Apr 6, 2021
In this episode we talk to Nanjira Sambuli about technology,
philanthropy and civil society. Nanjira is a researcher, policy
analyst and advocacy strategist based in Nairobi, Kenya and in a
fascinating and wide-ranging discussion we touched on:
Digital civil society
- Is there any meaningful distinction between “civil society” and
“digital civil society” now? I.e. is technology no longer something
that should be seen as a cause area or a tool, but a cross-cutting
factor that affects all CSOs?
- What dangers are there for CSOs in assuming that platforms are
objective or neutral public spaces? Are these problems likely to be
made worse by the enforced pivot to digital for so many orgs as a
result of COVID?
- How do we link existing work by digital activists etc. to more
traditional actors within civil society (e.g. foundations) that
might be interested in engaging on technology issues?
Influencing the wider development & implementation of
- Can CSOs play a meaningful role in ensuring that tech is
designed and implemented ethically?
- Is this even the right framing? Does the focus on “ethical”
tech development beg the question of whether we should even do some
of these things at all (and not just “do them ethically”)? Does it
divert attention from the need for more traditional mechanisms of
legislation and regulation?
- Do CSOs from the ‘global south’ face particular challenges when
it comes to influencing the development of tech?
- What role can foundations and funders can play in helping
nonprofits engage with technological change?
- What challenges do the inherent power imbalances between CSOs
and tech companies create?
- Do power imbalances within civil society also pose challenges?
(E.g. between funders and recipients, or between CSOs in the global
north and those in the global south?)
- Do we need to make philanthropy more democratic, or accountable
to the people and communities it is supposed to serve? If so,
Automation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution
- Should we take an optimistic or pessimistic view of the impact
of technology on civil society?
- Should we be worried that CSOs and funders are not getting to
grips with either the challenges or opportunities of the fourth
- What role is there for CSOs in addressing the impact of
algorithmic bias? Is such bias likely to affect CSOs themselves? If
The Future Role of Philanthropy in Society
- What should we make of criticisms that since philanthropy is to
some extent a product of existing structural inequality, it can
never truly be part of the solution? Are the donors and funders who
recognise these challenges and are genuinely pursuing structural
- Does the fact that a growing proportion of philanthropic wealth
comes from donors who have made their money in tech present
challenges when it comes to getting philanthropy to focus on the
societal impacts of technology? E.g. Are these tech donors
particularly prone to “tech solutionism” or more likely to assume
the inevitability of technological development?
Predictions and Foresight in civil society:
- The pandemic has highlighted the importance of looking ahead to
the future. How can we get more foresight and futures thinking
embedded in civil society? What role could foundations and funders
- What role should civil society and philanthropic funders be
playing in developing imagined futures that are informed by the
voices of people and communities on the ground around the