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Catching up with the Global Network Initiative

Since its public launch last fall, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) has been focused on developing the institutional foundation for the Initiative by elaborating its learning program (including work on ICT-focused human rights impact assessments), working on organizational development and governance, and expanding global engagement. GNI has also just put out a call for its first Executive Director.

In recent months, the GNI has widened its public reach by participating in a number of public fora focused on the relationship between business and human rights, and the role of GNI in the protection and promotion of online freedom of expression and privacy rights. These events serve as a venue to communicate what the GNI is and how it works; to provide an opportunities to gather ideas, concerns and input from a diverse range of stakeholders; and to identify new participants and collaborators.

In early May, GNI participants took part in a panel entitled "Corporate Responsibility and Complicity" (video) at the Soul of the New Machine Conference, hosted by the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley. Moderated by Deirdre Mulligan, the group had a rich and interactive discussion covering recent challenges to freedom of expression and privacy in Korea, Moldova, and Australia, and the role of the GNI as a source of first principles, collaboration, and engagement. The first Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Summit (PDF) was held just one day later, featured a GNI panel entitled: The GNI’s Multi-Stakeholder Approach, and was blogged by Berkman Center Managing Director Colin Maclay.

The busy month wrapped up with a roundtable discussion on Civil Society Engagement at the 7th Chinese Internet Research Conference, organized by Berkman Fellow Lokman Tsui and hosted by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and focused on "The Chinese Internet and Civil Society: Civic Engagement, Deliberation and Culture." In a session that included both GNI and non-GNI participants and was moderated by Rebecca MacKinnon, panelists considered key challenges regarding meaningful GNI engagement across varied contexts, legal systems, cultural traditions and values. The event was blogged widely, including coverage by the conference organizers and Berkman Fellow Ethan Zuckerman.

There remains a lot of work ahead for GNI on many fronts, but moving beyond drafting core documents and onto implementation of measures around learning, accountability, research, and engagement has been widely embraced. We expect more in the weeks and months to come.

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