Philanthropies And Expression: An Interview With Ford Foundation President Darren Walker 29/04/2015 by Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and are not associated with Intellectual Property Watch. IP-Watch expressly disclaims and refuses any responsibility or liability for the content, style or form of any posts made to this forum, which remain solely the responsibility of their authors. Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, one of the largest and historically most influential private philanthropies in the United States, dedicated to human welfare worldwide. Among its areas of focus are programs on freedom of expression and internet rights, extremely timely given current national and global events. Ford, along with four other leading foundations, and leaders from government, business and the technology community recently announced NetGain, a partnership to “spark the next generation of innovation for social change and progress.” This month, Intellectual Property Watch’s William New interviewed Darren Walker on his vision for the foundation, internet governance, and the world at large. Darren Walker Intellectual Property Watch (IPW): You recently published, along with two other foundation leaders, an article calling for philanthropy to “jump-start a digital revolution for the common good.” Can you talk about your vision for the internet and governance? DARREN WALKER: The internet has completely transformed every area of contemporary life. It has upended how we connect and how we engage with the world around us, creating amazing, remarkable challenges and some pretty exciting opportunities. But to deal with this significant transformation requires a bold vision and I think on the one hand the internet can be used to foster enlightenment and learning and advance justice. But on the other hand, it can be used to exert control and to stifle debate, and be used as a means of social control of citizens. The internet really is like the Roman god Janus. There are two sides to the face of the internet, and I believe that we in philanthropy have a role to play in ensuring that the best side is the side that advances democracy and citizen participation that fosters and strengthens our democracy. That’s the internet that we want to unleash and we want to make possible. The internet really is like the Roman god Janus. There are two sides to the face of the internet – Darren Walker IPW: Could you give a little more specifics, with that vision in mind, of ways you can envision this happening, or perhaps give examples of the kinds of issues that have arisen or you see arising in the coming years? And perhaps some of the generally anticipated kinds of trends that can come about to address these areas to ensure we get the right outcome. DW: I think first we need to understand that internet governance is one of the most important issues of our time because if you care about social justice and fairness and opportunity, you’ve got to care about the internet and the governance of the internet. This is why net neutrality is so important because the idea of creating different classes of users on the internet is antithetical to its purpose and why it was created and certainly why the World Wide Web was created. Specifically what I would say is that we have seen examples of what happens when authoritarian regimes can manipulate the internet. When I think about the opportunity today for greater transparency, greater citizen participation, I’m reminded of 1965 when Dr [Martin Luther] King was delivering a landmark speech on the conditions in the American South and two of the networks made the decision to not broadcast it in the South. And then I think about today, what happened in Ferguson and the degree to which it was citizen participation and transmission of information and data that made possible an entire new social movement in the US. The idea of Black Lives Matter emerged from a street-level protest and aggregating of data and information from citizens, and that emboldened and strengthened that movement. To me, those are the kinds of examples of the ways that we can think about the potential of the internet, a free and open internet, to strengthen and make more vital our democracy. What happened in Ferguson and the degree to which it was citizen participation and transmission of information and data that made possible an entire new social movement in the US. IPW: The internet is a global concept. How do you see this playing out in an international context from your perspective? DW: I think we have to think about how the digital divide affects the globe. My fear is that the internet, if we don’t pay attention to governance, will perpetuate and reinforce historic divides between North and South. A dystopian view is one in which the internet reinforces the historic marginalisation of the developing world, when it comes to new technology and innovation. So I think we have to pay attention to global governance and we have to think about what the mechanisms are, what the policies are, that ensure that people in the global South have access and that they have the full benefit of the internet. My fear is that the internet, if we don’t pay attention to governance, will perpetuate and reinforce historic divides between North and South. IPW: Do you see any venues as the best for that conversation to take place? Where and how is the best way to help prevent that kind of thing from happening and promote the right thing happening at a global level? DW: I think there are a number of them globally, many of them led by our grantees. For example, as you know, there are campaigns like Tim Berners-Lee’s the Web We Want – the World Wide Web Foundation is leading a global campaign. There are for example a number of NGOs working on these issues, regionally and continentally. And then of course there are lessons that have come out of experiences like in Brazil and even at the United Nations where there is a debate about global governance of the internet. So what we want to do is not prescribe who should be leading these conversations or even what the outcome should be. What we want to do at the Ford Foundation is ensure that the voice and authenticity of local citizens is felt in global dialogue about internet governance. What we want to do is not prescribe who should be leading these conversations or even what the outcome should be. What we want to do at the Ford Foundation is ensure that the voice and authenticity of local citizens is felt in global dialogue about internet governance. IPW: This seems to come at a critical time, as nations seem to be coming apart more than ever on these issues, and it’s on everybody’s minds. DW: Well, I think it’s finally on everybody’s mind. IPW: Do you want to give us any example of the type of model activity in this area that, I might say, give hope for positive change? DW: When I look back at the Ford Foundation’s history, in the 1960s, we created something called legal clinics in law schools, and ultimately the public interest law movement, which led to the creation of the Legal Services Corporation. The idea behind that was that there were many promising young law students who wanted to serve their country and serve the public interest. If you were a law student in the 1960s, your choices were to go to work for the government or go to work in private practice representing commercial clients for the most part. We have a similar situation today in the area of technology where if you are a computer science graduate or you are going to engineering school, and you want to contribute to the social good or want to support the public interest, the choices are to go to work for a private company or maybe go to work for a government agency. We believe that it’s time we created a movement in this country around public interest in technology, public interest technologists. So what we’re doing is funding, with Mozilla, a Ford-Mozilla fellows program which takes promising computer science graduates, engineering graduates, who are interested in using their skills to advance social justice. What I mean by that is having a code writer go to work for the ACLU or a public interest litigation law firm to help them understand how to use technology to make the organisation more effective and more impactful. We believe that it’s time we created a movement in this country around public interest in technology, public interest technologists. I’ll give one example. I was speaking with Martha Minnow, the dean of the Harvard Law School, recently about one such individual who has spent some time working with the law school clinics and came up with a wonderful tool that helps the law clinics see more clients. We have this huge backlog and need for poor people to receive legal services. So if we can use technology to more effectively process and close these cases, it means that more people will be served. It’s one example of how technology can be used. This new class of young technologists who want to commit themselves to doing good can do that. There is huge demand and huge interest. In fact, for our five spots we had 560 applicants in the first class. We are now going to expand the initial cohort in this pilot phase. There is such demand, and that demand comes all across the country from some of the most prominent computer science and engineering programs to people who are currently working in the private sector and are looking for an opportunity to give back. That is something that I am hugely excited about and very inspired by. IPW: Thank you. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related "Philanthropies And Expression: An Interview With Ford Foundation President Darren Walker" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.