By Stephen King

Ensuring everyone can help shape society

Since we launched Luminate in October 2018, the world has changed profoundly. More governments have adopted authoritarian tactics. Information has been degraded and weaponised. Technology has been used to oppress and surveil. And social media platforms have fueled polarisation and divisions in our societies. The Covid-19 pandemic has placed a massive burden on already fragile systems, exacerbating many of these harms. 

Yet, at the same time, we continue to see inspiring stories of people around the world mobilising for change and challenging power. 

In response, over the last nine months we have been consulting with staff, partners, and advisors on how best to address the biggest challenges and maximise our impact. The result is an evolution of our strategy that builds on our previous work and portfolio of partners while setting a more focused long-term direction.

Too often, the most powerful in society protect and advance their own interests while repressing those who oppose or challenge them. So, our aim remains the same – to help create just and fair societies – but we will now place even greater emphasis on addressing the continuing concentration of power in the hands of a few. Our mission is to ensure that everyone – especially those who are underrepresented – has the information, rights, and power to influence the decisions that affect us all. In service of this, we will focus on enabling people to fully participate in civic and political life, to safely challenge power, and to access accurate, trustworthy information. Our work will cover two major interconnected themes:

  • Participation & Dissent: When groups – including youth, women, LGBTQI+ people, and many others - are excluded from fully participating, their voices and perspectives are not part of the decisions that governments and institutions make. We will focus on removing the systemic barriers that prevent underrepresented groups from being able to access and engage with power. In this context, we will continue to help protect the journalists and activists who challenge the powerful in their societies.
  • Information Ecosystems: To fully participate in civic and political life, people need access to reliable and accurate information. Threats to independent media and public interest journalism, together with the spread of misleading information and divisive content, continue to erode the quality of public information and debate. We will act to ensure that information is more accurate, independent, and inclusive of a wider range of viewpoints. We will hold to account the Big Tech companies and social platforms responsible for spreading misinformation, hate, and harmful content.

To enable us to track progress, learn, and adapt we have set four specific outcomes for the next five years:

  1. Underrepresented groups have greater voice and influence over the issues that affect our societies.
  2. People can safely and effectively express their political views, organise, and challenge power.
  3. The information that shapes people’s views is more accurate, independent, and inclusive of the perspectives of underrepresented groups.
  4. Public debate is better informed, less polarised, and less divisive.

We have chosen to centre on Africa, Asia, and Latin America, building on the significant bodies of work we’ve established in these places. The Africa team is focused on Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa; the Asia team on Indonesia and Malaysia; and the Latin America team on Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. 

A new Global Programmes team will carry out transregional activity. This will include grant-making and operational initiatives across our two themes, complementing our regional work. We have also set up Luminate Strategic Initiatives– which consolidates our global work to tackle digital threats to democracy. This team will combine grant-making, operational initiatives, campaigns, and advocacy.

We will share more on the work of these teams in the next couple of months. 

To achieve greater focus, we have had to make some hard but necessary decisions. As I shared last August, over the next couple of years we’ll be winding down our regional and country-specific work in the US and Europe. In addition, we’ll also end much of our work on financial transparency. We're immensely proud of the considerable progress and impact made by our partners in these areas over the years. These decisions will enable us to focus on the issues and places where we believe our work can be most valuable in the future.

Our new strategy kick-starts an important new phase for Luminate, and we’re excited about the opportunities for impact it presents. I thank all our staff, partners, and advisors – your insights, challenges, support, and patience have enabled us to reach this point. The hard work of translating strategy into renewed action begins now.