Archive for April, 2015

Philanthropy and the Health of the Internet

April 27th, 2015

On Feb. 11, the Ford, Knight, Open Society, MacArthur, and Mozilla, Foundations together launched NetGain:  Working Together for a Stronger Digital Society as a major shared initiative.  The NetGain initiative advocates that building the Internet as an open, global public resource is a social issue in its own right,  and a free and open Internet is foundational to advancing all issues.  NetGain is a call-to-action, an organizing framework and a support mechanism for the philanthropic world to express its voice on creating the Internet for the common good.

Today Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation and I are leading an interactive session at the Annual Meeting of the Council on Foundations on the topic “Sparking a Digital Revolution for Good: The Role of Philanthropy.”  The Council on Foundations is a nonprofit membership association that provides philanthropic organizations with leadership and tools to enhance their ability to advance the common good.  Approximately 1,000 leaders attend the Annual Meeting  to develop the ideas and strategies that will shape the future.

During this session Darren and I will describe why each of us and our organizations care about the fundamental nature of the Internet itself so passionately and our belief that the philanthropic world has an important role to play here.  We’ll explore with all the participants the kinds of activities and programs that could make a difference.

In addition to the development of programs, there are also a number of things Foundations can do today to assist in developing the public benefit aspects of the Internet.  I’ve made a starting list of these things, which I’ve put below.  Other ideas are very welcome — the NetGain Challenge is for exactly this purpose!

Internet Ideas for Foundations

NetGain offers Foundations a way to help sustain the Internet as a public commons that helps us
create a better economy and more just society.  In addition to participating in NetGain Challenges, there are many simple things Foundations can do as part of their day-to-day work.

A.  Help build the public commons layer of the Internet.

  1.  Promote open source technology in your work through your grant making.  This means your work results in public assets that can be used by others.
  2.  Encourage your grantees (or yourselves) to make your content, data or research available via a Creative Commons license.
  3. Learn about open source technology non-profits.  These orgs develop software – from voting platforms, medical records systems to geospatial data to core Internet tools like Mozilla – with a public purpose.

B.  Help create digitally literate citizens, not just digital consumers.

  1. Help your constituencies and your own teams understand how Internet issues like privacy, security, open source licensing, governance, etc. impact their work.
  2. Anytime that you support a program with a digital literacy focus, ensure that it includes more than just content consumption: everyone should be able to read, write and participate in the Web.  This is essential if we want people to be digital citizens.
  3. Encourage your constituencies to blend a Web literacy element into their programs in areas like civic engagement, education, development, and health. This will ensure their programs are fully leveraging the Internet.

C.  Help protect the Internet as a public resource, open and accessible to all.

  1. Consider participating in education efforts and campaigns on issues like net neutrality, surveillance, open government, etc.  These issues impact our ability as Foundations to rely on the Internet as a public and civic resource for our work.
  2. Spread the idea that the Internet should be a global public resource, open and accessible to all.  As such a resource, the Internet supports both commercial and civic activity.  It must remain open for both of these things to be true.

These are meant to be simple things you and your Foundation can do today.  Hopefully, they also inspire your thinking about the NetGain Challenge.  See:

If your Foundation wants advice on any of the topics above, please feel free to contact:

Jenny Toomey, Director, Internet Rights Unit, Ford Foundation (
Mark Surman, Executive Director, Mozilla Foundation (

Both are playing an active role in helping other foundations embrace the NetGain principles.

Participation at Mozilla

April 10th, 2015

Mozilla aims to build openness and choice into the fabric of the Internet.  We see that fabric as including technology and products on the one hand, and the communities of people who understand and build an open Internet on the other hand.

We aim to offer increased participation opportunities across our activities—to enable more people to know more, do more, and do better in online life.  Recently we’ve renewed our focus on embedding participation even more deeply into Mozilla.  Mark Surman and I have each committed to a deeper ongoing involvement in the participatory aspects of Mozilla.  We’ve also asked George Roter to lead a 6 month experimentation phase of testing activities that make participation more impactful on our mission and more rewarding for contributors.  Mark wrote about this here.

For much of our history, Mozilla has been a pioneer—even radical—in the scope of participation that’s possible with Mozilla.  Many of our prior innovations have been adopted as mainstream today.

So that raises the question—what do pioneering—even radical—new innovations in a participatory structure look like?

How do we test out ideas, especially those that might require changes in how we operate?  Right now I see the scope as including three broad areas.

  1. The first area is the world of our “core contributors”—those people who identify deeply with Mozilla and devote considerable amount of time and their energies in moving the Mozilla mission forward.  Here we’re focused on how to help this group of people be more effective, how to grow skills and leadership, and how to have more impact flowing from the edges.
  2. A second area is making connections between all the different groups of people who want to contribute to Mozilla and our mission.  This includes our core contributors of course, and expands much further.  It includes the people who are Firefox enthusiasts, the 22,000 Firefox Student Ambassadors in 139 countries around the world, and the 1,300 volunteers who help people with our products every day on  It includes the 382,500 people who make financial donations to Mozilla.  It includes the hundreds of thousands of people who participate in advocacy campaigns such as Stop Watching Us and Net Neutrality.  Can we act in ways that these groups feel more connected?  Can we act in ways that make it easy for people to move from one group to another fluidly?
  3. The third area is organizational structure and practices.  As we learn more about new and deeper styles of participation, how do we organize ourselves to maximize this potential?

We’re going to explore and experiment in these 3 areas. We’re introducing the idea of a Participation Lab to lead this process.  You can learn more about how we’ve gotten to this point over the last few months here.  And you can find information on the Participation Lab from George Roter here.

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