Blog: Amplify

Philanthropy and the Health of the Internet

On Feb. 11, the FordKnightOpen SocietyMacArthur, and Mozilla, Foundations together launched NetGain:  Working Together for a Stronger Digital Society as a major shared initiative.  The NetGain initiative advocates that building the Internet as an open, global public resource is a social issue in its own right,  and a free and open Internet is foundational to advancing all issues.  NetGain encourages and assists philanthropic organizations to participate in the critical work of ensuring that the Internet is used for the common good.

Today Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation and I are leading an interactive session at the Annual Meeting of the Council on Foundations on the topic “Sparking a Digital Revolution for Good: The Role of Philanthropy.”  The Council on Foundations is a nonprofit membership association that provides philanthropic organizations with leadership and tools to enhance their ability to advance the common good.  Approximately 1,000 leaders attend the Annual Meeting  to develop the ideas and strategies that will shape the future.

During this session Darren and I will describe why each of us and our organizations care about the fundamental nature of the Internet itself so passionately and our belief that the philanthropic world has an important role to play here.  We’ll explore with all the participants the kinds of activities and programs that could make a difference.

In addition to the development of programs, there are also a number of things Foundations can do today to assist in developing the public benefit aspects of the Internet.  I’ve made a starting list of these things, which I’ve put below.  Other ideas are very welcome — the NetGain Challenge is for exactly this purpose!

Internet Ideas for Foundations

NetGain offers Foundations a way to help sustain the Internet as a public commons that helps us
create a better economy and more just society.  In addition to participating in NetGain Challenges, there are many simple things Foundations can do as part of their day-to-day work.

A.  Help build the public commons layer of the Internet.

  1.  Promote open source technology in your work through your grant making.  This means your work results in public assets that can be used by others.
  2.  Encourage your grantees (or yourselves) to make your content, data or research available via a Creative Commons license.
  3. Learn about open source technology non-profits.  These orgs develop software – from voting platforms, medical records systems to geospatial data to core Internet tools like Mozilla – with a public purpose.

B.  Help create digitally literate citizens, not just digital consumers.

  1. Help your constituencies and your own teams understand how Internet issues like privacy, security, open source licensing, governance, etc. impact their work.
  2. Anytime that you support a program with a digital literacy focus, ensure that it includes more than just content consumption: everyone should be able to read, write and participate in the Web.  This is essential if we want people to be digital citizens.
  3. Encourage your constituencies to blend a Web literacy element into their programs in areas like civic engagement, education, development, and health. This will ensure their programs are fully leveraging the Internet.

C.  Help protect the Internet as a public resource, open and accessible to all.

  1. Consider participating in education efforts and campaigns on issues like net neutrality, surveillance, open government, etc.  These issues impact our ability as Foundations to rely on the Internet as a public and civic resource for our work.
  2. Spread the idea that the Internet should be a global public resource, open and accessible to all.  As such a resource, the Internet supports both commercial and civic activity.  It must remain open for both of these things to be true.

These are meant to be simple things you and your Foundation can do today.  Hopefully, they also inspire your thinking about the NetGain Challenge.  See: http://netgainchallenge.org/

If your Foundation wants advice on any of the topics above, please feel free to contact:

Jenny Toomey, Director, Internet Rights Unit, Ford Foundation (j.toomey@fordfoundation.org)
Mark Surman, Executive Director, Mozilla Foundation (mark@mozillafoundation.org)

Both are playing an active role in helping other foundations embrace the NetGain principles.

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