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Stories from the Digital Breakthrough Initiative: Digital Protection Program 

In its second year, the Digital Protection Program, an important program of the Digital Breakthrough Initiative led by NetHope and supported generously by Cisco, continued to make significant strides in the realm of cybersecurity and protection for the nonprofit sector.

May 8, 2024

NetHope’s Digital Protection Program helps nonprofits improve their cybersecurity programs through a comprehensive approach to digital protection in the nonprofit sector. The Program focuses on four interdependent components to achieve lasting change in cybersecurity, including:

  1. enabling mechanisms to provide the right information and expertise, from direct support right now (e.g., dial-a-CISO and Working Groups), to spaces and platforms to facilitate joint support into the medium and long term (the Global Humanitarian ISAC);
  2. capacity building to ensure the capability to ingest and act (e.g. through expert training and skills sharing);
  3. accessible and scalable technology and solutions through partnerships and advocacy;
  4. funding availability to implement actions and mitigate risks.

Spotlight on Digital Protection Grant Program Grantees

The NetHope Digital Protection Grant Program finances underinvested areas of our Members’ cybersecurity, privacy, and data ethics work with high potential for impact across the NetHope network. In year two of the Digital Breakthrough Initiative, three Members were awarded grants —Trócaire, Oxfam International, and SOS Children's Villages. These grants provided critical funding to enhance their digital protection capabilities. Read more about the impact of these grants from NetHope Members, SOS Children’s Villages, and Trócaire.

2023 Digital Protection Grantee Spotlight: SOS Children’s Villages: Enlightening and Boosting Cybersecurity in the Operations of NGOs in West and Central Africa

Thanks to the cybersecurity grant received from NetHope, we were able to organize a groundbreaking series of information sessions on cybersecurity in NGO environments across West and Central Africa. This initiative was the first of its kind in the region, bringing together international and national NGOs, civil society, and government representatives. It served as a crucial platform for discussing cybersecurity challenges and best practices.

The grant enabled us to raise awareness and actively engage stakeholders in adopting and implementing cybersecurity standards. It also allowed us to identify existing mechanisms and challenges in the sector. With a focus on the protection of children's data, we emphasized the importance of cybersecurity in our humanitarian and development efforts. This strengthened our commitment to data protection and fostered connections with relevant authorities for future collaborations.

As a result of this initiative, we have become a recognized reference in the field of cybersecurity. We have also established collaborations to assist and advise other stakeholders. Additionally, we played a significant role in raising awareness among national NGOs regarding regulatory obligations in cybersecurity. The sessions fostered a better understanding of state authorities' expectations and best practices to enhance cybersecurity within organizations.

The grant had a highly positive impact on our organization, allowing us to promote cybersecurity in the NGO environment in West Africa, strengthen our commitment to data protection, and foster collaboration with authorities and other stakeholders involved in this critical domain. We are grateful for NetHope's support in making this possible.

  • Maman Sani CHEFFOU, IT Manager, SOS Villages d’Enfants au Niger 2023

Digital Protection Grantee Spotlight: Trócaire: Analyzing Country-level Assessments in Africa Focused on Data Protection Legislation

Following receiving the grant from NetHope, Trócaire has gained comprehensive insight into the landscape of Data Protection Legislation in the countries where it operates, including Rwanda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Sierra Leone, DRC, Somalia, Myanmar, Honduras, Lebanon, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. Previously, our understanding of the impact of the legislation and its implications was quite ad hoc.

For example, in some locations, there was a requirement to register with local authorities as a data controller. With the grant, we now possess the necessary information to provide assurances, plan, and develop roadmaps based on a clearer understanding of current and future data protection requirements for all the countries we are involved in. The reports generated from this research will not only benefit Trócaire but will also be advantageous to other NetHope Members. The research has highlighted that although not all countries have Data Protection Legislation in place, progress is being made in this direction.

For instance, many countries have introduced draft legislation, and some reference personal data in existing legislation. Moreover, there is a trend for local data protection legislation to be modeled after the GDPR. Organizations bound by the GDPR are already 90% compliant with local legislation. The reports also offer a detailed analysis comparing local legislation with the GDPR, helping to identify any disparities, similarities, or extensions beyond the GDPR. This valuable information should be reviewed and addressed within individual organizations.

Overall, the grant has empowered Trócaire to gain a comprehensive understanding of data protection legislation, enabling us to fulfill compliance requirements and plan for the future.

  • Megan Stirling, Data Protection Officer, Trócaire

A Roadmap for the Future

Looking ahead, the Digital Protection Program aims to iterate and enhance the existing program based on Member feedback. The program will focus on increasing Members' collective and individual self-defense capabilities through improved training, services, and partnerships. Collaboration with funders and other stakeholders will be prioritized to address the root causes of cybersecurity challenges. The program also plans to invest in community infrastructure and trust, opening the first community infrastructure of the Global Humanitarian ISAC.

With a focus on capacity building, efficient funding availability, access to tools and partnerships, and improved collaboration mechanisms, the program is poised to continue its vital role in safeguarding the digital landscape and ensuring the resilience of the humanitarian and development sectors against cyber threats.

The Digital Protection Program's impact in year two showcases its commitment to creating a secure and resilient digital environment and sets the stage for further advancements in the years to come.

NetHope’s New Strategic Plan

NetHope launched its 2024-2030 strategy with a focus on bridging the new Digital Divides. A generation ago, the Digital Divide described the gap in access first to computers and then to the internet and essential technologies. Today, organizations face new digital challenges that threaten the advancement of international NGO missions, as they grapple with the widening gap between available resources and growing needs. These new challenges—what NetHope calls the new Digital Divides—represent critical gaps in infrastructure, systems, capabilities, and knowledge. Over the next decade, we will lead collective action to bridge the New Digital Divides—skills and leadership, inclusion, protection, transformation and innovation, and climate adaptation and resilience—leveraging our powerful, proven model to advance the global good.

Bridging the New Digital Divides: Digital Protection

Cyber attacks on organizations have risen to alarming levels. Digital safety at international NGOs is essential for protecting the vulnerable populations they serve and their employees. As cybersecurity risks have become increasingly complex, solitary defense is no longer an option. We must provide better digital protection to address the threats endemic to all digital spaces. NetHope will drive multi-sector, collaborative, and strategic approaches to address increasing digital security threats—like cyber security and mis/dis/mal information—with an emphasis on insights- and skills sharing, global co-creation, and long-term commitment to protect digital rights.

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