The infrastructure behind the infrastructure

Lucy Bernholz

The digital space is the infrastructure that we all depend on. But for civil society to secure its freedom of thought and action is a major challenge

Support organizations are not the only kind of infrastructure that philanthropy and civil society depend on. Increasingly, underpinning the work of both – in fact of all organizations – is the digital technology they rely on. That brings its own problems and is something that philanthropy support organizations need to pay attention to.

Every foundation, donor, non-profit, or civic association which uses email or cell phones is digitally dependent. These organizations and the people who constitute them – staff, volunteers, board members, beneficiaries – connect to each other via software, hardware and digital infrastructure. Whenever we act out our associational, expressive, or privacy rights using digital networks, we are operating in digital spaces. The policies and regulations that govern these domains – including software licensing, telecommunications, consumer data, privacy, intellectual property and others – and the corporate practices that shape them now dictate the where, the how, the who and the what of civil society, just as national and international legal frameworks, cultural and religious traditions and norms have always done.

 
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