Leadership transition at DFF and farewell from the Director

By Mauricio Lazala, 19th December 2023

Photo by Tolga Ulkan

After two years at the helm of the Digital Freedom Fund, I am stepping down as Executive Director. DFF is moving to a new collective leadership model, reflecting the learning and experience that the organisation has gained as it seeks to better reflect the communities it serves.

I took the organisation over from its founder Director Nani Jansen in January 2022 with the mandate of consolidating operations and steering the evolution from a start-up to a more mature organisation. I am proud of what we have achieved since then, which has included the design, development, and publication of an exciting new four-year Strategic Plan; the start of our first ever EU-funded project, digiRISE; conducting intense sessions on internal decolonising; and overseeing various staff recruitments (including the first communications, fundraising, and finance support roles), innovative digital rights events, and steady grantmaking activity. During my time as Director the staff has grown by 50%, the budget has increased, and we have expanded partnerships and sources of income.

In 2023 we returned to an in-person, and largest to date, Annual Strategy Meeting; had our two most popular ever calls for grants for strategic litigation projects in Europe; finalised the decolonising programme and blueprint after a years-long process; started transforming our grantmaking, and revamped our website. We also focused on organisational strengthening and reform, making DFF a great place to work with the establishment of a childcare policy for working parents, a home office allowance, wellness stipends, and time off in lieu (TOIL) for all staff, and piloting and then moving permanently to a four-day working week, and to being a fully-remote organisation, all with the aim of ensuring a healthy work-life balance, wellness, and maintaining – or even improving – productivity.

During this time, DFF began working on refitting its leadership structure and approach. One outcome of this journey has been the decision to move from a single director model to a more distributed leadership approach. With my departure, I have chosen to create space for the organisation to transition into the new model. This approach reflects the innovation and values-based focus that DFF is known for.

Organisational development is rarely linear and smooth. There have been bumps on the road and robust discussions, which is also important to recognize. Yet I feel good and confident that I am leaving the organisation well-placed to take every voice into account in the development of a model that works for everybody and ensures continued success in its next phase. The Board of DFF has been supporting us all along the way. As Rupert Skilbeck, current co-chair of the DFF Board has reflected:

DFF has always sought to bring about transformative change, and has not shied away from living those values, including through its significant efforts to promote racial and social justice in the digital space, and also its cutting-edge approach to innovations promoting the wellbeing of staff. Mauricio has worked with the staff to deliver these new approaches, and will be leaving DFF as a very different organisation, ready to move towards collective leadership. The entire board is hugely grateful for his contribution.

Over the next few months DFF will inform partners and supporters about the final outcome of the new leadership approach and organisational structure. For any questions on that topic you can write to communications@digitalfreedomfund.org.

I am grateful for all the lessons I have learned during my time at DFF, the friendships and professional relationships I have cultivated, and excited for the many vital projects to advance and protect human rights in the digital space that I have helped bring to fruition in this role.

I will stay in the human rights field, and I am sure our paths will cross again. My personal LinkedIn profile is here so that we can remain in touch.

Warm wishes,

Mauricio Lazala