Friday, June 5, 2015

Identifying Leaders: The 2015 Cohort of Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows and How We Found Them

In October of 2014, Mozilla set out to find six Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows -- emerging tech leaders who would lend an expert perspective to civil society organizations working in the Internet policy world. Since this was the first year of the program, the team did not anticipate a significant amount of interest at the outset -- but by the time I joined in January 2015, we’d received more than 550 applications from 87 countries. People around the world were eager to work on policy issues that threaten an open Web -- net neutrality, privacy, security, mass surveillance, and more -- and to protect the open Internet.

This talented group found our program through websites dedicated to promoting scholarship and leadership opportunities, from partner organizations who spread the word through social media and tech events, and through Mozilla communities around the world. From the 553 applications, the most highly represented countries were:
  1. USA (109)
  2. Nigeria (62)
  3. India (56)

Regionally, we received applications in the following breakdown:
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 28%
  • North America: 22%
  • Asia: 16%
  • Middle East & North Africa: 15%
  • Europe: 13%
  • South America: 6%

We were enthused by the high interest from Sub-Saharan Africa, and attribute this to our presence on a career website. We were also surprised by the lack of applications from Oceania. This information will help guide our call for applications for next year’s cohort, as we work to have more opportunities in different regions, and attract candidates from everywhere.

The Review Process
The review team -- a group of Mozillians including policy experts and leaders of communities -- “met” impressive people by reading applications from people around the world who were passionate about protecting data and better defining our online rights. They shared concerns about surveillance and privacy; they cared about improving access to an open and free Internet; and they saw education as a vital tool to promote better understanding of these issues in their communities. Over and over, we read about technologists looking for a way to use their skills for social good, and about activists who saw the value in using technology to teach, connect, and empower others.

Word cloud from answers to “What issue areas are you most passionate about?”

Since each host organization had different needs, we had a broad sense of the ideal skills of a Fellow. Though the candidates may not have identified as such, we were looking for Mozillians: leaders who value community participation and work to empower others; activists who view an open and trustworthy Internet as a global public resource; and technologists who shape the Web through innovation.

Successful applications went through five rounds of review:
  1. Interest.
Our open application -- anyone could apply -- encouraged candidates to share their passions. Those who expressed protecting the open Web as a primary interest made the first pass.

  1. Skills.
Since the Fellows will be embedded within host organizations, getting the right skills match was a critical step. The six host organizations -- the ACLU, Amnesty International, APC, Free Press, Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge -- outlined projects they needed help on, and had ideas about the skills and personality fits for which they were looking. We used this as a guide to create a list of 80 candidates.

  1. Fit.
The host organizations looked over the list of 80 candidates and together chose 25 semi-finalists about whom they wanted to learn more. They chose these candidates based on potential for the applicant to contribute to their projects on a technical level, and on shared values that came through in the application.

  1. Interviews (two rounds).
The first interview -- with Mozilla -- was an opportunity for us to hear more about the aspiring candidate’s interest in becoming an Open Web Fellow. The second interview -- with the host organization and Mozilla -- was an opportunity for both the host organization and candidate to learn about each other, and determine their levels of mutual interest.

  1. Matching.
After reviewing notes from both interviews and getting input from the host organizations, Mozilla made the Fellowship offers. This was determined both by matching the needs of the host organizations with the skills the candidates brought, and by looking at the Fellows cohort as a cohesive unit that would work and grow together.

We’re extremely proud of the six Fellows who will lead our inaugural year. They bring a range of experiences that will be valuable not only for their host organizations, but also to each other and to those with whom they interact, including members of the larger Mozilla Advocacy Community. A successful Fellowship will include teaching and empowering this community; building tools and resources to both measure and improve people’s privacy online; and sharing information in an effective way with the general public and policymakers.

Beyond the Fellowship
A critical piece of affecting change is in supporting and growing the community. Our current challenge is to engage with and elevate the hundreds of other talented applicants who were not awarded a Fellowship. Mozilla is collaborating with other organizations to provide more opportunities for technologists to find employment and fellowships within civil society organizations through which they can have a positive impact on the open Internet. Along with these opportunities, important conversations about the state of Internet policy worldwide take place amongst our Mozilla Advocacy Community on Discourse, where community members share knowledge and resources to protect the open Web.

It is our job and privilege to keep this amazing group of people involved and engaged in projects and initiatives worldwide. More importantly, we continue to learn from this community of activists and technologists -- not only about their personal interests, but also about important issues happening in local contexts.

We invite you to join the Mozilla Advocacy Community, and add your voice to the many conversations and strategies that are helping to protect the free and open Web.

1 comment:

  1. That is an intense application process. I'm glad to see the geographic spread in the fellows.