with a Q & A with Mozilla’s Executive Director, Mark Surman. Mark shared with the fellows his vision for leadership development at Mozilla, which he’s previously blogged about here. He left with two invitations for the cohort – be demanding, and make sure Mozilla is doing all it can to advance your goals. But also, be generous – give to each other and the program.
The 2015 cohort is impressive. They’ve advised governments, settled refugees, built movements and shipped products. One thing we needed to accomplish together was an identification of the believable ways that the cohort could collaborate together – from running workshops with one another to building a shared project, we spent time mapping this landscape and committing to some next steps. We were joined by Mozilla’s Internet Policy manager Jochai Ben-Avie,who will be working with the cohort during their fellowship year.
Some things we committed to producing together
-5 Lightning Talks we’ll give within the cohort about skills we want to share or an issue we are passionate about
-A Mozilla Wiki page about the fellowship cohort – You can now refer to this page to stay up to date on the 2015 cohort.
-Collaborating with the larger Mozilla Advocacy team to help develop advocacy campaigns
-Net Posi, a podcast about activism started by the cohort – listen to the first episode below and subscribe here.
We headed to midtown for a meeting with Jenny Toomey, Lori McGlinchey and Michael Brennan from Ford’s Internet Rights program. We were also joined by Joshua Cinelli, who manages Ford’s strategic communications. It was a great chance for us all to learn more about why Internet Rights has been a strategic focus for Ford, and how they see field building and talent development fitting into their strategy. As Lori McGlinchey, the Internet Rights Program officer expressed – “we need civil society orgs to see technologists not as the cherry on top of a cake they already are having trouble paying for – technologists need to be thought of as essential to these teams”. It was also a chance for Ford to internalize the diversity and talent of our cohort and the projects we’ve undertaken. This was the first time that the fellows and Ford staff had met, and we all left with a heightened understanding of not only our role within the Internet Freedom ecosystem, but the opportunities for us to make an impact.
From there we headed to Civic Hall for our closing event. We hosted 30 activists and technologists for social change in a conversation designed to learn more about the projects of our cohort. We also met with several organizations hoping to place fellows within their organizations in 2016, and were fortunate to be able to dedicate some 1-1 time to these allies in the field. We split into small groups where fellows lead discussions around their projects.
We finished the evening by braving the rainy ripple effects of Hurricane Joaquin to have a final meal together. Exhausted but productive, the trains, planes and automobiles took us out of New York to reflect on, internalize, and act on what we’d learned.
A HUGE thank you to Misty Avila who joined us from Aspiration Technology to facilitate our days together. We couldn’t have accomplished so much without her talent and spirit!