This section highlights the broader perceptions of the F&A program and the Mozilla Foundation’s role in the technology and civil society space. The findings here rely largely on interviews with funders (supporters of Mozilla’s programming) and stakeholders (individuals who run similar programs or organizations) in the ecosystem.
Mozilla and the F&A Programs are seen as key ecosystem builders in the public interest technology and internet health communities.
- Stakeholders said that Mozilla Fellows and Awards have given insight into the future of the internet health space, and that their insights worked to identify what the next challenges or lines of inquiry were going to be.
- Many funding recipients said that being part of Mozilla had a warm, community feeling and strengthened their connections and commitment to the ecosystem.
- Partnering with Mozilla gave other funders credibility in the internet health space.
Mozilla is a keyword that unlocks a lot of assumptions I want people to have about us."
“Mozilla has a large influence as a leader of critical discourse around tech's most pressing problems and [they] use their investments to support change in thinking and actions.”
"Shout about it!"
- There was a perception from funders that the people Mozilla selected for its F&A program came in with a special willingness to network and find connections in seemingly unconnected work. They believe Mozilla has been doing something right in their recruitment process to find good networkers.
Fellows are often perceived as the best Mozilla brand ambassadors, by stakeholders, funders, and staff alike. Cultivating a culture of sharing and amplifying the work online would utilize those ambassadors.
Program participants benefited from Mozilla's brand recognition and reputation, but interviewees across the board emphasized that the F&A program lacks the same type of visibility and recognition.
- Many recipients feel that the Mozilla affiliation gave them “cred” and advanced their career. People respond to emails from a “Mozilla” address. Mozilla’s contacts made some recipients feel that they could reach anyone they wanted.
- Mozilla’s global brand recognition is seen as an asset – it has provided reach and visibility that many adjacent programs and organizations don’t have.
“It could [become] a household name like ACLU - that makes one think: they're out there fighting for me.”
- One of Mozilla’s strengths is in their “90s internet, participatory, inclusive tech” reputation. MozFest feels unique to people for that reason, and that is the energy that some stakeholders think Mozilla is uniquely positioned to harness. They are seen as an innovative builder and doer; Mozilla gets stuff done.
“Mozilla is at its best when it’s investing in making things, hacker-y, on the ground.”
- Some funders find Mozilla a natural fit for their “public interest technology” priorities, especially because of Mozilla’s technology expertise that can speak both to the nonprofit and industry ecosystems.
- Funders and stakeholders said that Mozilla has acted as a bridge to communities and parts of the ecosystem that they don’t have contact with.
- There’s a perception from stakeholders that Mozilla hasn’t generated enough buzz about itself historically. One funder expressed: Mozilla isn’t leveraging the power of its network to continue momentum of announcements, especially on platforms like Twitter.
Mozilla’s brand recognition and position in the ecosystem give some stakeholders the idea that it has potential to become the go-to organization around internet health issues. Developing a more clear outreach and movement strategy will help the public associate Mozilla with its movement goals.
The Mozilla Corporation’s technical credibility is a big driver for funders. Mozilla has the opportunity to leverage, through the F&A programs , the technical expertise on the Corporation side in a more intentional way.
Funders feel that visibility of the programs can be greatly improved. One particular opportunity area is in online spaces for communities adjacent to Mozilla’s niche that the Foundation hopes to bring into its work. For example, we heard from a science fellow that they only applied to the program because they saw a peer post about it on Twitter -- how can Mozilla create ripples of energy around its work and share its offerings in multiple online communities to achieve greater reach?
The broader field of funders and stakeholders were aware of Mozilla’s many leadership, strategy, and staffing changes over time, which led to a perception that the F&A program has lacked focus.
- Stakeholders spoke of being aware of staff turnover and seemingly frequent strategy shifts, which has led to a perception by many that there are internal challenges at the Foundation and a lack of focus. Some funders said that they can see that the Foundation’s strategy hasn’t been clear enough.
- Mozilla’s shift to focusing on Trustworthy AI didn’t resonate externally to some funders because “Mozilla doesn't use AI.” They thought the internet health model was more powerful, unique, and accessible. Other stakeholders pointed to the shift to AI as another “pattern of zigzagging” internally at Mozilla.
“Internet health became a good jumping off place that landed in between understanding by the masses and being interested in the field. Trustworthy AI hasn't been as successful, people wonder where the old work goes.”
- One funder said they “don’t understand” how the Mozilla Foundation related its broader work and goals to its fellowship program (including its historical on Senior Fellows and Fellows in Residence and separation and differences between the programs). They were curious what framework the Foundation is using to make those decisions.
- Some stakeholders expressed hesitancy due to a lack of clarity around whether there have been shared values among fellows, the host organizations, and Mozilla. There was also discussion from staff and stakeholders alike around whether values-alignment should be a requirement.
- One stakeholder characterised this hesitancy as not being sure whether Mozilla Fellows were dedicated to public interest work.
- One stakeholder expressed having had experiences with Fellows who didn’t reflect the values of the Foundation or whose work was “problematic.” Note: This could be due to misalignment around language, unclear expectations around communications or a number of other small challenges, rather than work that might be generally recognized as “problematic.”
- Other funders and stakeholders wondered whether Foundation's brand and the F&A brands haven’t been aligned clearly enough with social justice or human rights writ large. Perception that branding has been more “neutral-techie.”
“Should I be building with this person or is this person a wolf in sheep's clothing?” -
- Some staff and stakeholders expressed that the sunsetting of the Hive and Gigabit Programs felt like an abandonment of local, place-based community investment that was built over time and what Mozilla came to be known for. Now it isn’t always clear who is welcome in the Mozilla community.
Mozilla can strengthen the articulation and continuity of its mission and goals by making clear the connection between the Trustworthy AI and internet health theories of change. Mozilla hasn’t abandoned the internet health frame; others in the space can be told that more clearly.
Because these stratifications have historically been due to requirements of different funding sources, Mozilla can increase transparency into how different funding streams require different strategic and programmatic decision-making. Making these differences across programs integrated into Mozilla’s external-facing literature and central to how those external to the organization understand its work can communicate to stakeholders and participants Mozilla’s goals and intentions (as well as its limitations) more clearly.
The Foundation has the opportunity to clarify if and how there is values-alignment between the various players that the F&A program brings together. For example, should there be commonality between the Foundation’s values, the company policy agenda, fellows’ values and agendas, and host orgs’ values and agendas? Is the F&A program supporting the individual/organization, or the individual/oganization's ideas and project specifically?