For the 2021 Community Council, we are focusing on the Global Voices mission, as part of an exploration of our goals, our value and usefulness to the world. Below you will find an issue paper that contains an explanation of the documents that we've written to describe our goals over the years. The paper also presents six models for mission statements, offering differing visions of our future.
- 1 Revisiting our mission, planning our future
- 1.1 Summary of the issue
- 1.1.1 Mission and vision statements we have known and loved
- 1.1.2 Models
- 1.2 Appendix: Examples
- 1.1 Summary of the issue
Revisiting our mission, planning our future
Summary of the issue
In 2024, Global Voices turns 20! That statement would have highly seemed highly improbable to those of us who have been around since Global Voices was first launched in December 2004, or who joined in the early years.
For much of that time, Global Voices has functioned on the basis of a hybrid model that combines network and organizational elements. Our organizational development approach has been to act, to build, to respond, and to iterate. Long-term planning has often been less of a priority. The more anarchic among us have been actively resistant to questions about our future, about whether we should have a stated mission, and whether we even needed to exist as a formal organization with a legal entity, as opposed to a network or loose collective.
When we meet for retreats and summits, we frequently perform two thought experiments:
- What would the world be like without Global Voices in it?
- What form would Global Voices take if we started today?
These questions prompt us to consider whether the work we do is useful, and if so, for whom, and in what ways. Two questions we rarely ask, however, are:
- What would Global Voices be if, 18 years ago, we had planned to be active today?
- What might Global Voices be 20 years from now?
These questions help us consider how strategic planning might influence our direction as an organization. Extending our imaginations into the future changes how we act, what we build, what we prioritize, and how we evaluate our past work.
Digging deep into the subpages of our websites and into old proposals and annual reports, we see that we have expressed our mission and vision in a variety of ways. We have, however, infrequently revisited these statements, and only indirectly use them as guides to help us plan where we are going, and know when we’ve arrived.
Throughout the past 18 years we have changed a great deal both as an organization and a community, and also caused change in the world. What can we say about how this has happened, and can we articulate a theory underlying those changes that we can use to help shape future priorities?
Our approach to date has its merits: having broad missions and goals allows for flexibility and responsiveness. Over the past two decades a complex world has thrown up challenges that few could have envisioned: from the success and then implosion of the Arab uprisings, to the fragility of many democracies, to the power of surveillance-based capitalism and platform economies.
As we near 20, we can ask: what is the need for Global Voices now? What should we plan, what should we prioritize, what goals should we set, and how should we organize ourselves to reach those goals?
If we go with flexibility and responsiveness, we should be clear that we are choosing that approach. Or, is there a compelling reason to choose a specific direction over the next three to five years, which would entail increasing our emphasis on some areas of focus, and decreasing our efforts elsewhere?
Our planning cycles at present are annual, tied to project activities, annual reports, and monthly analysis of achievements. Yet it is healthy to occasionally step back and look at longer time frames. For starters, we could imagine a strategy that takes us to our twenty-year mark, near the end of 2024.
A strategic plan is a tool many organizations use to state goals and plans. The plan sets out a 3-5 year timeline of priorities for how an organization should work, including how the organization will know if it has achieved its ambitions. This year, we have already held several retreats and work reviews that form the basis for a refreshed strategy:
- Core Team Virtual Retreat, April 2021
- Membership design and planning, March-August 2021
- Advox Project Strategic Review, June 2021
- Regional Editors Virtual Retreat, August 2021
- Community Council, October-November 2021
For a strategy to be successful, a few other elements need to be in place:
- Mission and vision statements that have the support of the community
- Clearly stated goals that give a mission direction
- A deep understanding of the challenges to achieving a mission
- A plan for how we can achieve those goals, given funding, staffing, and other resources
Mission and vision statements we have known and loved
Over the years we have produced numerous mission and vision statements, and even a manifesto. All these statements have similar elements, and yet when we read them closely, we see that they prioritize different aspects of our work.
For the 2021 Council, our aim is to identify which of these ideas we should prioritize for the next few years, and possibly beyond. But first, some definitions:
- A mission statement is a claim about why an organization exists, and what its goal is
- A vision statement is an aspirational statement about a desired future
Following, a sample of our most visible statements:
We believe in free speech: in protecting the right to speak — and the right to listen. We believe in universal access to the tools of speech.
To that end, we seek to enable everyone who wants to speak to have the means to speak — and everyone who wants to hear that speech, the means to listen to it.
About Global Voices, on our website
Global Voices is an international, multilingual, primarily volunteer community of writers, translators, academics, and human rights activists. Together, we leverage the power of the internet to build understanding across borders.
We work to find the most compelling and important stories coming from marginalized and misrepresented communities. We speak out against online censorship and support new ways for people to gain access to the internet.
1. The foundation has the following objective:
a. to call attention to the most interesting conversations and perspectives emerging from citizens’ media around the world by linking to text, audio, and video blogs and other forms of grassroots citizens’ media being produced by people around the world;
b. to facilitate the emergence of new citizens’ voices through training, online tutorials, and publicizing the ways in which open-source and free tools can be used safely by people around the world to express themselves;
c. to advocate for freedom of expression around the world and to protect the rights of citizen journalists to report on events and opinions without fear of censorship or persecution; and
d. to undertake any activities related to or beneficial to the foregoing in the broadest possible sense.
2017 strategic plan, based on community survey and conversations
STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLE: Individual attention and human connection are central to building bridges across countries and languages, regardless of origin, standing, or access to power.
Global Voices’ mission is to help restructure media and society to ensure more equitable attention to marginal voices and stories. Through our work, we embody the ideals of the open internet, supporting distributed, trusted online communities that produce not just more content, but more meaning.
Expressed in these statements are a number of concepts we could choose to prioritize. Whichever we choose, there are implications for the shape of our activities, the structure of our community, and our definitions of success.
Our goal for the Council is to collect ideas, priorities and support for the focus of our mission, rather than to collectively write a mission statement.
Below, we present key ideas that have been present in our mission and vision statements. For each we present a model which serves as a prompt for discussion and ideas and illustrates how we might shift priorities.
Note that choosing priorities in this exercise does not necessarily mean that we will end some activities or sections; this is a thought experiment to help us consider our role in the world, clarify the focus of our efforts, the shape of our activities, and our measures of success.
Building understanding across communities
|Mission statement||Global Voices builds understanding across communities, nations and languages, using the connective power of our network to create links between people’s perspectives and experiences.|
|Problem we address||Lack of context and awareness of the perspectives and concerns of others that leads to people devaluing each other.|
|Example activities||Contextual and subtextual explainers and histories, online spaces that facilitate listening, exchange and access to knowledge grounded in local and personal experience.|
|What might be
|Breaking news, hot takes.|
|Outcomes||Knowledge and awareness of circumstances, situations, perspectives, and rights improves for GV project participants and audiences. GV becomes more visible as a source for context on international stories.|
Protecting and expanding human rights online
|Mission statement||Global Voices supports the defense and advocacy of online human rights, working with communities to expand freedom of expression, access to communications technologies, and digital rights.|
|Problem we address||Many communities outside of North America and Europe have little input into the regulations and technology platforms that dominate their experience of information and communication; threats to individuals for online expression are poorly documented, poorly represented; augmented repression and control is growing in many countries.|
|Example activities||Research, editorial and advocacy projects that improve understanding of rights and technology systems. Advox and Rising Voices projects that focus on networking, training, advocacy activities, and newsroom projects and special coverage on rights and access issues.|
|What might be
|Stories and projects without rights, access, or power dynamic angles.|
|Outcomes||Advocates and activists living outside of centers of power have input into research, regulatory impacts, and content moderation and other corporate policies that affect user rights; networks of researchers and advocates provide peer support and learning.|
Fostering participation in the creation of civic knowledge
|Mission statement||Global Voices supports people to create civic information and knowledge across languages and borders.|
|Problem we address||Inequitable access to opportunities to contribute to the creation of online civic information and knowledge.|
|Example activities||Community-sourced stories and research, local and non-English contributions to global policy discussions about online platforms and digital rights, catalyzing projects, network-building, amplification of local knowledge and perspectives.|
|What might be
|Coverage of human-interest stories with no “power dynamic” element.|
|Outcomes||People create more information and knowledge across borders and languages, and there are reliable platforms for sharing. The Global Voices community and readers have access to more sources of knowledge and information.|
Restructuring information ecosystems
|Mission statement||Global Voices’ mission is to help restructure information ecosystems to ensure more equitable attention to marginalized voices and stories, creating new paths for information creation, dissemination, and participation.|
|Problem we address||The fact that dominant media systems, social media platforms, incentive structures and regulatory environments strongly favor incumbents and people, organizations and institutions with substantial resources. Online, and in attention economies, authority accrues to those with resources.|
|Example activities||Grant programs tied to learning, building advocacy networks, improving access to knowledge and resources to build and run community-driven, “horizontal” newsrooms; research and demonstration projects that alter awareness of power dynamics and document inequities; supporting civic-minded platforms, spaces, cooperative and collective-based open knowledge and information projects; advocacy for change by governments and companies.|
|What might be
|There are few aspects of our work that don’t fit this model.|
|Outcomes||Successful, diverse community-operated newsrooms, platforms, and projects provide trustworthy information based on local knowledge and perspectives. Communities outside of the global north have significant influence in activist efforts to build a more people-centered internet.|
Incubating and catalyzing
|Mission statement||Global Voices works with community-led initiatives to create projects, networks, and organizations based on the architecture and values of the open internet, with a focus on historically marginalized communities and languages.|
|Problem we address||Community-focused internet projects are overly influenced by large corporate platforms; most discussion of alternative systems is focused on the needs and priorities of U.S. and European activists and organizations, and most resources, accordingly, support U.S. and European priorities.|
|Example activities||Network-building, training, organizational and legal support, capacity-building, access to resources through incubation and grantmaking, presence and advocacy in western communities focused on change in social technologies to expand diversity and inclusion to other countries and language communities.|
|What might be
|Focus on audience, metrics and public influence of newsroom stories.|
|Outcomes||Global Voices community and affiliated projects, partners and networks have the resources, skills, and connections to build and maintain successful projects, online communities and media outlets. Communities outside of the global north have significant influence in activist efforts to build a more people-centered internet.|
Supporting the multilingual internet
|Mission statement||Global Voices supports the multilingual internet by building paths for people to create content in local languages, and through improved access to multilingual stories, news and other content, to help support connections of ideas across languages and cultures.|
|Problem we address||The global information ecosystem is dominated by English and a small number of world languages. Medium-sized languages, and minority and Indigenous languages have significantly less available content, lower profiles, less influence in dominant social media platforms (especially when it comes to content moderation), localization, and services, and lower profiles in key discussions about online rights, participation, and access to information.|
|Example activities||Focus on production and knowledge exchange in strategically important global languages; translation of stories across multiple languages; building of a process to support content availability in diverse minority and Indigenous languages; and bridging and networking language activities into rights and media production spaces.|
|What might be
|Publishing and project-development activities that are difficult or inappropriate for translation and multilingual dissemination; English-language audiences as our primary focus of stories and other content.|
|Outcomes||Supporting and building a movement for more production, content, and policy advocacy influence for medium-sized, minority and Indigenous language communities.|
Mission and vision statements of adjacent organizations:
The Engine Room
- Mission: The Engine Room strengthens the fight for social justice by supporting civil society to use technology and data in strategic, effective and responsible ways.
- Vision: for social justice movements to use technology and data in safe, responsible and strategic ways, while actively mitigating the vulnerabilities created by digital systems.
Small Media Foundation
- Mission: to support the expansion of freedom of expression and access to information in closed societies.
- Mission: to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language.
- Vision: Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.
- Mission: Creative Commons empowers individuals around the world by equipping them with technical, legal, and policy solutions to enable sharing of knowledge and culture in the public interest.
- Vision: a world where knowledge and culture are equitably shared in ways that serve the public interest.
- Mission: to empower local media worldwide to give people the news and information they need, the ability to connect, and the means to make their voices heard.
- Vision: we believe everyone deserves trustworthy news and information to make informed decisions about their lives and hold power to account.