Tina (Kristina) Verbo is a software professional and an active member of the Philippines technical community. She has been a long-standing contributor to Mozilla, both in the Philippines and globally; she served as a Firefox Student Ambassador starting with the launch of the program, has been involved in the Mozilla Philippines Community as a Mozilla Rep, and serves as a Regional Coordinator for the Mozilla Clubs program. She has created vital resources on running clubs in schools, in the community and for women. She has translated Mozilla materials into her local language helping adapt the program to her local context.
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Tell me a little bit about your work — perhaps starting with a broad overview and then highlighting specific projects?
I have been involved with Mozilla for around four years. Right now, my focus is on women’s empowerment and Mozilla Clubs — where I’m one of the regional coordinators.
We’re creating offline activities to help teach communities about the web. Though Mozilla’s existing curriculum is very helpful, we felt like we could only use them for participants who had internet access and resources available. We wanted those without resources and access have opportunities to learn as well.
Thinking about your work, can you hone in on one specific example — one story or anecdote — where you felt a sense of success?
There was this time that we had a Summer maker party years ago where we invited kids to learn how to code, and taught them. For a programmer like me, it was a sound of music to hear them say, “Oh, this is so interesting. I want to be a programmer someday.” I felt a real sense of achievement, like I had successfully communicated to the kids what I was supposed to teach them.
That’s wonderful. How about an example of a challenge? Especially one that’s persistent or top-of-mind. What kind of challenges have you experienced?
Most of the people here in the Philippines are just volunteers, so it is tough to align our schedules. Funding is also challenging — it’s tough to find partnerships. It was different years ago because Mozilla gave out a stipend to help out with events, but now, things have changed a lot.
Those are the top things that I can think of right now.
How have you approached addressing the challenge that you described in terms of people’s time and also some of those funding challenges?
Years ago, when Mozilla stopped funding the education initiatives, we tried to do a workaround with the student ambassador. We tried to work with them, but things changed. Right now, people understand that they’re not being given a stipend and they’re like, “Oh, it’s ok. We’ll handle it,” but the expectations for volunteer work should be different.
Of course it’s always wonderful to get support and funding, but was that a huge barrier when the funds were no longer available?
Yeah, there’s been a huge decrease in the number of the events that we’ve hosted. That’s how I observed it. The only thing that volunteers are actually going for is free food, that’s it. They’re not even expecting free transportation or anything. That’s the only thing that they’re looking forward to. For us, we try to get something from our pockets so that we can lure some volunteers.
What do you think motivates people to be involved and volunteer with your work? As you think about those that have participated, what do you think excites them most?
I think it’s the people that surround them and the new people that they meet that motivates them to volunteer. They can share their knowledge and learn things from each other. People find it very amusing to interact with others — to hear other people’s stories and learn from their experiences —to go to different and unfamiliar places, even it is still inside their city.
Now, turning to the broadest issue with the Mozilla universe, internet health. What does a healthy internet mean to you at this point, Tina?
A healthy internet should be open, diverse, and secure. People should have more control over what they have access to and what they can create on the internet. It should also be diverse and inclusive with various group of people — the internet shouldn’t be a cohesive place — it should represent users with different types of background, culture, languages, interests, etc.
Users should also be given the right of privacy on the internet. I’m concerned with the current state of the internet, there’s a big possibility that our privacy is threatened. There are a lot of controversies going on right now over our right to privacy.
How are you feeling about the state of the internet? Are you optimistic that its health is increasing or are you concerned that it’s becoming a less healthy place?
It seems like there are a lot of precautions being taken. Some countries ban certain sites, countries and companies have access to people’s sensitive information from the internet — there’s a lot of risk involved. I think it’s kind of on a downward slope right now.
You mentioned ‘open’ as one of the core characteristics of a healthy internet. What does working open mean for you?
It’s a way of being, working, and collaborating with people without discrimination — giving everyone the privilege to have the right information so that they can participate.
What does that mean for you? Can you share a time when working open or observing somebody else working open on the internet had an impact on you?
I remember years ago when Mozilla didn’t have that many resources in the site. People found ways to use each other’s curriculum — reuse it, and improve it. I found it to be a good time because people were being innovative at some point or another.
Creating resources that could be shared and repurposed?
That’s great. Next, how did you get involved with Mozilla and what has that been like for you?
I started with Mozilla when I was in college. I met a Mozilla rep when I was at the university. Although she didn’t actually recruit me, I saw that she had the title of a Mozilla rep, so I researched and found out that I could join as a student ambassador. Years ago, it was a student program called Mozilla Student Reps, but after some time it was changed to Firefox Student Ambassador. That’s how I first joined Mozilla.
Can you tell me about a time Mozilla had some sort of an impact on your life, work, or organization?
One of the really nerve-wrecking public speaking stints that I had was when I was a student ambassador — I think I was still a student at the time. I was kind of forced to talk in front of an audience of a thousand people. I was shaking because it was my first speaking event and the audience was so big. It boosted my morale and I felt, “Oh, yeah. I can do this.” I now have more confidence to casually talk in front of an audience. Who could beat a thousand-member audience?
That’s a lot of people. My next question is one that we take very seriously. Can you tell me about a time when Mozilla disappointed you? What feedback might you give us to improve on that? Please be completely candid, there’s no wrong answer to this. We’re trying to identify opportunities for growth.
I’ve been disappointed because of changes in programs. Since Mozilla is an organization, I think that they should have communicated more with its volunteers — and not just with newsletters saying, “Hey, this will change. Blah, blah, blah.” Sometimes changes happen out of the blue and people have a hard time adjusting to it. For example, I’m a volunteer, but I’m not really in touch with staff members. It’s very shocking to suddenly find out, “Oh, there’s no more student programming and we’re shifting things around.” It’s hard to figure out.
I understand. In a perfect world, Tina, what might perfect communication look like with Mozilla? In addition to newsletters and status updates, what kind of communication relationship would you like to have?
I know that this is impossible, but it would be nice if some staff would talk to someone from a country or region and send out information so that they would be informed about what to do. They try to do that, but it’s not perfect and it’s kind of faulty at times. That’s why I find it so-so.
What’s one small thing that we might be able to do to start with that you think would be helpful?
One of the things, at the top of my head, would be to have staff and volunteer partnerships. Someone from the staff would mentor a volunteer and keep him or her updated about what’s going on in the organization and outside of the volunteer program.
Thank you for that suggestion. This is something that will be directly delivered to everyone that we work with, so thank you so much for sharing. If we can do something about it, I’m sure we definitely will. We appreciate it.
That was a serious question — so here’s an exciting question: if you had access to ten skilled volunteers or collaborators, what would their skills be and what would you ask them to do? It’s kind of a pie in the sky. If we could have ten people available for you to move forward with things you’re passionate about in terms of Mozilla, what would that look like?
That’s a tough one. Sorry.
No problem. Maybe reflect on times that you didn’t feel like you had enough resources, exciting new things that you’d like to try, or if you felt like you’re just too busy with what’s going on to move forward with that.
One of the things that I can think of is when we tried to create a curriculum last year. Some of the volunteers weren’t able to submit their curriculum. Volunteers would benefit from a shared space for collaboration. We know that we can do that with the tools that we already have, but it would be great if Mozilla facilitated it. I would want to know if someone wanted to do, or had already done the work for an activity I want to do. It would be great if Mozilla said, “Oh, hey. This is an activity that one of our volunteers did.” It would be a boost of morale, not just for the volunteers, but also for other people. It would make them feel like, “Oh, I want to do that too.” Not only would it help the volunteers, it would also benefit Mozilla.
That’s a wonderful idea. Anything else that you’d like to mention? Are there any of the topics that we covered, as you’ve been thinking, that you’d like to add some additional thoughts to? I’d love to hear anything else that you’d like to say about your experience with Mozilla or internet health related issues.
With StoryEngine, I think it is a great idea to know the stories of other volunteers and staff members and learn about what they’re doing within Mozilla and outside of — if they’re willing to share. There are different issues and challenges that they are facing from different regions or countries. It’ll be interesting to find out what has worked and what hasn’t — how others have handled a situation. I think that what you guys are doing right now is really great.
Have you had a chance to read some of the other StoryEngine stories?
I’ve read two or three. They were interesting.
You mentioned this great point about helping us learn more about how to work in different locations in specific ways. Is there anything that you think Mozilla should know about the context that you’re working in and the kind of environment that you’re in that would be helpful for us serving that kind of need?
Right now, I’d say that Asian countries are saddened by Mozilla’s focus on the Western world. I’m not saying that’s their main focus, but for Southeast Asians, it seems like it’s easier for Mozilla to communicate in those parts. For us, we feel left behind in a way. I think that Mozilla should try to improve how they deal with that.
Is there an example that comes to mind? You mentioned feeling like there’s more of a North American or Western focus. Is there something that you remember thinking, “Oh, I feel neglected because of this specific event?” or something like that?
When I’m at gatherings, they’ll be like, “Oh, here’s my buddy,” — there’s an obvious feeling they relate to each other. A specific occurrence is at events and with things like programs — they’re not thinking of others when they schedule things. An example is the Summer Maker Party — they schedule it in the summer for Western people and we will be like, “That’s not good for us because there’s still school in our country.” Their scheduling usually makes sense for them, but often doesn’t make sense for other countries.