Community Spotlight

Tara Vassefi is a human rights attorney who began using social media for archiving and digital evidence purposes in the prosecution of war crimes around 2013. She happened to fall into the tech industry because of this (at-the-time) innovative approach to evidence gathering, which was largely inspired by the conflict in Syria, the most documented crime base in human history.

In 2019, Tara was propelled to seek out and join the MozFest community when she was removed from her dream job in tech and wanted to find like-minded people who valued authenticity, trust, and people over products.

“It's difficult for me to express how much the MozFest community has impacted my life. I never thought of myself as someone who could engage with tech in a meaningful way, but here I am.” says Tara.

Since then, Tara has been searching for a new job. Applying to nearly one new role a week for over two years, she only received a single interview and a few weeks ago, that interview landed her the job of all jobs.

“It felt meant-to-be. It was a cold submission. I just applied - no referral, no connections. I honestly didn’t think I would get it.”

Every part of this new career opportunity seems “meant–to-be.” Her new job is essentially to take the concept she visioned and launched in the MozFest working groups over the past two years as a volunteer and do it - at scale - for the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment’s (DOEE) Urban Sustainability administration. Yes, Tara will take the tenets of ‘Truth as a Public Good (TPG),’ which she conceptualized in her first year in the MozFest working groups, as well as the expertise gained from the circular app the TPG team developed as a use case in the second cohort of the working group with ‘Truth of Waste as a Public Good’ and apply it to waste diversion for the city of Washington D.C.

“I’m doing what I spent the past two and a half grueling yet healing years day-dreaming about.”

“My new colleagues - mostly urban planners, sustainability geniuses, and policymakers - think I’m a technologist. [laughs] And there’s no way I would have felt comfortable guiding tech development if it weren’t for everything I learned-by-doing in the working groups.

I have always been more excited about people and community than ideas. When I met the people in the working group, they were like me, excited about co-operativism, decentralization, and standing in solidarity with those committed to technology’s initial promise of democratizing this scientific achievement for all of humanity’s and Mother Earth’s benefit. It was a really natural progression. After a year of getting to know each other and weekly processing the pain of the pandemic together, we discovered we had a ‘solar punk’ mentality and that’s why we focused on sustainability.

There’s no way I would have felt comfortable guiding tech development if it weren’t for everything I learned-by-doing in the [MozFest] working groups.

The Trustworthy AI working groups were also a great space for me to practice the golden lessons from community organizing and apply them to building technologies: memorialize early and often, weekly stand-ups, consensus-building, letting the collective’s spirit guide the process toward real positive impact, instead of trying to find a semblance of excitement in manifesting the vision of some CEO with the empty promise of another ‘billion-dollar idea.’ When you work with a diverse range of intelligent, passionate people, there's infinite resources: as we say in mutual aid organizing, ‘there’s more resources in a community than money could ever buy.’

My advice is to meet regularly, prioritize building deep meaningful relationships with your tribe of like-minded folks, continually modify and strive for communications methods that uplift each and every individual leaving ample room for the richness of neurodiversity. Most importantly, transform conflict - don’t waste what conflict can achieve by merely resolving it. Over time everything will organically materialize. This is why having a space stewarded by Mozilla was such a blessing - the 30,000 ft view support, external interventions, and timelines gave us this safe playground to imagine a completely different world in cohort one with the COVID-19 Vaccine Authentication Examination and then to build it in cohort two with Truth of Waste as a Public Good and the Circular App. It was exactly what I needed when I left my last job feeling so dejected and disappointed. I needed a safe space to practice the lessons I’d learned and be able spot this incredible role embedded with a passionate and visionary team at DOEE. I’m doing what I spent the past two and a half grueling yet healing years day-dreaming about.” says Tara.

Tara expressed her gratitude to her co-conspirators: “Ahnjili, the project’s first member, is a data scientist and researcher investigating the intersection between smartphones, wearables, and health; James, one of their first recruits and the Solar Punk Il Padrino who led coding for the Circular App; and each and every member who left their unique and profound soulprint on this alternate universe TPG has been building over the past two years.”

About the author:

Temi Popo

Temi Popo is an open innovation practitioner leading Mozilla's developer-focused strategy around Trustworthy AI and MozFest. She is also a co-chair of the MozFest Trustworthy AI working groups.

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