Series: How to Create Safe Spaces

Picture by: @froatosebe — “Goodbye, thank you for a week of hosted & practised solidarity […]”

The Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) is a platform that the global Internet Freedom communities use to collectively improve the services, strategies, and tools offered to the most vulnerable individuals on the frontlines. It is also a place where we incubate ideas, build solidarity, and collectively create a community-sourced culture. In many ways, the IFF is a living organism that evolves every year based on the needs and feedback of these communities.

We spend little time talking about accomplishments and IFF’s impact in the global Internet Freedom space. This IFF team sees ourselves as facilitators whose main goal is to support the various communities that call the IFF home. The fruits of the IFF is thanks to the work of hundreds of people that come together in solidarity to collectively push each other to do better and treat everyone with the utmost dignity and respect.

Recently, we were asked to share the strategies we use to make the IFF spaces “safer.” We intentionally use the word “safer” because every year comes with a new set of issues that must be tackled to evolve and raise both our team’s consciousness and that of the community we serve. Recognizing we are imperfect human beings, with each of us coming with our own baggage, the only thing we can honestly do is to continuously challenge each other to be and do better.

Understand Where You Come From to Understand Where You are Going

IFF started with the goal of increasing the diversity of voices that were leading conversations in the Internet Freedom space. At first, we thought that the main issues we were battling were cross-cultural communication issues. We initially thought that people needed to have a space to engage with people from different backgrounds and experiences. While this was a good first step, it didn’t address some of our deeper problems. Structural issues inherent to the world were repeated in our communities, and it required us to take a more holistic approach to achieve our goals.

We then asked ourselves: how can we cultivate true inclusion? Every member of a community should feel included and empowered to share and execute ideas, and to be their authentic selves.This was a good second step, but not enough. After taking some time for further reflection, we realized that safety had to be on top of our priority list. The turning point in this discovery occurred when an IFF participant shared the following piece of wisdom:

“When you make sure that the most vulnerable feel safe, then it makes it so that that everyone feels safe.”

It was a lightbulb moment for us. To create a culture of respect and solidarity, people need to feel safe. That security is central to the work of our community, especially those who are working in human rights.

A community can’t tackle challenges properly if it’s not founded in a space that is safe.

And, to be clear, we are still learning how to do this. Every day we fall, make mistakes, and are reminded that we carry our own biases. However, aspiring to grow and being honest about our failures is the minimum we owe the amazing people we call our peers, and in many cases, family.

The IFF Safe Space Series

It’s impossible to address all the issues and tools needed to cultivate safer spaces in one article. It took us four years to be where we are, and we are still learning. We believe that it is important to discuss these issues openly as a community, so we can all learn from each other.

As a result, this is the first article of a weekly series where we will be sharing the knowledge and lessons we have learned throughout the years. We would like to thank the various individuals who invested their time and energy to help us evolve both as a program and individually as people. Our gratitude cannot not be expressed in words.

However, we leave you with the following starting point. To cultivate a safer space means seeing the humanity of every single person that you serve, and understanding they deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and honesty.