Among the awardees of this new fund are alumni of Mozilla, Ford Foundation, and Media Democracy Fund fellowship programs
Projects will foster collaboration, engagement, and community building across the PIT alumni network
This is a blog by the Public Interest Technology (PIT) Alumni Network, which today announces the recipients of its Alumni Network Fund. PIT is a community of public interest technologists who are alumni of Ford, Media Democracy Fund, and Mozilla fellowship programs. Three of the grantees named today are alumni of Mozilla, and Mozilla is proud to have offered strategic support to this initiative.
We are excited to announce the projects selected for funding by the Public Interest Technology (PIT) Alumni Network Fund. The selected projects represent the work of alumni who seek to enhance the PIT alumni network and broader public interest tech community by expanding leadership capacity, building technical resilience, documenting the community that exists today, and laying the groundwork to expand it.
The mission of the fund is to foster collaboration, engagement, and community building across the PIT alumni network. As the selection committee reviewed applications, we considered fit for this mission and potential impact within the social context of the fellowship alumni community. Will this work broaden the PIT alumni network? Will it engage our community in new and compelling ways? We also considered where investments in public interest technology have been historically concentrated and sought to add capacity to underrepresented communities where possible.
We believe that this group of projects represents the global PIT community, and its impact will ripple out to the wider public interest tech community. Join us in celebrating these projects, and read on for more.
Oarabile Mudongo, working from South Africa
The VoPIT Podcast will discuss a variety of social justice topics at the intersection of technology and society. The podcast will explore how the PIT Alumni Network has been researching and implementing solutions to alleviate digital inequality, socioeconomic inequality, and political discourse in order to bolster democratic agency and environmental justice. The rule of law and civic engagement online, as well as accountability for good government, will also be explored. The podcast will construct bridges between art and culture-based campaigning for access to public spaces and information – and for the internet to be viewed as a public, civic space. Lastly, it will provide the institutionalization and dissemination of information essential to legislative discourse. The podcast hopes to develop novel tactics that, among other things, institutionalize women's rights and increase civic engagement online.
The inaugural season of the VoPIT Podcast will include 12 episodes, with each episode including a lineup of community organizers, technology advisers, policymakers, engineers, designers, product managers, and academics from the PIT Fellowship Alumni network. The objective is to foster discussion about how technology shapes our society among a diverse range of global communities. It will bring together unique individuals from the Global North to the Global South who are improving equity, extending opportunity, and defending fundamental rights and social justice.
Episode 1 dropped on November 11, 2022. Subscribe and listen to episodes on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcast and on the podcast landing page at www.vopitpodcast.africa. Follow on twitter at @VoPITPodcast
Documenting and Investigating the Global Expansion of Little Tech in the Workplace
Wilneida Negrón, working from USA
Technological change and innovation has been expanding and becoming more globalized the past two years due to Covid. There exists more readily available venture capital in the U.S., and in new emerging non-traditional tech hubs in Africa, India, and Latin America. With this growth, studies have noted the expansion of other unregulated areas of the tech industry - dubbed “Little Tech” - to highlight the thousands of tech and gig companies, vendors, apps, and startups that exacerbate and introduce new risks and harms to consumers and workers. Many of these tend to fly under the radar and due to their size are able to escape the oversight that we are beginning to see happening with Big Tech.
As we face increasing economic instability and labor unrest, this project will partner with fellows from Southeast Asia and Latin America to expand Coworker’s Little Tech Database of Workplace and Employment Technologies Impacting Workers. It will document and investigate new products and companies emerging in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, Kenya, and India (four countries which are on the list of having received the most startup investment in 2021) that have negative implications for workers in the workplace, gig economy, or navigating the economy.
Through online workshops and small global strategy meetings and convenings with the PITA community, this project will increase fellows’ ability to:
- work at the intersections of tech and labor policy;
- understand regional trends in the expansion of new tech companies and products that are impacting workers’ lives; and
- deepen analysis of the economic drivers to this trend to explore not only policy solutions to deal with the harms of these products, but also identify areas of opportunity for engaging the innovation spaces where the next generation of tech companies are being founded and scaled.
Public Interest Tech Coffee Hour (PITCH)
Di Luong, working from Germany
As PIT alumni take on new initiatives and leadership roles across sectors and geographies, relationship building is key. Public Interest Tech Coffee Hour (PITCH) is a peer mentorship program to connect alumni with each other. This initiative helps alumni fight burnout, tap into leadership potential, and strengthen our network. Professional growth does not occur in a vacuum. PITCH hopes to be a space to connect with fellows and alumni across cohorts who are on similar journeys to foster meaningful relationships through their shared experience. Stay tuned for more in early 2023.
Open Source Billing System for Community Networks
Irene Misoi, working from Kenya
Community networks bridge the digital divide by providing internet access and basic connectivity to the unconnected. However, many of these networks are not sustainable because they are set up with funds from grants and other private funders. Some community networks have now started building their own billing solutions to charge a small fee to beneficiaries as one way of gaining financial stability. Two examples of these are Lanet Umoja and African Higher Education Research Institute (AHERI). This project hopes to engage with other community networks (Dunia Moja in Kilifi, Kenya) to explore funding models that can be adapted.
Amelia Winger-Bearskin, working from Gainesville Florida
Wampum.codes aims to increase Indigenous representation in the technology industry and bring Indigenous values and practices of co-creation to bear on discussions about ethics and accountability in software development and in the technology space at large.
The project takes a three-pronged approach: amplifying Indigenous voices, networking with Indigenous technologists in the PIT community, and developing a rigorous, robust understanding of how Indigenous values of co-creation can provide a model framework for organizations.
Native representation in technology not only benefits Indigenous communities (although we should not discount the huge difference that access to well-paying jobs can have on allowing communities to thrive) but also benefits the technology community and the public it serves.
The process of ‘decolonizing’ tech is by no means a simple one, but it does involve bringing antecedent technologies and the community values that are embedded within them into conversation with the practices and protocols of the information technology industry. Wampum.codes will provide Indigenous thought-leadership and quantitative research in the area of ethics and technology, amplify the voices of other Indigenous thought-leaders working on racial justice through the podcast, and offer an avenue to decolonize the tech space and create an ecosystem of mutual aid and support for/among Indigenous people.
Public Interest Technology Landscape Study in Africa
Senka Hadzic and Sarah Kiden, working from South Africa and United Kingdom/Uganda
An internal PIT landscape study from 2020 showed that there was a lack of geographical diversity both in terms of fellows and host organizations in PIT programs. For example, the study revealed that almost half of the PIT fellowship alumni were based in North America. Only 8.5 % of the fellows were based in Africa, and surprisingly none of the fellows were based in Asia.
The PIT funding landscape is often limited to well-established organizations in the Global North as host sites. However, since the completion of the landscape study, things have started to change. For example, Media Democracy Fund (MDF) included some Global Majority organizations as host sites in their last round of TechExchange fellowships. In Mozilla’s most recent Tech+Society cohort all host organizations and Fellows came from the Global Majority. This move to diversify host organizations demonstrates that funders are keen and willing to include a wider pool of organizations, but that there is still work to do in building relationships with new potential host organizations. This study will help expand the pool of collaborating host sites beyond ‘the usual suspects.’ Doing this research and mapping study will provide learning, deeper relationships and strengthen the network of potential advocacy partners.