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 remain connected. 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 by facilitating disinformation and digital hate.
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. Treated as a second-class issue for too long, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed an essential truth: access to universal, reliable broadband is a matter of life and death. As health services, education, and employment opportunities continue to move online, ensuring all residents have affordable broadband is vital for a just and equitable society. 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
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.
Digital equity is about more than access to devices and strong internet connections; it’s a leveler of society and a prerequisite for racial and economic justice. COVID-19 made millions of homebound workers and students completely dependent on internet access to continue their lives and work. MDF’s place-based Digital Equity strategy successfully laid the groundwork for what has become a national campaign for affordable and reliable access. 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.
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.
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.
Disinfo Defense League – a project of Media Democracy Fund and Media Democracy Action Fund – is a real-time, rapid response network designed to disrupt racialized disinformation and voter suppression campaigns deliberately targeting Black, Afro Latinx, and Latinx communities. We define racialized disinformation as disinformation campaigns that employ the strategic use of falsified racial or ethnic identities or race as a wedge issue. The League works across geography, generation, and gender to equip leaders, advocates, and organizations with the tools, training, and tactics needed to combat racialized disinformation.
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.
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.
Unicorn Fund – a project of Media Democracy Fund – is an experimental award program that supports under-resourced grassroots leaders who face attacks for expressing their ideas, telling the truth, and taking a stand on the front lines of narrative change. The fund identifies, supports, and celebrates advocates – including journalists, organizers, artists, and others – who inspire us to take a stand and exercise courage, persistence, and bold visions that advance equity and justice and disrupt divisive toxic narratives.
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 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.
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.
Suher is a community advocate and campaign and policy strategist working on issues that impact marginalized communities. Before joining MDF, Suher was the Policy and Campaign Specialist at the Arab American Institute (AAI) where she launched and ran the first and only national, grassroots coalition-led movement to Get Out The Count (GOTC) of Arab Americans for the 2020 Census called 'Yalla, Count Me In!' Prior to her work at AAI, Suher served as the Government Relations Director of the University of California Student Association, where she cultivated her coalition building, policy advocacy, and community advocacy skills. Suher holds dual BAs in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies.
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.
April 2020 | MDF is deeply concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on technology and society, especially as the crisis exacerbates economic and social inequities across the world and challenges our democratic institutions. In order to provide needed information to funders and groups in other issue areas, MDF has organized a directory of issues and groups leading work in key areas.