Leading foundations join together to launch initiative to build a stronger digital society

Launching a first-of-its-kind initiative, a group of the nation’s leading foundations are committing to jointly address the challenges and opportunities of the digital age—including ensuring the Internet is open, secure, and accessible to all at NetGain: Working Together for a Stronger Digital Society. The new partnership, supported by the Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Knight Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and Mozilla Foundation, marks the first time a group of major foundations will work together to strengthen digital society, guided by a set of principles acknowledging the role of the Internet and technology in advancing the public interest. 

The partnership launches today, at a daylong event hosted at the Ford Foundation, during which leaders from the private, public, and nonprofit sector will join in a series of discussions on the future of the Internet. New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio will deliver the keynote address, focused on the intersection of technology, privacy, and the public good. Additional presenters include Gwen Ifill of Washington Week; Brian Lehrer of WNYC; Ethan Zuckerman of MIT Center for Civic Media; Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; Laura Poitras, filmmaker; and dozens of leaders from philanthropy, academia, business, and civil society.

“The digital society is here to stay and as it changes and grows we have the tremendous opportunity and obligation to ensure that all New Yorkers can participate,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Whether it’s converting pay phones into super-fast free Wi-Fi hotspots, fighting to protect a free and open Internet for generations to come, or wiring public computer centers for NYCHA residents, this administration has committed to use every tool we have to bridge the digital divide and create one city rising together. I look forward working with the leaders at NetGain to meet the challenge of creating an innovative, connected, equitable city.”

The initiative deepens the commitment to digital rights from the five foundations, each of which has long worked on Internet and technological issues, spending cumulatively in the range of $50 million annually. By collaborating, the foundations aim to make their investments more efficient and better coordinated, allowing the group to address the Internet’s most pressing challenges—those that are too large for any one organization to tackle alone.

At the heart of the initiative is a set of “Technology Principles” that will guide the group’s work in the digital space, including on privacy and transparency, free speech, and equal access to information online. The Internet, Philanthropy, and Progress: Principles for Future Work includes six philanthropic commitments to

  1. Make the Internet an open, secure, and equitable space that everyone can access and afford
  2. Support the opportunities created by a networked public sphere while guarding against potential harm
  3. Transform learning to ensure that young people have the skills they need to succeed in a connected world
  4. Cultivate leaders in business, government, and civil society to fulfill the promise of the Internet
  5. Enhance data security and protect individual privacy
  6. Ensure that philanthropy leads in digital security and data ethics in its own practices

“The rapid growth of the Internet has created challenges and opportunities in every area of contemporary life, from health to political participation,” said Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and presenter at the event’s launch. “By joining together to champion digital rights, Ford, Knight, MacArthur, Open Society and Mozilla are sending a strong message about the connection between technological change and human welfare. Philanthropy must be a leader in efforts to ensure the Internet is a force for good, and these foundations are stepping up—in a big way.”    

The initiative also launches a series of new, aligned commitments by the five foundations—in addition to their ongoing grant making in the field—to realize the potential of a digital society. The NetGain Partnership will support novel ideas and finance new research for the development of cutting-edge innovations and digital technologies to improve lives. To kick off the program, eight of the world’s leading Internet and technology experts will deliver presentations at the Ford Foundation on February 11.

The schedule includes

  • The Internet’s Great Challenges by Ethan Zuckerman, MIT Center for Civic Media
  • The New Journalism: Navigating a changing media landscape by Emily Bell, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
  • The Activist Web: From Tahrir Square to #BlackLivesMatter, protecting social movements from surveillance by Alicia Garza, founder of #BlackLivesMatter 
  • The (Almost) World Wide Web: What would it really take to make the Internet accessible to every person, everywhere in India by Sunil Abraham, Centre for Internet and Society, India
  • Network Rules: Why strong leadership and governance are critical to a free, open Internet by Chip Pickering, Comptel
  • The Snowden Effect: How can secure, encrypted communication support transparency and democracy? by Laura Poitras, filmmaker, and Chris Soghoian, ACLU 
  • Locking the Net Open: Transforming the web into a truly distributed system that’s all fun, secure, and reliable by Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive 
  • A Call to Arms: Why now is the time to address the Internet’s great challenges by Joi Ito, MIT Media Lab 
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The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 75 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.