Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Jacobi, co- founder and executive director of Digital Democracy, a non-profit organization working to empower marginalized communities to use technology to fight for their human rights. I hope that you will check out my interview with her on the link below, but I first want to mention a couple of things that struck me about the work Digital Democracy, Dd hereafter, is engaging in around the world.
Although the organization launched about 4 years ago, Emily has been doing this work since she was a teenager. She has clearly put a lot of time and effort into refining her craft, which combines a powerhouse of media, technology, human rights, advocacy, open government and probably something else I've failed to pick up on. She has spent a good deal of time reflecting on what's important- what her purpose is, what Dd's purpose is and should be- and she's come up with some answers that I find particularly particularly compelling.
First, Dd waits for people to come to them. There are an endless number of projects worldwide that Dd could get involved in; Emily is keenly aware of this. Dd has a very basic online application that allows people to put forward their requests for support. For example, groups like KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims) in Haiti are able to request technical support and training to establish a gender-based violence emergency call center, or the All Burma IT Student Union is able to seek support with their BarCamp tech convening.
Dd is refreshingly skipping out on the aid and relief model that has dominated much of the developing world in recent decades: Western NGOs oftentimes rush in, pitch their tent and take the lead with little input or direction from the communities they're working with. Although they may have the best of intentions, projects lacking local leadership and buy-in from the community, at best won't be sustainable; at worst, they have the potential to cause more harm than good.
Dd has the opposite approach. Their work depends on partnerships with the very people who come to them in the first place: local groups, organizations and communities. Dd depends on collaboration, input, and direction from the local community so that solutions are co-created. Dd is training, empowering, and enabling people to be the leaders of their own movement. Because the projects are being implemented by the very people who want and need them, they have the will, motivation, and thanks to Dd, the technical-logistical ability to sustain the project into the future.
In this way, Dd always has an exit strategy. They know when it's time to leave a project so that the project can manifest within the capable hands of hard-working people in Haiti, Chiapas, Burma/Myanmar, and Peru, for example. This is a good thing for all the reasons I stated above, but it also allows Dd to take up other projects, work with other communities in need, and continue their good work around the world. In the non-profit world of limited resources this model of mobility is essential. But it just makes sense on so many different levels.
I am grateful to Emily for sharing her organization with me. Please check out the interview below!