The Henry Luce Foundation recently awarded more than $4 million through its Democracy, Ethics, and Public Trust (DEPT) initiative to twenty-one organizations exploring and developing ways to understand, foster, and strengthen the underlying fabric of democracy and civil society. These projects advance work in the fields of civic engagement, effective governance, racial justice, Indigenous sovereignty, journalism, labor reform, protection of natural resources, and the democratic governance of digital space.
On April 4th, 2022, the Foundation hosted a virtual convening of the inaugural DEPT cohort, inviting over 40 representatives from the grantee organizations to gather on Zoom to exchange ideas, learn about the challenges and opportunities of their respective fields, and expand their collective sense of what is possible. We also hoped to build a sense of community among member organizations built on shared interests, including digital democracy and pluralistic public space, protection of land and natural resources, work and labor resource efforts, community building, and self-determination.
With this goal in mind, individuals participated in small group discussions designed to encourage cross-sector conversation and exposure to work and strategies outside their respective fields. “The cohort convening was a truly inspiring cross-sector gathering of changemakers thinking about how to strengthen democracy and civil society from a variety of different perspectives. It was a rare learning opportunity to hear how other grantees are creating new models of social organization and generative to think about how other grantee’s approaches might inform our own visioning and strategy,” said Hope Mohr, general manager and outreach coordinator for Guilded, a worker cooperative that focuses on the agency, decision-making, and economic power of freelancers.
In the final half of the convening, participants were given the opportunity to join different breakout rooms to discuss more equitable and just models of economic development, alternative social relations, routes to self-determination, and innovative approaches to democratic participation. In the breakout rooms, grantees identified overlapping interests and concerns such as land use and protection of natural resources or resources for workers in the agricultural and freelance sectors, and also began to establish a common language for approaching the central concerns of the initiative: how to strengthen the underlying fabric of democracy.
Metagovernance Project Executive Director Joshua Tan reflected on his experience participating in the convening: “It was incredible to see the energy and passion of other people in this cohort, and it was great fun riffing on aligned ideas. For reasons I can no longer recall, we all got very excited by the idea of inviting Neal Stephenson in as a governance explorer.” Metagovernance is a research collaborative working to build standards and infrastructure for digital self-governance through the development of projects such as their Metagov Gateway, a unified API gateway for digital governance services.
Following the convening, the Foundation is exploring different strategies to facilitate on-going collaboration and conversation amongst the cohort including possible development of an online platform or listserv, establishing working groups for cohort members, or supporting site visits that would allow organizations to learn from one another first-hand.
For the Luce Foundation, the convening represented an opportunity to learn from individual organizations with deep experience in their sectors as well as from the group. By inviting our partners to take the lead , we were able to take advantage of expertise and understanding that we do not possess. From strategic innovations being pioneered in new media, to the capacity building needs of Indigenous organizations, to participatory learning in the governance of digital communities – our partners are innovating and driving real change in the world.