Lainie DeCoursy is Senior Program Manager, Strategic Operations at Mozilla Foundation, where she manages cross-org initiatives including planning, reporting and special projects to ensure we’re on track and delivering results towards our strategy to fuel a movement for Internet health. Prior to joining Mozilla in 2011 as Communications and Operations Manager for Hive NYC, she spent 15+ years in consumer PR, working with global online brands including AOL, eBay, and LinkedIn.
Can you tell me a little bit about who you are and about your work? Then, zero in on your involvement and interest in Hive NYC.
My name is Lainie DeCoursy. I’m the Senior Program Manager of Strategic Operations at the Mozilla Foundation. I’m responsible for operationalizing planning and reporting for the organization. That includes things like setting objectives and measuring progress, planning our twice annual All Hands, and internal comms. It’s a lot of behind the scenes work, making sure that we’re trekking towards our goal, and reporting and reflecting along the way.
My background was in consumer PR. I worked for a few large internet brands: AOL, eBay, LinkedIn, et cetera. I just had my seventh anniversary at Mozilla. I joined as the Communications and Operations Manager for Hive NYC. At the time, the network was still pretty young and my role was to help put systems into place to support network effects.
This involved figuring out who was in the network, how they were connecting, how they knew what other folks were doing, how they knew about opportunities to collaborate, how to showcase their work, how we could help promote them, how they found opportunities for their youth with other organizations in the network, et cetera.
That’s how my work originally intersected — by helping to build and grow the network in its early stages.
Thinking about your work with Hive NYC, can you tell me about a moment when you felt a sense of pride or success?
Probably my first meetup, which was at the American Museum of Natural History. I was in awe of sitting in a room with thirty plus people who were so smart, passionate, and working at these incredible organizations across the city. It was exhilarating.
I came from a corporate background — the feeling of energy and excitement in that room felt like a startup in some ways, but it was also very clear to me that the nonprofit space was going to be a different experience for me. There was a lot of willingness to experiment, to work together, and to build and grow this thing that was going to be great for the city and its young people. I could already see that there were deep bonds with people in the room, but it was still completely welcoming and open. That was a moment of excitement.
In terms of pride, I would say having a Hive presence at Maker Faire with a wide variety of people and orgs across the network. It was great to be in this place where tens of thousands of people come together, and to create a space where members could do what they do best under the banner of Hive NYC. We did that several years in a row.
Also, in my first year, we probably had one phone call every few months with someone from another city who had heard about Hive, wanted to know more about it, and had interest in starting a Hive of their own in their city. Going from having conversations like this once every three months to having three of them per month was a testament to how people were embracing the model that we were building.
There was an explosion of interest. We came across one or two instances where people were creating their own version of the Hive logo and embracing the name and what it stood for. That was a very exciting and proud moment.
What were people resonating with that made them want to associate with Hive?
In some cases, I’m not even sure that they knew. We were starting to put the work out there and be open. Whether through blogging or having a presence at events, surfacing and promoting that work, people were interested in figuring out more about the “special sauce.”
Funding was a piece of it. They saw that there may be funding to support some potential programs they were working on. I think the opportunity for a city-based network where you’ve got organizations — big and small, old and new — working together on projects was something that also piqued their interest.
Connecting that with other cities was also a component — having the work focused in the city, but also learning from working with other cities as well.
Is there a moment where you faced a challenge or were frustrated by the network?
My role was in communications. Sometimes it felt like brand soup because we had multiple organizations working together on projects, and it was sometimes hard to get Hive to be a part of the story. Whether it was news articles or just trying to raise awareness about Hive among the young people who were participating in programs — maybe building a brand for Hive wasn’t the thing to be focused on, but it seemed difficult to get support during the process at the time.
Why would you say it was the wrong thing to do?
It would depend on who you’re trying to build a brand for. We attempted some work to have Hive become a name that youth were aware of — where they knew their programs were supported by Hive and, from there, could find or seek out other Hive programs that matched their interests. That didn’t end up working for various reasons.
What might you have done differently retrospectively?
I maybe would have cared a little less about when our name didn’t make it into the story. My focus was on communication, so I was probably hyper-aware of when projects we were supporting were getting attention.
It’s hard to get every organization mentioned in the piece without it seeming like an ad. We tried a few things, like securing a regular column in the Huffington Post at one point. I think ultimately folks became aware of Hive through the work, word-of-mouth and having an active presence online and in social media.
Can you tell me about a moment when Hive was working unlike other community-based programs that you were a part of?
That’s hard for me because I was coming from corporate America. This was my first real experience working with community-based organizations. It was a big, but exciting, learning curve.
When did you feel like you were actually a part of a larger network or community?
The general notion of partnerships was different from the background I came from. I learned about what a true partnership could be, one that’s not solely financial, but understanding of all the other benefits that could come with it — like research, building curriculum, strengthening capacity, or reaching new audiences. Organizations coming together towards a shared mission, to benefit young people and expose them to new opportunities and interests, wanting to teach and share and learn from one another, and a desire for outcomes to benefit youth, not just the organizations themselves. It was all quite new to me.
Was there are particular moment when that newness presented itself to you?
When I was first asked to blog about the strategy and annual plan for Hive, I couldn’t even process that because it wasn’t something I would have done in my corporate jobs. We didn’t share plans publicly. We adjusted and edited them repeatedly until they were final and approved and perfect, and even then they were internal confidential only. Learning what it meant to work open felt super new and scary and also exciting.
How do you think Mozilla as an organization benefited from its involvement in Hive?
In a lot of ways. At the time, it was a lab or test bed for trying new ideas. It was an experimental space. Focusing on digital inclusion and web literacy had its roots in the work Hive was doing.
As Mozilla has gone through different phases, some of those benefits have been different. For instance, when we were focused on building products for web literacy — like X-Ray Goggles and Webmaker — Hive was a ripe place to build, learn how these tools were being used, and build curriculum and programs around it — and doing some product marketing in a way. Those tools were built with Hive or started within Hive.
For other programs like MozFest, so much of the program and sessions – like the Youth Zone – wouldn’t have happened without Hive. The first year that we did a Hive pop-up in London, young people were not allowed beyond the first floor. Now, they’re integrated, welcome, and encouraged to participate throughout.
Can you share something that you’ve incorporated into your personal work, practice, or philosophy that you’ve learned from being involved with Hive?
So much of this experience was new, but I learned a ton about facilitation. I was responsible for planning Hive meetups and community calls. Coming from a background that involved pretty unadventurous agendas, there was something about facilitating a truly engaging meeting that was impactful for me. Being more intentional about caring about the individuals in the room and what they can gain and bring.
Which practices or activities do you hope Hive retains or remembers as they move forward?
A sense of togetherness. It struck me that, at times, people in the network had their day jobs working for different companies or organizations, but they were still coming together as part of Hive even if it was above and beyond their specific role. There was a draw to working with this group of people with shared interests and goals. Something was magnetic about that, and the shared Hive identity.
I would hope that they continue to support one another, learn from one another, and keep those connections. There were benefits for them as individuals within their organizations and the youth in the city that they were working with were reaping some of those benefits as well.
I hope that they retain the activity of keeping it going and staying connected. We always had so many different ways to connect to try to meet people where they are. Not everything was mandatory but there were meetups, working groups, events, and calls, and I hope some of those formats continue.
It’s a lot of work and you have to have someone driving that. There has to be a point of connection that people are committed to participating in with some regularity. Otherwise, you risk things starting to disintegrate. If there’s a way to continue the actual projects that people are working on together, even if it doesn’t necessarily have funding tied to it, I think it’s important to consider where and how those partnerships might work.
Anything that I haven’t asked or that you want to get on the record about your involvement with Hive?
It was a huge highlight of my career to work on Hive. I learned a ton and made some lifelong connections. I’m proud to have been a part of it, and grateful that Chris Lawrence gave me the opportunity to help build it!
I’m also so thrilled that even beyond Mozilla’s stewardship, there’s a group of people who seem committed to taking the work forward and maintaining the network. I’d be interested in knowing what motivates them even though it’s volunteer-led and possibly not funded. I hope I can still remain involved in some small way in any case.
Why the heck are they doing it?
Yeah, I love that they’re doing it. That it’s even happening and that it’s a group consisting of original and new folks makes me so proud! Obviously, they see value in that, and I’m curious to see how that evolves or is changing.
This text is copyright Lainie DeCoursy and is licensed for use by others under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
Photo credit: Erik Westra at westraco.com Photo shared under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license and used with permission.