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Global digital rights

Ford Foundation

Ford Foundation

Spitfire has been partnering with the Ford Foundation to support digital rights across the globe since 2015, supporting the Ford Foundation’s international portfolio of grantees and partners within the International Technology & Society program. Spitfire provides meeting design and facilitation to help build the field of global tech leaders, social justice and technology-focused civil society organizations, and the donors that support them to navigate the ever-evolving intersection of human rights and technology. Through this partnership, Spitfire has designed and facilitated dozens of virtual and in-person convenings across three continents with hundreds of leaders from around the globe. 

In 2020, the Ford Foundation’s International Technology & Society Program commissioned research to understand how civil society organizations can meaningfully influence global policy on the internet and digital rights. Spitfire coordinated closely with Global Partners Digital on this research, gathering critical feedback from research participants to inform the final report, “Digital Rights at a Crossroads.” The research revealed that to maximize impact on a global scale, civil society organizations wanted more opportunities to collaborate. Following the research, Ford Foundation asked Spitfire to convene grantee partners for a consultation to understand how the foundation could help meet this need for civil society. Spitfire designed and facilitated an initial three-part convening series across 2021, which brought to light the desire among grantees to: 1) network and foster open dialogue for shared learning; 2) build and carefully curate programming based in evidence-based research that can be applied in the field; 3) offer opportunities for cross-collaboration among organizations within this space.

Through this convening series, Ford understood that it could play a significant role in creating the space for civil society organizations to achieve these goals. Ford asked Spitfire to design and facilitate a second ongoing convening series throughout 2022 that would build trusting, authentic relationships among its grantee partners to ultimately build a lasting field of global civil society organizations working at the intersection of human rights and technology.

To facilitate professional collaboration among more than 31 global organizations across nine different regions in the Global South, Spitfire knew we would first need to build trusting, authentic relationships. Because we were forging this effort in the backdrop of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, we needed to get creative to design and facilitate virtual convenings that would move participants along a ladder of engagement from facilitating initial introductions to their colleagues and peers around the world to building trust over time to identifying shared priorities and challenges and ultimately to problem solve together — all while connecting remotely.

Since 2020, Spitfire has convened eight virtual conferences (three in 2020, four in 2022 and one so far in 2023) for grantees. For all convenings, Spitfire is responsible for the meeting design and facilitation. We build strategic and engaging agendas that allow participants to build personal relationships, explore new topics of professional interest, share peer learnings and collaborate together. To ensure the convening spaces reflect grantees’ needs and priorities, which is Ford’s primary goal, Spitfire creates ongoing opportunities for grantees to contribute to the design of each meeting, including reviewing and providing input on agendas and real-time direction during meetings. For each meeting, we are also responsible for creating all supplementary materials and preparing the speakers. 

Following a year of virtual gatherings and as COVID-safety conditions allowed, Spitfire designed and facilitated a two-day in-person convening in Berlin to build on the momentum, solidify relationships among grantee partners and aid them in identifying a clear course of action for addressing challenges in the global digital rights sphere. To ensure the convening reflected participants’ priorities, Spitfire convened a small group of volunteers to join in the agenda creation. This planning committee identified that flexibility was a priority for the event. In response, Spitfire employed an “unconference” style in the convening’s design, fostering a participant-led environment where attendees had autonomy and leadership to decide the topics they most wanted to discuss. Through the retreat, we led them through conversations on Big Tech accountability; digital authoritarianism; the intersection of digital rights with other social movements like gender-justice and disability rights; and discussions on organizational resilience including managing global teams, retention and avoiding burnout among others. Throughout the retreat, we prioritized conversation and connection over presentations that allowed for deep conversations and ideas for growth in the digital rights space and the birth of many authentic friendships. We left the convening with an extensive list of grantee priorities for peer learning topics and opportunities to collaborate, which was captured in a summary report along with key discussion points and other highlights. 

The series was so well received that it evolved into a monthly series in 2023 to bring these global organizations together on a consistent basis, alternating between peer learning, strategizing and forecasting. During the Berlin retreat in discussion groups and opportunities for collaboration, participants identified the topics guiding these sessions, and Spitfire continues to refine them as participants share current challenges and opportunities in the field. Through this series, Spitfire is able to help Ford set up and maintain a system of support for grantees in 2023 ranging from assistance connecting across issue areas to maintaining effective and resilient global organizations. 

Spitfire’s work in building relationships among grantees has inspired them to collaborate outside of Ford’s support. Several grantees have since come together to apply for grant funding from the European Commission for international cooperation on digital rights issues in developing countries.

Spitfire is honored to continue our partnership with the Ford Foundation, its grantees and its peer donors in our ongoing convening series into 2023 and beyond as all continue to collaborate and work toward coordinating concrete changes on a global scale.

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