In 2020, Mozilla and Ford Foundation launched the Tech and Society Fellowship, an ambitious initiative to connect essential social justice work with deep technology expertise across the Global South. We sought to catalyze a “third space” where civil society organizations and tech-focused individuals would work together to address issues at the intersection of technology and society. The fellows and organizations who were part of the first cohort of this program were located in six countries — Lebanon, Mexico, Kenya, Brazil, India, and Jordan.

Three years later, the growth, impact, and community-building these fellows catalyzed is remarkable. Just some of their stories:

  • Amarela, a Brazil-based researcher and communicator who runs digital care training programs, with a focus on educating social justice activists about online security and privacy, collaborated with FASE, a 60-year-old community-organizing nonprofit in Brazil. This experience “made me realize the various challenges an organization goes through in the process of internalizing digital care practices,” Amarela says. “It awakened in me the desire to research the ecosystem of digital care in Brazil and produce and publish information that could help the field to develop. The fellowship allowed me not only to work with an organization in a very specific context, but also to look at the bigger picture and to help develop the digital care ecosystem in Brazil.” Read more here.
  • Odanga Madung was paired with the Poverty Eradication Network (PEN), a civil society organization in Kenya that “collaborates directly with citizens and organizations to promote active participation in local governance.” PEN focuses on issues of accountability and transparency, promotion of people-focused planning and budgeting, and advocating for civil society actors. Madung says he was paired with PEN due to their shared interest in civic health in the Kenyan context. “That in many ways informs the kind of work that I have done in terms of understanding what links to Kenyan freedom they have and where technology intersects with that freedom,” he explains. Much of Madung’s work has sought to uncover some of the ways in which social media impacts political discourse and therefore influences society. Read more here.

As the first fellowship cohort of its kind at Mozilla, these fellows taught us important lessons — all amid a global pandemic.

We’ve already shared some of what we learned from this experience: the importance of unpacking silos, how to understand movement and power complexities, and the need for sustainability. Now, after the fellowship’s conclusion in late 2022 and an in-depth evaluation by the independent firm Maendeleo, we have even more insights to share:

Third space: While we set out with a goal of creating a third space, we quickly realized that it already existed — and our efforts could instead fuel pre-existing movements by engaging with their ongoing work.

Infrastructure: The fellowship added a technology layer to organizations whose infrastructure was in need of strengthening. For instance, one fellow co-created a strategy for making their organization’s human rights-related resources available to their community digitally and another helped identify ways to protect community data.

Communication: More opportunities for fellows, organizations, and funders across the cohort to communicate could enhance collaboration. Also, given the global nature of the cohort, there were language barriers with some host organizations in Latin America and Africa. While some language supports, such as translation and interpretation, were provided, more is needed to support connection across the cohort.

Recruitment: Given the challenges that some individuals and organizations faced in the first round of this fellowship as they figured out how to work together, we need to expand the recruitment and matching process to ensure stronger matches between fellows and host organizations. We also need to set clear and realistic expectations for the fellowship across all stakeholders.

Adaptability: It is important to be agile and flexible in the resources and support we provide. Ongoing challenges from the pandemic that limited face-to-face interaction, and economic and geopolitical challenges, such as those in Mexico and Lebanon, meant that we needed to be flexible in adapting financial support structures for fellows and host organizations.

We are excited to share that with the support of the Ford Foundation, Mozilla will welcome a second cohort of fellows and organizations to take part in the Mozilla Tech and Society fellowship. We are in the initial stages of planning, and will incorporate the learnings from the last fellowship, as well as the 11 years of fellowship programming that Mozilla has offered across the globe. Stay tuned to the Mozilla blog for more information in December 2023 about recruitment details.

If you’d like to read more about the progress and impact of the Tech and Society program, fellows, and host organizations, you can read more about the fellows experiences and profiles on the Mozilla blog.

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