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Interview with Andrew Mack: Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2016 in Guadalajara, Mexico

From December 6th-9th, AMGlobal’s Andrew Mack attended the Internet Governance Forum 2016, where he spoke to an audience of NGO leaders on the future of civil society and the Internet. Here is what he had to say about that experience.

Andrew, you just came back from the IGF Guadalajara. Could you give us some context about the conference and its significance?

Guadalajara was my 7th IGF, and each one is different. This IGF had a particular focus on the connections between business and civil society, and the importance of the internet as a way to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It took place against a backdrop of what many people believe is a shrinking space for civil society online, with growing concerns about online security – and yet a tremendous sense of the power of the internet as a tool for development.

Tell us about your talk at IGF?

I was asked to speak to a group of Civil Society leaders from Ecuador and Venezuela, two countries where we’ve worked extensively. I started with my “3 most important issues facing civil society and the Internet today”: cybersecurity, the increasingly challenging relationship between government and civil society in many countries, and the changing role of the private sector.

What is the changing role of the private sector?

The private sector is looking to do more and more of its marketing and data gathering online. And while relations between the private sector and NGOs in many South American markets have been fairly distant, I made the argument that in many countries, especially where governments are perceived as challenging, the private sector and the nonprofit world actually have a lot in common. There are great opportunities for civil society organizations if they work with the private sector and learn how to speak its language. In fact, the private sector is looking for this.

Historically, the relationship has often felt one-way: where civil society is looking for grants and the private sector is trying not to get overly involved. But the space is changing and smart nonprofits can present themselves more as partners with the private sector. They [civil society] have trust and credibility and networks to reach people with authenticity. I believe there are real opportunities for NGOs to present themselves much more as value added partners, but the key on both sides is to build long-term relationships versus short-term funding.

Your second point was on challenges from the public space, what exactly do you mean by that? Do you see relationships with the private sector addressing some of these challenges from the public space?

In many countries, there is increasing pressure on NGOs from government, greater skepticism of NGOs, and more limitations on funding for nonprofits. NGOs are facing challenges that limit their ability to raise funds internationally and in many other areas. These can be addressed, but they are increasingly prevalent around the world.

My sense is that when governments are problematic, they are not just problematic for civil societies. They are problematic for everyone, the private sector as much as much as for civil society. If you are a nonprofit working on woman’s healthcare in the Global South, you have many of the same constituents as companies like Kimberly-Clark or Johnson and Johnson. There are possibilities to do so much more online – in a way that benefits both business and the communities that NGOs hope to serve.

Thank you for your insights Andrew.

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