Ford Foundation: African Internet Rights Alliance (AIRA)
Since 2016, Spitfire Strategies has supported the Ford Foundation and its cohort of African digital rights grantees to create opportunities for collaboration, capacity building and the advancement of digital rights across the continent.
Conducting a thorough landscape analysis to assess the field
Spitfire kicked off this work with Ford by producing a landscape analysis on internet rights issues in Africa, traveling to the continent to engage Ford grantees from Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria in exploratory conversations to identify regional issues, common challenges and potential opportunities for internet rights work on the African continent.
Building a fully functional coalition from scratch
Our work was integral to establishing a formal identity and governance structure for AIRA. Spitfire supported the development and ratification of a memorandum of understanding (MOU), conceptualized by the grantees themselves, that equipped them with the framework for decision making as a cohort. We also supported the selection of a steering committee and counseled them through the creation of a unique governance structure that ensures AIRA is a stable, resilient and non-hierarchical network of member organizations.
Over the past five years, Spitfire has also acted as the communications backbone for the cohort, leading monthly knowledge sharing meetings, conducting trainings on various communication skills, supporting the creation of important communications materials and executing multi-day convenings for strategic planning and the review of key deliverables. In total, Spitfire organized and facilitated ten convenings of the Ford African grantee cohort in countries across East and West Africa and virtually, with the ninth and tenth gatherings occurring online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These convenings were the cornerstone of AIRA’s success. Using our expertise in effective agenda-setting, meeting facilitation and communication counsel, Spitfire used these sessions to support the cohort in developing a strong structure and identity, while also fostering deep relationships among the group members and building interest in mutually beneficial collaboration across organizations and country borders.
Increasing capacity among grantees
Spitfire has offered capacity building on a range of topics, including media relations and pitching, spokesperson and presentation skills, storytelling, communication and campaign planning, meeting facilitation and agenda-setting. By inviting additional staff from member organizations to take part in the trainings, participants built out the communications capacity of not only AIRA, but also each member of the cohort. Combining the learning styles of presentation, discussion and role play exercises, Spitfire ensured an environment where each participant had the opportunity to learn in the ways that benefitted them.
Managing day-to-day operations
As an integral part of AIRA’s day-to-day operations, Spitfire had a significant role in nearly every major deliverable and outcome from the cohort over its first five years. From developing and iterating upon AIRA’s strategic approach to media engagement, to advancing major deliverables centered around internet and digital rights in Africa, we partnered with the cohort to ensure they had the tools, knowledge and capacity necessary to execute their work. Most notably, with our guidance, Ford and AIRA started exploring opportunities with external partners and funding organizations. We worked with the cohort to determine key principles to include in the revised Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, submitted in 2019, culminating in a formal meeting with Commissioner Mute, the African Union Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.
Preparing for an international rollout
In the fall of 2020, Spitfire advised the cohort – now made up of nine civil society organizations and known as the African Internet Rights Alliance (AIRA) – in the lead up to its formal launch, introducing itself at notable digital rights conferences, and as it plans to expand with the addition of new member organizations from across Africa. With direction from Spitfire, AIRA publicly launched at two virtual conferences: the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) and Internet Governance Forum (IGF). We steered the finalization of AIRA’s brand identity language and oversaw the production of several promotional materials, including detailed presentations, social media accounts and an introductory video. During the initial rollout at FIFAfrica, Spitfire played a key role in facilitation by live-tweeting the event, rapidly growing AIRA’s base on Twitter, and acting as rapid response support for the session on the back-end.
Driving new conversations around tech
With our support, the cohort also produced a two-pager defining key digital rights terminology for journalists, using a glossary of terms which Spitfire helped produce in 2018. This two-pager was deployed during an educational media webinar on digital rights, designed with our guidance for journalists covering Africa, to encourage more coverage of digital rights issues, ensure more accurate reporting and build relationships with these journalists.
Recently, Spitfire has partnered with Ford to prioritize AIRA’s autonomy and needs by engaging an in-continent consultant to help manage the bulk of AIRA’s strategic communications planning and activities moving forward. We will remain involved with the cohort through the transition, advising the new consultant to ensure a seamless continuation of stable and productive communications.
With Spitfire’s support, the organization’s structure and strategy came into focus and these digital rights advocates across Africa came together to create a collaborative cohort tackling some of the most complex issues on the continent. Our guidance has helped them make a major impact, from the local level to the African Union, and form strong working relationships with other advocates around the world. The stage is now set for AIRA to grow and flourish in the African digital rights space for years to come.