On the journey to finding common collaboration grounds between organizations working in various contexts to advance their digital resilience and the resilience of social justice communities they work with.
During our meeting in September 2023 at the Team Community Global Gathering in Estoril (Portugal), we took a moment to reflect on the lessons and “tiny victories” of this Network building process. We recognized that building this Network and refining our collaboration projects is an ongoing process. A process that is important to document, systematizing the lessons learned and reflections that arose during our ongoing journey. We also believe that it’s important to exchange these insights with others who are going through similar experiences of building networks or coalitions. Thus, we are sharing them here in this blog post.
Our conversation in Estoril focused on the importance of defining this Network’s role within the digital resilience ecosystem, and building trust and understanding among members to develop a cohesive work.
Facing a common challenge: the rise of digital threats in the Global South
While working in different socio-economic and political environments, members of the Network face similar challenges when it comes to digital resilience. The rights and freedoms of individuals and groups have been impacted by the misuse of sophisticated technologies by governments and powerful non-state actors. Various malicious tools and tactics are being employed without restraint, including orchestrated disinformation campaigns, internet shutdowns, and the use of spyware against journalists and human rights defenders.
Our work approaching such realities varies. Network members provide technical skills, infrastructure, access to tools, information and strategies to understand and mitigate surveillance, disinformation and other digital risks. Members’ support could include raising awareness, promoting digital rights, and helping them develop capacities to use tech safely and strategically for advocacy, organization, and participation in solving social problems and addressing unfair realities.
Embracing the similarities of contexts and diversity of expertise, the ten member organizations working in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East have been engaged in a two-year process to build a strategy. In this process, we have learned about each other’s work and identified areas of collaboration that will contribute to strengthening digital resilience in the Global South.
When confronted with such challenges in complex and evolving contexts, specific issues related to the strategy and design of a collaborative and functional work plan come to the forefront. First, members agreed that a network project envisioned collectively and grounded in a strategic plan can take months or even years to complete and adapt to reality.
In this process, one of our members raised a key issue: it is very important to identify the role of the Network in relation to other networks in the digital resilience ecosystem. For him, answering the question of “what are we doing together?” is as important as answering “why?” Responding to this question will effectively position this Network of organizations that provide technical assistance in the Global South, in a way that will complement and build on the work of other existing regional networks and technical labs that work to strengthen resilience against digital threats.
However, in order to get to the stage of identifying the Network’s role and areas of collaboration, it was important to build trust among our organizations.
Building Trust Takes Time:
In virtual meetings and in-person gatherings, we have recognized the value of collectivity, diversity, trust, and motivation – key elements that keep us moving forward today and in the days to come. We were able to come closer to a collaboration project once we built strong human connections.
There was an agreement among members that while our online meetings over the past two years contributed to knowing each other and developing the Network strategy and direction, in-person meetings were the most powerful tool for imagining collaboration. As one of our members points out, not being in the office “gives subjective space to focus on the Network”.
We come from various cultural backgrounds and languages, which enriches our perspectives. This diversity allows us to find common ground, and differences, and build the necessary trust among organizations. As one of our members has mentioned, it is this trust that drives us “with energy to build together”, and to maintain momentum, contribute to a healthier and more united network, and sustain ongoing collaboration.
Diversity also exists in members’ expertise between offering technical support and developing research on digital threats. This has been highlighted by one member of our Network: in addition to forming human connections through in-person meetings, building trust requires understanding our diversity in approaches and goals, and “taking advantage of our complementarity”.
During this moment of reflection, we recognized that while planning our collaboration we should be flexible, and also that we need to address our changing political and socio-economic realities. Therefore, we remain conscious of the need for adaptability while we develop concrete collaborative actions that will eventually lead to increasing the technical capacities of civil society organizations across the Global South.