Every once in a while it’s time to look back, take stock, and reset. To make sure you’re on the right track. Mozilla recently did this, and realized that it needs to hone in on two really important things to ensure that the web remains an accessible public resource: fight and inspire.


To build a digital world that is open, hackable, and ours, Mozilla needs to tackle big challenges — like monopolies and walled gardens — while also adding fuel and energy to a movement. This means rallying citizens and connecting leaders.

Enter the Mozilla Leadership Network.

Leadership development has always been part of what Mozilla does. Since 2010, they’ve been building networks with public interest and philanthropic organizations that have enabled them to cultivate leaders, catalyze innovation, and wield influence. They’ve also invested in projects like Open News, Hive, and Open Web Fellows. Through Mozfest, their annual gathering, they’ve brought together 7,000 people from 50 countries over the last five years, all with the help of 1,500 community leaders who design and facilitate sessions, connect participants, and spark ongoing collaborations.

The Mozilla Leadership Network will build on these efforts, getting more intentional about nurturing and networking different kinds of leaders, from executives to youth, to create a cohort of highly skilled organizers who are ready and able to inspire others and tackle the big issues facing the open internet.

Today, the day before Mozfest 2015 officially opens, some of these leaders — mostly emerging and young leaders that Mozilla collaborates with year round — came together for the first time. Their session focused on connecting them; discussing how, where, and when they might collaborate over the next year; and focusing their intentions as they prepared to welcome 1,700 new potential friends and collaborators to Mozfest.

Michelle Thorne and Erika Owens teamed up with Aspiration Technology (Misty Avila, Allen Gunn) to design the session. Now you may not know this, but these are network-weaving and event-design gurus. Seriously. Like other Mozilla and Aspiration events, it was highly participatory, noisy, and chaotic — focused on maximizing introductions, surfacing common interests, and generally creating fertile ground where the seeds of ideas can grow into awesome, game-changing projects.

The team developed a loose structure for the session, details emerged during an eleventh-hour huddle with other Mozilla staff, and then the design got tweaked on the fly in response to participants — and the inevitable tech challenges. (Microphone stop working? No problem!)

So what did this session tell me about Mozilla’s approach to leadership development? Reflecting on it and the design of previous Mozfests two things surfaced for me: chaos and concentric circles. I’m going to focus on the first here…

Given that these are experienced facilitators and logistics experts, my aha! moment was this: the chaos is intentional. My guess on the rationale: The world is a crazy, chaotic place. Leaders will have a thousand demands on their time and attention: family, friends, community, work. They’ll also have to deal with lots of different characters and personalities. All of this means that they’ll need to possess a key skill — the ability to cut through the noise and focus on who and what is important.

My takeaway from this first day: Mozilla develops leaders in a way that is true to its hacker, DIY style — empower people to jump in, get making, and engage others — with a good dose of insanity and fun thrown in to ground the mix in the real world.

UPDATE: Thanks to Michelle for her feedback on this post. It’s not just that the chaos is intentional. At the core of Mozilla’s approach to leadership development is developing presence by creating situations where participants can cultivate spontaneity and adaptability. The result: the ability to improvise around a purpose.