It’s About People: MozFest’s Funder Summit Gathers 50+ Funders to collectively navigate AI impacts on society

On 11 June, Mozilla Foundation, European AI & Society Fund and the Global Philanthropy Project hosted the AI & Philanthropy Summit in Amsterdam.  

We wanted to connect social and environmental justice, human rights and technology funders across the globe and explore how Artificial Intelligence (AI) intersects with the crucial work that they already support. We were overwhelmed with the response. More than 50 funders joined the event and we heard from so many more who would have loved to be there but couldn’t make it.

We heard about projects that use AI to tackle climate change and what AI’s impacts on the year of elections across the globe might be. We discussed tactics for funding AI and how philanthropic collaboratives can come together around these issues. And we heard about the opportunities for philanthropy around the new regulations emerging in Europe.

We left the day with a conviction that there’s a lot of appetite and urgent work already ongoing to shape AI for the better, and now we’re better placed and connected as a philanthropic community to be open about the challenges and share our path towards solutions.

Our team has distilled some highlights from our time together:

This work is about people

With words “I promise that people you care about the most are impacted,” Mozilla’s Senior Vice President J. Bob Alotta opened the day, perfectly capturing the essence of why technology and AI is a topic not to be ignored for wide array of funders.

“I promise that people you care about the most are impacted,” J. Bob Alotta, Senior Vice President, Mozilla Foundation

It’s a common anxiety among funders that only people with technical expertise can engage in shaping how technology influences people’s lives. In the course of the day there was plenty of reflection about the diverse expertise and experiences needed, and that foundations do not necessarily need technical expertise to start funding work at the intersection of technology, sustainability and social justice. This work can emerge from topics that foundations already care about, and collaborative spaces such as the European AI & Society Fund and the Green Screen Coalition are useful partners for foundations new to the topic to share knowledge and bring technology and AI expertise into their work.

Technology is not the problem

There, we said it. AI is a political issue. The technology itself is not the problem, but the way it services politics can be. Movements across the globe use technology to coordinate, the internet is our door to information, and AI is assisting doctors for early detection of illnesses. These are just some of the examples of the good that technology can enable.

Meanwhile, campaigners around the globe have argued that some AI uses are too harmful to be allowed, for instance, calling for bans on mass biometric surveillance in public spaces. People and society should have a say on how AI is used, and it shouldn’t be left in the hands of tech companies and governments alone.

Funding imagination and proactive agenda-setting

Oftentimes civil society organisations are funded for their reactive activities, such as countering legislative proposals eroding transparency and accountability and deconstructing corporate narratives about safety of social media. Civil society is not sufficiently funded to do forward looking work that creates alternative narratives for change or allows to advocate on the long run for visions they’ve created. And it’s not something that can be done as a side-hustle.

One of the ways we can get there is by growing the pot. Organisations want and need to do proactive agenda-setting work and re-imagine technology that works for people and the planet. Many communities and ecosystems already have done the work to imagine solutions and alternatives, such as advocating for bold investments into community care systems, instead of surveillance. Those with money and power need to listen and resource this work.

Yes, bad legislative proposals will still happen, and civil society will need to firefight, but that cannot consume all the energy and resources. It means that we need to get a lot more money to a lot more people.

 How we fund is important too

It’s not only about what type of work we resource – how we fund is just as important:

    • We need to abundantly resource partnerships and collaborations among civil society organisations to support collective visions of change. This work also needs time for rest, imagination and trust-building.
    • To secure funding, grantees often spend huge amounts of time distinguishing themselves from other organisations doing similar work. As funders, we have the power to stop this dynamic, coordinate smartly to avoid duplication and encourage collaboration instead of competition among grantees.

Philanthropy needs to work together to engrain public values in tech

The power and resources concentrated in AI development are staggering. The first half of 2024 saw tens of billions poured into AI through venture capital alone. Paired with lack of regulation that successfully protects human rights, investors seeking quick financial return, and right-wing politics on the rise, those who lose in this decisive moment are historically marginalised people.

If we want public values to be engrained in technology, philanthropy needs to work together.  It was incredibly valuable to bring together people taking different approaches to challenging the impacts of AI on society – policy experts, artists, journalists, technologists building alternative technology and social justice activists.

We can learn a lot by communicating across these different fields and be a lot stronger as a result. This is an open invitation and a reminder to anyone in philanthropy who is seeing the impacts of AI on people and communities they care about that we and other partners are there to navigate this emerging field together.


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