Media Democracy Fund is a catalyst for an open, secure and equitable internet. We bring together diverse voices to design inclusive and responsible solutions, and empower public interest advocates to create an environment where digital technologies and the internet have a long-term, positive impact on society.
The internet is transformative.
It has given us the capacity to communicate, work, learn, organize and participate in compelling new ways. But as it matures, the internet is increasingly being commercialized and controlled by a handful of tech giants and state actors. Many of the most popular platforms and services rely on the extraction and monetization of personal data, while also giving disruptive forces the technological tools to dissuade and divide.
Media Democracy Fund works to ensure that technology is used to expand our basic rights and freedoms, and not as a tool to amplify inequity. To realize this “more perfect” internet, MDF is guided by three core values:
Today’s communities are more technologically driven than ever – generating a growing digital transformation that could either entrench pre-existing disparities or secure digital capacity and connectivity for everyone. MDF supports strategies that champion digital equity and ensure all communities have access to wired and wireless technologies needed for meaningful participation in civil society, and employment, education and housing.
The open internet empowers communities with new opportunities for self-expression, entrepreneurship, political participation and social justice. However, without strong protections Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have the ability to abuse their power and charge more for “fast lanes” for data or discriminate against content by blocking or throttling. MDF supports organizations fighting to protect and defend real net neutrality and open internet principles that require ISPs to treat all internet communications equally.
Online attacks and intimidation not only threaten the safety and security of individual social justice leaders, but are also designed to silence social movements and erode democracy, as well as the right to protest. In today’s politically charged environment, MDF supports tools, trainings and digital security expertise to protect and defend individuals and organizations on the front lines of social change, while challenging the practices of companies and governments that track individuals’ behavior across digital platforms.
MDF has made more than $34 million in grants to over 200 organizations since our founding in 2006. But we do more than grantmaking. We work hand-in-hand with grantees, funders and allies to connect partners from all corners of the field, to ensure advocates have the smart thinking and resources they need to act quickly on some of the most pressing issues of our time. MDF's work includes:
The digital ecosystem is constantly changing. MDF works with funding partners and allies to conduct research and field scans to guide our thinking, bring new voices to the conversations, and promote equity in our ever-evolving technological world.
As an intermediary funder, MDF provides targeted grants and contracts to advocacy organizations working at the intersection of internet freedom, digital equity, security, and privacy. MDF identifies emerging needs and provides grants quickly so organizations can take action and respond to threats as they happen.
MDF works closely with funding partners to keep them abreast of the latest challenges and opportunities, and organize support across priority issue areas so they can make smart, strategic investments in a rapidly changing environment.
MDF is a vital connecter between grantees, funders, companies and allies in a rapidly changing field. We bring diverse people and organizations together – helping to broaden approaches to advocacy, organizing and problem-solving – to develop winning strategies and build support for tech policies that promote basic rights and freedoms.
MDF believes that technologists on staff can help advocacy groups investigate new challenges and identify novel ways of confronting injustice in the digital age. To support leadership development, MDF matches public interest technologists with advocacy organizations through the Ford-MDF Technology Exchange Matching Fund and the PhDX university fellowship program.
Research & Policy Development
A handful of tech companies have become global titans in an array of sectors – from search, to communication, cloud storage, and commerce. Even as these companies bring innovative ideas to the marketplace, they also facilitate many of the most damaging and dangerous political, economic, and social trends that shape the world today. MDF believes that a multi-faceted approach— from rehabilitating antitrust and competition policy to direct engagement with companies, to developing solutions with communities most impacted by the harms— is essential to creating an environment capable of responding to the increasingly dangerous power wielded by tech giants.
Technologists are needed around the world to help advocacy groups investigate new challenges, identify novel ways of confronting injustice and mobilize public support in the digital age. MDF manages two leadership development programs – the Ford-MDF Technology Exchange Matching Fund and PhDX university fellowship program – designed to create more opportunities for emerging technology leaders around the world to gain experience working within public interest policy and open source technology organizations.
Online attacks and intimidation of the organizations and individuals on the front lines for social change not only threaten their safety and security, but silence social movements and erode democracy, as well as the right to protest. MDF supports the global Internet Freedom projects that represent the backbone technologies upon which many other social movement tools and strategies depend.
An open internet is essential for a just and equitable society in the digital age. MDF was one of several key funders that helped public interest groups successfully advocate for the FCC’s adoption of the Open Internet Order in 2015, and we continue to support organizations engaged in public education and advocacy around the value of net neutrality. We focus our grantmaking on preventing the internet from being controlled and defined by corporate power and entrenching inequality, rather than promoting opportunity for all.
MDF has made donor organizing and education a key part of our work. In recent years, we have co-convened over a dozen different funder meetings designed to elevate the profile of key issues, facilitate funder collaboration, and provide an opportunity to develop shared strategies. From expanding the pool of funders that support Internet Freedom on a global level, to pairing digital security experts with donors to increase awareness of emerging threats, to providing support for strategic initiatives, more than 200 individual donors and foundations participated in MDF’s funder education programs last year alone.
Digital equity is about more than devices and strong internet connections; it’s a leveler of society and a prerequisite for social justice. MDF’s Digital Equity strategy is represented by our place-based work in Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia, as well as our support for a national digital inclusion practitioner’s network. The principles of digital equity also extend to reforming the impact of big tech and Smart Cities on local communities, and can inform approaches and solutions to addressing platform accountability.
Media Democracy Action Fund (MDAF), our affiliated 501(c)4 project, makes grants in support of lobbying in the public interest – a capability that complements MDF’s 501(c)3 public education investments. MDF’s private foundation partners are not consulted about lobbying activity, and no private foundation partners participate in MDAF grantmaking.
MDF is a project of the New Venture Fund, a US-based 501(c)3 public charity. MDF’s annual grantmaking cycle supports our grantees’ general operations and projects, and we maintain the ability to rapidly fund projects that address opportunities or threats as they arise throughout the year.
Amber French is Executive Director of Media Democracy Fund. She has had a 20 year career in philanthropy, partnership development and leadership training as a senior manager and strategic advisor in the areas of social justice, democratic engagement and digital rights. She served for four years as MDF Deputy Director, during which time she designed and implemented strategies to expand MDF’s grantmaking portfolio and strategies, and was named by Slate Magazine in 2015 as one of the women who won Net Neutrality in the United States. Prior to joining MDF, Amber served as Director of Partnerships with Proteus Fund. She holds a BA in Ancient Greek and Latin with Linguistics.
Trained as a human rights attorney, amalia has over 20 years of experience working in the areas of media justice, social change and movement building. Before joining MDF, amalia was the Policy Director at MediaJustice, using her extensive experience for field-building, community-building, and policy advocacy. Prior to her work at MJ, amalia served as the Co-Director for a nationally recognized rural Latino capacity-building initiative called The Raíces Project. amalia brings a unique mixture of legal analysis, policy advocacy and racial justice to her work and is known as a perceptive and trusted leader. amalia holds a BA in History and Urban Studies and a JD with a concentration in social justice.
Kristin is a social researcher and organizer. From 2001 to 2016, she worked with the Future of Music Coalition, a national nonprofit that advocates for musicians. She co-directed FMC’s Artist Revenue Streams research project, which collected data directly from thousands of US-based musicians and composers to better understand the changes in their sources of income. In the 1990s, she was the co-owner of Simple Machines, a DC-based independent record label that released over seventy records in eight years. During that time, she also played guitar in the band Tsunami, which released four albums on Simple Machines and toured extensively. Kristin has a BA in Sociology and an MA in Urban Affairs and Public Policy.
Benjamin Lennett is a public policy expert with over a decade of experience in technology and telecommunications policy research, analysis, and advocacy. Before joining Media Democracy Fund, Benjamin provided strategic planning and policy research as a consultant for social-sector leaders and government on topics including internet freedom, antitrust, and broadband infrastructure. Prior to that, Benjamin served as policy director for the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation where he oversaw the program’s policy research and advocacy, focused on achieving universal and equitable access to the internet and protecting the open internet in the US and around the world. Benjamin holds a BA in political science and a MA in public policy.
Nick manages MDF’s development activities and supports a range of other efforts to advance MDF’s mission. Nick joined the MDF staff after eight years as a consultant to MDF and other philanthropic projects, including the HKH Foundation, the Piper Fund and Public Interest Projects/NEO Philanthropy. He maintains a small photography and video production company called Light & Noise, Inc., which is currently working on long-term projects about radio astronomy and the United States atomic weapons program. Nick holds a BA in Philosophy, with a focus on feminist philosophy of science.
Tessa is a writer and storyteller with a range of digital media experience, including ghostwriting, research, virtual course development, and social media management. She supports MDF’s development activities, grant making, and communications. Tessa holds a BA in Written Arts.
Sarah has been with MDF part time since 2013, supporting MDF's staff with the nitty gritty of their logistics. Sarah has a BA in International Development.
MDF works closely with funding partners to ensure our funding makes the greatest impact and protects the public's fundamental rights to freely express opinions, mobilize marginalized communities and promote equity for all. We welcome conversations with other funders interested in the digital rights space.