This article is part two in a three-part series sharing lessons learned as we “decolonize tech” in the Global South through the Tech and Society Fellowship.
This is our second installment in a series reflecting on Mozilla’s Tech + Society Fellowship, a program which launched in October 2020. The program embeds technologists from the global majority within local civil society organizations, in order to bridge two worlds that have traditionally been siloed.
In our first installment, we shared our reflections on breaking down those silos. In this blog, we’re reflecting on power complexities innate to this space.
Reflection 1: The movement and power dynamics between organizations and tech are deep and complex
As the fellowship unfolded, we quickly learned that each civil society organization had a unique relationship with the technology industry. For example, different organizations possess different levels of digital literacy. These levels were the result of limited accessibility, sparse technical infrastructure, brain drain or other capacity gaps, and other issues.
These issues can be especially difficult to solve since global majority organizations struggle to fundraise for their digital strategies. Why? Because global north funders are accustomed to funding more traditional human rights programs. Further, many of these organizations operate in regions where technology policy undermines, rather than supports, civil society. Surveillance, disinformation, and restrictions are the norm.
For deeper reading related to this reflection, read this recent report by Odanga Madung and his host organization PEN, titled “Hype vs Nuance: Civil Society and Technology in 2021.”
Reflection 2: The pandemic disproportionately impacted the global majority
Our Tech + Society Fellowships began in the midst of a pandemic, the effects of which continue to be felt worldwide — disproportionately so in the global majority. The pandemic has also escalated other forms of harm in these regions, such as online and offline gender-based violence and economic-based inequity.
Meanwhile, another crisis has been occurring in parallel: The pandemic resulted in the abrupt defunding and deprioritization of global majority civil society organizations by largely global north-located funders. This left our host organizations in an even more difficult position to deliver their services. This was then exacerbated by digital access limitations: Most host organizations worked with their communities offline pre-pandemic, so it was difficult for organizations to switch to primarily online engagement. High rates of Covid, political instability, and other disasters in the countries where the fellows and host organizations are based also complicated project implementation. In short: Vulnerable communities were left even more vulnerable.
The pandemic resulted in the abrupt defunding and deprioritization of global majority civil society organizations by largely global north-located funders.
Specific fellows’ work got at the crux of this issue. Nadine Moawad’s web monetization project with Culture Resource helped global majority artists find compensation for their work. And Shemeer Padincharedil’s development of the SEWA app by Mahila SEWA Trust helped rural-based women in India afford internet access at a vital time.
Reflection 3: The personal is political
With all that was happening in the world, we decided to apply a human-centered approach to the fellowship. We recognize that the personal is political, and that addressing collective harm must begin by addressing the wellness of self. As such, we adapted fellowship supplements to include access to mental health care, support for dependents (including parents), and home-based care as necessitated by illness like Covid.
Stay tuned for the third installment in this series, where we’ll unpack learnings and sustainability.