I had the privilege of attending Techonomy 2019 this past November where I witnessed a number of inspiring discussions among entrepreneurs, government policy-makers, educators and tech thought leaders. The general theme of this event surrounded the use and governance of “ethical and responsible technology,” which seems especially relevant given the unprecedented growth, evolution and influence of the Internet, and the role it is playing in shaping today’s society.
This theme also resonated with me on a personal level. I am a firm believer that digital technologies can be harnessed to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges — as well as to provide opportunity for unprecedented economic prosperity.
This idea got me thinking about the unique opportunity that Ethos Capital would have as the new steward of Public Interest Registry (PIR), the mission-based organization that is responsible for operating the .ORG domain. A healthy discussion has taken place: Can a private equity firm be a responsible steward of PIR and accountable to the .ORG community?
I want to reassure the .ORG community that Ethos takes this responsibility seriously, starting with the concrete commitments we have already made.
During a recent webinar and in a blog post, we unveiled a number of important details and firm commitments to the community. First, we announced that the PIR Stewardship Council, which will be formed within 90 days of the transaction closing, will be an independent and transparent body that will serve as a tremendous resource and safeguard for both PIR and the .ORG community moving forward. The Council will seek input from the .ORG community and convey the needs of the .ORG community to PIR management, provide advice to PIR leadership on key matters impacting the .ORG community, and be a leading voice in recommending new services and capabilities to be offered through the .ORG platform to serve the mission-driven community.
The Stewardship Council will also ratify policies on safeguards against censorship in the .ORG domain space. PIR is not an Internet censor and will never take on that role.
The Council will oversee a Community Enablement Fund that will finance existing and new initiatives serving the .ORG community, including the .ORG Impact Awards and PIR’s other educational and outreach efforts around the world. The Council’s charter will be complete before closing.
We also commit to putting in place the Public Benefit LLC structure prior to closing. This form of corporate structure enables us to enshrine the mission of PIR in the governing documents. It is one of the primary safeguards we plan to put in place to provide accountability for the governance of PIR and ensure we uphold our commitments. Once the Public Benefit LLC structure is in place, we will also evaluate applying for B Corporation certification to further cement our commitments to serve the .ORG community.
We know that many .ORG users are organizations or people trying to make the world a better place. We will be focused on serving them — expanding the products and services available to help them achieve their goals, creating more educational programs and funding to support their important initiatives, as well as elevating and publicizing .ORG members that are doing great things around the world. The Internet Society will be able to grow and do more for the not-for-profit community as a result of its new endowment, funded through its sale of .ORG.
Above all, we are focused on protecting the integrity of what it means to be a .ORG user, and ensuring that it remains a trusted domain. We know that we cannot do this alone, nor do we want to do this alone.
This brings me back to my original question about whether a private equity firm can be a responsible steward of PIR and accountable to the .ORG community. Ethos was founded on the belief that prosperity should be built and shared, and that innovation has the power to fuel growth and success for all. This isn’t exactly a mission that most people associate with private equity firms, and for good reason. Some have pursued profit at any and all costs, with no consideration for the societal implications or the long-term security of the organizations in which they invest. Frankly, that is precisely the type of model we are focused on changing and the entire purpose for which Ethos was founded.
Ethos believes that there is an opportunity to expand the definition of “success” beyond just dollar signs. Our approach is to help companies grow their businesses through technology in a way that allows stakeholders to participate and feel a part of it. And that’s exactly why Ethos has engaged, and will continue to engage, with the community.
As Ethos’ chief purpose officer, I’m passionate about this mission and demonstrating our integrity through our actions. As is standard in any transaction such as this, there are still many decisions that will need to be made in the months ahead, and we are far from having all of the answers.
The Stewardship Council and Public Benefit LLC structure are just the first steps we are taking to ensure that Ethos, PIR, and the operation of .ORG are held accountable for the important programs and services associated with .ORG.
So, maybe the better question is: “What makes any entity a responsible steward of PIR and .ORG?”
To me, it comes back to the themes of ethical and responsible technology discussed at Techonomy 2019. It must be an entity that, like the .ORG community, knows that its responsibilities extend beyond itself, and that will work tirelessly on behalf of those who depend on it. It must be an entity that understands the power of innovation and technology to solve problems, big and small. And, it must be an entity that values a holistic measure of success, taking all stakeholders into consideration.
Nora Abusitta-Ouri is chief purpose officer of Ethos Capital.
Editor’s Note: This commentary is a response to two commentaries by other writers regarding the sale of the Public Interest Registry (PIR) to Ethos Capital.