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Five Major Foundations Announce Groundbreaking Plans to Develop Public Interest Technologists

NEW YORK—The NetGain partnership, a group of five major foundations working to promote the use of the internet for social good, today committed a combined $18 million in grants to strengthen the emerging field of Public Interest technology, with the goal of increasing the number of people around the world who are using their technological skills to improve civil society and government at all levels. The partners also released their first report detailing opportunities and best practices for others to join the movement to build and expand public interest technology.

In a joint commitment to uncover new ways the internet can be used to foster learning and promote justice, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Mozilla Foundation joined together in February 2015 to form the NetGain partnership. Together with leaders from government, philanthropy, business, and the tech world, the partnership aims to explore ways technology can advance the public interest.

“Philanthropy has a responsibility to ensure that technology makes the world more equal. For many of society’s most disenfranchised, their relationship with technology is a virtual extension of their exclusion,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “But what gives me hope is that technology can be a critical ingredient in the efforts to challenge inequality in all its forms and expand inclusion and opportunity.”

The grants announced today include five gifts the foundations collectively agreed to totaling $1.25 million to support public interest technology. An additional $17 million in grants were given by the foundation partners individually over the course of their exploration of this emerging field. The five NetGain grants support everything from fellowships that bring technology into the fields of journalism, science, and public policy, to a Harvard University program that partners with civil society organizations and government institutions to conduct scientific experiments to learn how different technologies impact civil liberties, civil rights, and consumer protection matters, building professional pathways for technologists to engage these issues.

“The NetGain partnership is tackling the paradox of the internet—working to ensure that the technologies of today and the future maximize its great potential for good while minimizing real harm to individuals, communities, and society,” said Julia Stasch, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“Ensuring that people have the know-how and vision to use technology to advance the common good is essential to fostering an internet where innovation and inclusion thrive,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation. “NetGain aims to bring us closer to this goal, helping to support and uncover the many ways that government, business, and civil society can join the cause of digital equality.”

“NetGain is fostering future leaders and building the skill sets of the people who have the power to change our world for the better,” said Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation. “By investing in a movement of technologists committed to the public interest, we are also promoting the stature of the field, as prescribed by our new report.”

The new report, A Pivotal Moment: Developing a New Generation of Technologists for the Public Interest [PDF], identifies opportunities to build the field of public interest technology, and ways that philanthropy and other stakeholders can invest to best support such efforts. The resource also details best practices that will help people around the world design smarter interventions across government and civil society to develop the talent and capacity of public interest technologists.

“Our destiny as open societies is in the hands of today’s and tomorrow’s technologists, and that’s why this report, indeed this entire initiative, is so important,” said Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations. “We need to encourage the training and development of technologists committed to the spirit of freedom and community that gave birth to the internet.”

Strengthening the field of public interest technology was just the first focus of the NetGain partners. The foundations will announce the next topic of their work later in the year. The overarching principles guiding NetGain include a commitment to:
  • making the internet an open, secure, and equitable space that everyone can access and afford;
  • supporting the opportunities created by a networked public sphere while guarding against potential harm;
  • transforming learning to ensure that young people have the skills they need to succeed in a connected world;
  • cultivating leaders in business, government, and civil society to fulfill the promise of the internet;
  • enhancing data security and protect individual privacy; and
  • ensuring that philanthropy leads in digital security and data ethics in its own practices.
To learn more about NetGain, visit
The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.

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Five Major Foundations Announce Groundbreaking Plans to Develop Public Interest Technologists


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