When I joined the Foundation in late February 2021, I knew that I had accepted a unique opportunity to lead a different kind of corporate foundation, backed by a supportive and enthusiastic leadership team at Avast, and an organization with a long history of philanthropic giving and a real commitment to do good in the world. The Avast Foundation was created to address challenges and barriers to digital freedom and digital citizenship. Not only are these terms and ideas in constant flux as the digital world and our understanding of it evolves, but their core components — digital safety and security, digital expression, digital identity and privacy rights — are also often in contention and not equally guaranteed for all around the world. In pursuing a digital world that is safer, more equitable, and more inclusive for all, we find ourselves at the intersection of questions and conversations around digital access, the digital skills gap, digital and social inclusion, digital poverty, free speech, identity, law enforcement, technological innovation, ethics, and more.
The context in which we are working is filled with competing priorities both complex and challenging. And it is deeply relevant to all aspects of our lives. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has experienced a variety of unforeseen consequences, with major impacts on people’s lives, livelihoods, and overall quality of life. Digital and especially online technologies have proven integral to the lives of millions around the globe, not only enabling better tracking of disease, but also allowing many to live and work from home more conveniently than ever, creating — for those with reliable internet access — a situation in which digital interaction, entertainment, and networks have become indispensable tools for maintaining connection and community with others.
The move to a way of life that’s much more reliant on digital tools has also revealed broad inequities in the availability of those tools, who has access to them, and the skills to use them effectively. Educational disparities have widened as students in lower income communities across the globe have lacked access to the hardware and internet necessary to connect to their online lessons.
The world needs more people who are dedicated to creating a more open and equitable world, and we are so pleased to count you among our supporters and as part of our community.
Essential workers — who are not only the medical professionals, but also the grocery store clerks, childcare workers, transportation sector employees, and more - have found themselves at the sharp end of COVID risk, while those with caring responsibilities, especially women, have left the workforce in historic numbers.
Our world has been dramatically remade in ways that will ripple far into the future and that we may not fully understand until years to come.
At the same time, we face the dichotomous results of an always-on media and the empowerment of citizen journalists and bystanders to record and share events in real time. The deliberate and coordinated spread of misinformation and disinformation across social networks has grown with broad implications for public health, safety and political stability across the globe. Similarly, individual behaviors such as online trolling and hateful speech can have devastating effects on the mental health and wellbeing of individuals and members of marginalized groups who are often targeted.
We’ve seen enormous social upheaval in reaction to unjustified police violence, and a growing public outcry against policing tactics and government policies which are discriminatory and sometimes deadly in their application. Activists and changemakers have more tools than ever to connect with one another, and digital technologies have been a positive enabler of their work against oppression and injustice globally. Yet, we know that the use of digital technologies in law enforcement such as facial recognition and algorithmic sentencing recommendations can have disproportionate impacts on minoritized communities — and that poorly designed and even less well understood algorithms underpinning many of our social networks and governing the use of our data by both governments and the private sector can magnify inequities that exist offline.
Against the backdrop of all of this, the public debates around digital and data privacy, the concerns over data sovereignty, and the calls for more transparency and accountability from both governments and the private sector around the use of and protection of individuals’ data, are rightly growing.
The challenges that exist in the digital realm are nearly endless. Additionally, we are facing these challenges while also recognizing the impending reality of climate change, with its disproportionate effects on the world’s poorest and least powerful.
This is indeed too much for any one of us - any one organization or individual — to contemplate, let alone tackle, alone. It is the magnitude of these challenges that also defines the magnitude of the opportunities that we have. As we have seen from the collective efforts from Avast staff globally we can work together around a shared vision, to create a better world — one that we can be proud to leave to future generations.
And so that is what we have focused on in our first year - developing our vision for a safer, more equitable and inclusive digital world and finding concrete, impactful opportunities to contribute to its creation. In these pages you will learn more about the establishment of our Youth Leadership Board, the creation of the Spark Fund, our campaign for a #TrollFreeFuture, our work with Avast staff to create a new space for staff engagement and many other aspects of our support for global changemakers. The world needs more people who are dedicated to creating a more open and equitable world, and we are so pleased to count you among our supporters and as part of our community.
Global Executive Director, Avast Foundation