Host Organizations

Oct. 4, 2021
Simply Secure

Written by Simply Secure

Back to Insights + Findings


This section looks at the successes and challenges of the hosted fellowship model, in which Mozilla Fellows are placed at “host organizations” in the civil society sector during their funding period. The following insights rely heavily on interviews with participants and host organizations, as well as the host organization survey.

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The host organization model has potential to build technical capacity within civil society organizations while introducing fellows to the civil society sector.

  • When goals and priorities aligned, the host organizations increased their technical capacity, which strengthened the larger ecosystem and their work. Fellows got connected to civil society, learned how to incorporate their work into the field, gained exposure, and worked on a project they value.
  • Time spent with host organizations changed some fellows’ career trajectories and brought them into the public interest space.

“Our fellow came from for-profit software development, and the fellowship introduced him to the nonprofit space. Sometimes people care, but they don't have the deep infrastructural expertise to act….Before he was just a developer. Now he's an advocate and a developer."

Host Organization


  • Staff and communities served at host organizations were sometimes valuable first users of a fellow’s technology.
  • Fellows who set clear expectations with their host orgs ahead of the fellowship described a “healthy tension” that led to productivity and a more seamless relationship.

Opportunity

Host organizations implored Mozilla to focus their funding and energy on small organizations that can build projects where the fellow will have a huge impact, rather than getting lost in a larger organization that is already well-resourced.

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Participants emphasized that expectation setting, boundaries, and communication (particularly with regard to role definition) are essential to partnership success.

  • There has been a general lack of consistent, well-defined, and well-communicated expectations between Mozilla, fellows, and host organizations, especially with respect to the role the fellow plays at the host organization. Many Mozilla staff, fellows, and host orgs reflected similar questions: Are fellows staff of the org? Are they in a mentor/collaborator role? There was a broad desire to define fellows’ roles from the recruitment stage, ensuring that the host organization is on the same page.
  • Due to a lack of role-definition and misaligned expectations, fellows were sometimes expected to do non-project tasks for host organizations, and were (falsely) considered full staff of the organization with little time to work on their individual project.
  • This dynamic led some fellows to feel isolated, not receiving guidance or mentorship from either the host org, who viewed them by default as a leader or expert to be left alone, or from Mozilla, whose program structure was fairly loose.
  • This lack of clarity also presented itself in legal and administrative challenges. For example, pay parity was a historical tension point, as some fellowship stipends were disproportionately high compared with organization’s salaries. This sometimes led the host org to think they could give the fellow more work because of their higher pay. Host orgs encouraged Mozilla to be more proactive about how money will affect the power dynamics in civil society orgs. Note: This has largely been addressed by Mozilla.
  • Lack of clarity also had consequences for the impact of some projects. Some fellows related that without expectations and roles set from the beginning, the fate of their project and work also became uncertain, especially once the fellowship ended. For example, who owns and governs a fellow’s code once their funding period ends?

“Because my relationship with the host org wasn't good at the end, I didn't know the impact or was given any feedback, and I didn't see the data on the project.”

Fellow, 2017

  • It was often hard for fellows to balance the components of the fellowship itself (conferences, professional development, Mozilla projects) with the demands of the host org and personal life.
  • Mozilla prestige sometimes generated “positive baggage” -- host orgs assumed expertise based on the affiliation, rather than understanding what the individual fellow brought to the table before the partnership began.

Opportunity

Setting and managing expectations for both fellows and host organizations from the onset will increase the efficacy of the host org/fellow relationship.

Opportunity

Engaging host orgs in long-term partnership/relationship building is just as important as engaging fellows long term for building the capacity of the ecosystem. Mozilla can work to make it more clear to host orgs what the value of the program and their participation is beyond the fellow, in order to honor the potential power of the host org model. This may require providing the host organizations with some additional support as well, and therefore could impact the funding models of the programs.

Opportunity

There is an opportunity to build in mentorship more into the host organization model: mid/senior staff at host organizations can serve as mentors to fellows, which is mutually beneficial for professional development and a more integrated network approach in the broader ecosystem.