The first Digital Freedom Fund Board meeting took place in the fall of 2017.
Thanks to the hospitality of Panel of Experts member Tarlach McGonagle, we were sitting in a meeting room at IViR in the new building of the University of Amsterdam Law School when I told the Board that I would be in this role for 5 years only. I had started working on developing the plans for DFF in March of that year, typing away during breaks at IFF in Valencia, listening to the two albums of the Touré-Raichel Collective on repeat.
To me, this was a logical trajectory: the mandate to build an organisation that could support strategic litigation on digital rights came from the field, so I considered myself a custodian. I would build the institution that was needed and then hand it over to someone else. Now, five years later, the time has come to say goodbye.
…the mandate to build an organisation that could support strategic litigation on digital rights came from the field, so I considered myself a custodian.
What started out as a plan in a Word document has grown into an organisation with a team of eight (soon nine –– we are recruiting!) that has delivered what we set out to do in that plan with the help of many more collaborators and partners than I could ever hope to mention here.
A key partner in all our work has been the digital rights field itself: besides doing all the important work you’re doing, you have helped shape the way DFF works, the projects it supports, the tools we developed to facilitate your work.
As of today, we have supported 60 projects, ranging from challenges to algorithmic profiling by government, online censorship, and AdTech, to work defending women’s reproductive rights, asylum seekers’ data privacy, and research to lay the groundwork for litigation on the gig economy.
As of today, we have supported 60 projects
In addition to our annual strategy meetings, we’ve hosted workshops, strategic litigation retreats, speakers’ series, and developed resources ranging from M&E tools to litigation guides. Much more is in the pipeline and I look forward to seeing what the team will continue cocreating with the field over the coming years.
In all of this, there is a special place for the decolonising process and Digital Rights for All work we are facilitating together with EDRi. The seed for the decolonising process was planted when looking at the group photo of DFF’s first strategy meeting in 2018 and noticing that I was the only person of colour… not quite a reflection of our society.
Fast forward to 2021 and we are working with a fabulous group of people to design a process for structural change in the digital rights field and supporting the development of a digital rights agenda led by racial, social and economic justice organisations. (And yes, the strategy meetings are slowly changing, too!)
Watch this space: the work Laurence Meyer and Sarah Chander are doing and facilitating is the future of digital rights and the direction of travel we should all be following. There is still so much work to be done –– including by DFF as an organisation –– and we should waste no time before rolling up our sleeves.
There is still so much work to be done –– including by DFF as an organisation –– and we should waste no time before rolling up our sleeves.
Of course, the past years have not all been rainbows, glitter, and unicorns. Building an organisation from scratch is hard work, for anyone. And as a Black woman in a white and male-dominated space you get a share of additional work allotted that, quite frankly, can crush you at times.
Besides the duty to call out issues when you have a platform, working on topics that are not just “work” but also personal, there are the less visible aspects that add continuous wear and tear to leaders of colour. Doing your “regular work” while Black means being undermined by consultants you hire, being gaslit by collaborators, grantees, colleagues, and funders, and fighting engrained biases which only puts you at risk of strengthening them. I have often wondered how much I would be able to get done if I did not have to spend time, energy and brainspace on things like that.
Besides the duty to call out issues when you have a platform, working on topics that are not just “work” but also personal, there are the less visible aspects that add continuous wear and tear to leaders of colour
I am grateful for all the lessons learned and the connections and friendships forged over the past years. I will take these with me as I build a new initiative, Systemic Justice, which will work with partners to advance racial, social, and economic justice through strategic litigation. Systemic Justice will work across the digital and non-digital context (digital rights are human rights, after all), so you are not quite rid of me just yet!