As more than half of the global population is now online, the internet has profoundly changed the way in which citizens and businesses operate. For instance, local businesses have increasingly relied on the internet to expand their operations, increase innovation and productivity, and conduct business advocacy. Unfortunately, recognizing that the internet is now one of the most valued ways for people to connect, authoritarian states and many governments in declining democracies are increasingly closing the space for an open and inclusive internet through squashing dissent, intimidating independent voices, and preventing the open sharing of ideas in the most significant communication medium of our time. At the same time, the new and rapidly evolving nature of the internet means that many citizens are unaware or misinformed of how their fundamental rights such as the right to free speech, assembly, and association apply in a digital world.
In order to enhance the capacity of democratic and economic reformers around the globe to develop robust local strategies to counter closing online civic spaces, CIPE co-facilitates the Open Internet for Democracy Initiative, along with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA). This grassroots-driven initiative connects private sector actors, and representatives from civil society and independent media from across nascent and declining democracies to challenge restrictions on internet freedom, preserve an open and secure digital space, and defend digital rights.
With input from its global network of partners, CIPE, NDI, and CIMA developed digital rights literacy and advocacy resources such as the Democratic Principles for an Open Internet and the Open Internet for Democracy Advocacy Playbook. These resources serve as practical tools for advancing digital freedoms, focusing on tailored approaches to advocacy that apply across diverse local contexts. CIPE, NDI, and CIMA also facilitate the Open Internet for Democracy Leaders Program, a program that empowers emerging leaders in the private sector, media, and civic space from across the globe to build their advocacy and organizing skills to protect internet freedom. Previously supported Leaders have implemented research or advocacy projects focused on digital rights in countries such as Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, Peru, Ukraine, and the Philippines, among others.
Beyond its collaboration with NDI and CIMA, CIPE has also brought the voice of local private sector organizations to international fora where internet policy decisions are shaped, such as the Internet Governance Forum. Furthermore, CIPE has brought partner organizations from around the world to actively participate in international conversations on digital rights, such as RightsCon, in order to increase the capacity of local business communities to defend online rights in their local context. Finally, CIPE has engaged with partner organizations such as the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) to amplify local advocacy efforts that defend digital rights.