Skip to the main content
Alt Text

Get to Know Berkman Klein Fellow Dragana Kaurin

a spotlight on one of our 2018-2019 BKC Fellows

Satvik Shukla headshotby Satvik Shukla

This interview is part of a collaborative effort between the summer 2018 BKC interns and the Communications team to showcase the tremendous work and backgrounds of our 2018 -'19 BKC fellows

BKC Fellow Dragana Kaurin is the Executive Director at Localization Lab, a global community of 6000+ contributors who support the translation and localization of Internet freedom tools. Also a former member of the United Nations' Office for Coordination of Human Affairs, she worked on crisis mapping following the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. Dragana's work is committed to "de-colonizing the net" and helping to empower communities worldwide in overcoming language and cultural barriers on the Internet.

Read more stories from our Interns and Fellows!

 

Tell me more about your experience, where you are working right now, and how did you get there?

I started Localization Lab as an organization just over five years ago. When we started this, we wanted to make privacy and circumvention technologies available to everyone overcoming language barriers. We started off with 12 translators, which has now grown into more than 6,000 contributors. There is a huge need for people, especially marginalized communities, to be able to access and contribute to technologies which address real world challenges around issues like government surveillance, journalist security, whistleblowing, and secure communications.

There is a huge need for people, especially marginalized communities, to be able to access and contribute to technologies which address real world challenges around issues like government surveillance, journalist security, whistleblowing, and secure communications.

There is also a vast linguistic divide on the Internet, which is a primary resource for information and knowledge today. Many underrepresented groups, not having access to this information or ability to communicate in their own language, are forced to use more dominant languages like English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. This is what we mean when we say “decolonize the net” -- there are still remnants of colonialism, online.

For a lot of people, their culture and their language is the most important part of their identity. Working in 230 languages at the moment, we are always looking to expand into more minority languages. For example, those spoken by indigenous groups working on land and environmental rights related issues who need access to digital security tools. Access and privacy are important to everyone of course, and many people come to us from Europe and other Western countries who are passionate about making privacy tools available for their communities too.

This is what we mean when we say “decolonize the net” -- there are still remnants of colonialism, online.

Before we started Localization Lab, I often encountered developers not interacting at all with the end users, sometimes over years of product development. This not only has a huge impact on the usability and security of the tool, but also on the diversity of the user base, as they are not involving people from the focused group as an integral part of the process. On the other hand, the people from these communities, who often come from developing countries, also miss out on socioeconomic opportunities that come with having some experience working on a product, design, coding, or project management.

That is great. A huge progress you have made in the past five years. During your time at the Localization Lab, have you noticed more requests coming from people in particular geographical regions or are they more evenly spread throughout the world?

I would say it is quite spread out. We often get folks from marginalized or minority groups who are the incredibly passionate about making security and access tools available for these groups and communities they care about. They come to us with specific needs and we work with them to localize the tools.

I would say it is quite spread out. We often get folks from marginalized or minority groups who are the incredibly passionate about making security and access tools available for these groups and communities they care about. They come to us with specific needs and we work with them to localize the tools.

Growing up did you always have this idea and vision? Or was it something that came about later on?

I was working with OCHA (Office for Coordination of Human Affairs) at the UN. I was there when the Haiti earthquake happened in 2010 and it was absolute chaos. So many people were killed (including people from the UN), which was terrible. This was the time when crisis mapping was popular and the Ushahidi Haiti map was created with crowd-sourced data. I was absolutely fascinated by this difference in information flow for the UN, who operated still through this hierarchy, and how this side project was allowing those affected to participate by contributing critical information themselves. And I went on doing research on this during my time at the Grad School. This really got me thinking about what the right recipe is to use technology and get the local population involved in this age of information and connectivity.

The Internet should be designed for everyone but the tools we work on that should allow people equal access aren’t usable to everyone.

What would be the main reason you think we need the Localization Lab to exist given the conditions that exist around the world today?

At the base of this, we are fighting for equal access to information, an Internet that is open and free of censorship and surveillance, and for equity in local content online. The Internet should be designed for everyone but the tools we work on that should allow people equal access aren’t usable to everyone. You see people worldwide trying to adapt these technologies that were very clearly designed for and by Western developers, who may not understand the needs, values, beliefs, threats, and usability and security needs of people on the other side of the world. I firmly believe that we need more diversity in the way use the Internet today. I am passionate about offering people security tools to communicate safely, to be able to trust technology, provide the tools to access information, and have the same resources that everyone else does in the world. 

I firmly believe that we need more diversity in the way use the Internet today. I am passionate about offering people security tools to communicate safely, to be able to trust technology, provide the tools to access information, and have the same resources that everyone else does in the world.

I really like your point about the right to access to information being at the base of your entire project and that is something I believe that we can make a lot of progress in. Carrying on from that, what is one time you were surprised by how little people knew about something that was very important?

This lack of diversity in designing tools will result in usability and security problems, and experiments on people facing such problems is unethical. People are creating things, in good heart, but without considering the people who will use it. One thing that I do ask when people come to us with the idea is “Why should you do this?” instead of “How?” because many times people do not take into account that a tool might hurt people more than it might help them.

Would you like all the developers to focus more on the design aspect of the tools they are developing?

Yes, but what’s more important is the involvement of people from the local communities in the team, so that one can identify problems, especially ones related to the infrastructure, early on in the development stage. Steer more in the direction of design justice and representation, rather than mass production.

..what’s more important is the involvement of people from the local communities in the team, so that one can identify problems, especially ones related to the infrastructure, early on in the development stage. Steer more in the direction of design justice and representation, rather than mass production.

What is a change you would like to see in High School teaching today?

I did a project in Grad School that was based on historical memory. Coming from a conflict-zone, a place where there was a civil war, I tended to go to a lot of historical museums. There were four people from my country in the class and the professor recommended we work together on a project. As each one of us had different ethnic backgrounds, studying a single event was mind-blowing. It explained to me why the conflict happened during the 1990s. Yesterday was the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, when 8000 Muslim men were murdered in two days. If you go to the Wikipedia page, the numbers in Bosnian language page are numbers are different from what they are on Serbian language page, which in turn are different from Dutch language page (as there was a Dutch UN Battalion stationed there) and all come together on the English language page. This is such a clear example of how different the narratives can be. I wish that someone told me this in high school, how what we are learning is just a single perspective.

This is such a clear example of how different the narratives can be. I wish that someone told me this in high school, how what we are learning is just a single perspective.

I wish we did these kinds of projects in high school, dividing the group into groups and analyzing things from multiple viewpoints. This is why I would want to teach history to high school kids if given a chance.

What was your major reason behind choosing the Berkman Klein Center? And what are you looking to gain from this experience?

Honestly, I have been craving to do research since I left Grad School and to be a part of a research community. I am really looking forward to meeting up with so many amazing people from the BKC. I love the idea of meeting up on Tuesdays, sharing research, and giving each other comments. I can’t wait for the program to start and to collaborate with such amazing people.

I totally agree with the points you mentioned there. Now time for some fun questions. The favorite soccer player from Croatia?

Modric.

Favorite US politicians?

AOC. I love Ilhan Omar too, and Cory Booker.

Favorite World Leader?

José Mujica (former president of Uruguay).

Favorite hobby?

Historical memory museums, I like painting, art history, and cooking classes (because you learn about cultures and then you get to eat afterwards!) 

Tea or coffee?

Coffee.

If you make a crayon box, what color would go in first?

Teal? Maybe green?

If US was to be the representation of one US state, which one would it be?

I think out of the states I’ve visited so far, Ohio seems to be representative of the US. But New York City is representative of the world.. 

Favorite holiday destination?

Definitely Granada in Spain, and Hvar Island in Croatia..

 

Interviewer

Satvik Shukla

Satvik is a student at the University of Washington majoring in Computer Science interested in Data Science and Machine Learning. During the summer of 2018, he interned at the Library Innovation Lab

You might also like