Building a Better Feedback Loop
How deep listening and storytelling help organizations thrive
Mmaki Jantjies is the kind of local volunteer non-profit organizations dream of. A computer scientist at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, she’s part of a global program run by the Mozilla Foundation and UN Women to teach teen-aged girls how to access the internet, create with technology and learn from other women about careers in tech.
“We have been able to take the university out into new spaces that my colleagues never really knew about,” Mmaki says. “Even if the girls don’t choose a career in tech, they still get the basics of the internet before going on to university — while also creating a safe space where they can talk about women and girls’ issues.”
Mmaki’s story is part of a larger story, and an on-going global experiment. It’s an attempt to take an open, network-based approach to teaching and learning essential digital skills, applying Mozilla’s open source, participatory ethos to tackling the world’s web literacy and digital inclusion gap.
“One billion people around the world are in the process of getting online for the first time,” Amira Dhalla, the program’s lead organizer, says. “We want to ensure they have the skills they need to take full advantage of that opportunity, and to make choices that empower them and keep them safe.”
“That’s a big, complex challenge,” she says, “and it’s bigger than Mozilla or any oneorganization to solve alone. It begs a networked, collaborative approach. That’s why we need to empower local leaders like Mmaki who are already doing great work on the ground — and design and adapt Mozilla’s programs to support them, instead of the other way around.”
It sounds great. But how do you actually do it in practice, especially at a global scale? How do you know whether you’re doing it right, and where you need to improve? Teaching kids HTML in Brooklyn is different than in a classroom in rural South Africa or a cyber cafe in India. So how do you continually surface and learn more about these unique local needs, from the mouths of the people you’re trying to help? And, more importantly, how do you act and make concrete changes based on what they’re telling you?