Our Tribute to Aliyah Davida Elena Rotman

Eulogy delivered on Sunday March 13, 2022 (a video of the service is here)
–forever her mommy and daddy, Sari Stillman and George Roter

As the sun rose and rays of light crept in the window, our daughter Aliyah Davida Elena Rotman was born on June 7, 2014. She died as the sun set on March 9, 2022.

Aliyah is a hebrew, arabic and farsi word meaning to ascend or go up. Our central wish for her life was that she ascended to her highest self. And she did. She was a stunning human being.

Davida is the name of my late aunt who followed her passion and did what was right and good and didn’t care what others thought. My goodness that was how our daughter lived.

Elena means to shine a light. We raised a lovely human being, who through empathy and optimism shined a fantastic light on people and the world around her.

And finally, her surname Rotman. She was very much part Sari and part George, part Stillman and part Roter.

Aliyah Davida Elena Rotman lived every bit of the name we chose for her. We are so proud of her, and we told her that each and every day.

Aliyah packed as much into 2,832 days as many people do in a lifetime.

She lived in Berlin and in Toronto, and she has a community in each. She loved language, and in addition to English she spoke and understood German, French and a little Hebrew.

She visited dozens of countries and cities on 4 continents. She was very proud to be Canadian. And she absolutely loved being Jewish.

She lived fully every single day.

She danced and sang every day.

She played sports every day — Basketball, Skating, Tennis, Soccer, Rockclimbing, Trampolining, Canoeing and of course her three favourites, Skiing, Swimming, and Biking. Today she would have had her first surfing lesson in Mexico.

She thanked people and was grateful for every day.

She appreciated nature and the outdoors every day.

She was quirky and different every day.

She laughed every day.

She smiled every day.

She cared deeply for the people and animals around her every day.

She thought deeply about the world and how it worked, and often how it was unjust and unfair and needed her to fix it, every day.

She savoured food and flavours of any dish you put in front of her every day.

She created stories, games, new ways to play and be silly every day.

She approached the world around her with wonder and delight every day.

She lived fully every single day

She had a big big heart.

She loved every single day.

Aliyah was an all-season cyclist!

Three meaningful gifts as Aliyah died

We stand here devastated. As many of you are, we’re feeling around in the darkness for answers that don’t exist. It’s hard to accept that she won’t be at home tonight or at school tomorrow. And so, we can’t help but search for meaning in her life and in her death.

She died of a very rare vascular condition, uncovered by a routine procedure that set the course for the final 2 days of her life. In these two days she was cared for by an extraordinary team of health professionals. They treated her with such humanity and kindness, right until the end. 

We watched her nurse Denise surround her with her stuffies. We watched her doctors Andrew and Lennox, her respiratory therapist Fatima, her nurses Marlee and Pam touch her gently and reassure her and explain what they were doing, even after it was clear she could no longer hear them. We watched nurses, paramedics, surgeons, dentists, assistants, and so many others, including Aisha and her team, come together heroically to care for her and to give her a chance at a longer life. We watched her nurse Carey lovingly wash her hair and body so that we could snuggle beside her and feel the rise and fall of her chest, the warmth of her body, one more time.

Each and every one of these health professionals worked together to give us three incredible gifts. Gifts that have enduring meaning.

They gave us hope. While we had honest conversations early on about the likely outcome, nobody ever gave up on Aliyah. That slim ray of hope was a gift that sustained us.

They gave us time. They gave us an extra two days of singing to our daughter, dancing for her, telling stories to her, reading her favourite books, holding her, kissing her, and telling her we loved her. Two more days of being with Aliyah. We know now, we constitutionally feel it like never before, how precious time is.

Finally, they gave us life. Aliyah’s heart is beating right now in the chest of a little boy in Toronto. Her kidneys have allowed two others in Ontario to be freed from dialysis. Her beautiful hair will be made into wigs for children going through chemotherapy. It was the skill and resolve of every one of Aliyah’s health professionals that allowed her to live long enough so that her death would give life to others.

Sari and I are forever indebted for these gifts. Thank you for giving meaning to her final days.

Seeking meaning: Courage and perseverance

We have also sought meaning in her too short life. We’d like to tell you a few stories that exemplify her courage and perseverance, her joy and appreciation, her creativity and sense of self, and her activism and humility.

Aliyah was extraordinary in so many ways, but like all kids and all people, she struggled too. While some things came natural – swimming and play and dancing and stories – she really struggled with other things. Had to work really hard to learn how to print and cut, but when she put her mind to it she was unstoppable. Halfway through grade 2 she could already write cursive.

Reading was really hard for her. We don’t quite know why, but she really struggled with reading. She worked at it, sometimes begrudgingly, but she worked at it. Slowly the sounds and words started falling into place for her.

In February, Aliyah got her first library card. She was finally at a place where books felt a bit less scary and intimidating. Together, we would choose books she would read, and books we would read to her. Two weeks ago, as George and I were making dinner, we glanced over to the couch and smiled with pride as Aliyah was reading to herself, on her own, no prompting from us. We both felt a happiness knowing that soon a whole new world of stories was about to open up to Aliyah. My heart melted and I felt pride in her persistence, and knowing just then it was going to be okay.

Reading never came easily, but Aliyah kept at it

We just recently shared with Aliyah that she was autistic, something we only learned last spring. We talked about this as her superhero abilities, and how this helped her excel. But some areas were tougher, like fire drills and connecting with classmates. We read about Greta and talked about how alike they were, we used her as an example to show Aliyah that there were no boundaries and that while this was part of who she was, this didn’t need to define her.

Aliyah quickly told us that she needed to advocate for herself and share what she had just learned with her class. George and I were hesitant to have her share this, not knowing if this would make it hard for her classmates to understand or accept her. But it was her courage that came through, as it always did, to have tough conversations rather than shy away.

When she shared with her class that she was autistic and what that meant, one of her classmates asked if she could hear the principal, Ms. Lee, in her office a floor down and on the other side of the school. What courage that must have taken to stand in front of her classmates, to open herself up and fully share who she was with those around her.

We’re all faced with moments when we can choose to be courageous, to do the thing that scares us a bit, to have tough conversations, to work at something even when it’s really hard. Maybe each of us when faced with these moments in the future can step back and ask “what would Aliyah do?” and that will give us the courage we need.

Seeking meaning: Joy and appreciation

When Aliyah walked outside each morning she would often take a moment to stop, take a deep breath in, and smell the world. And then she would turn to me and say: Daddy, smell the trees. Or Daddy, smell the soil. Or Daddy, smell the air. It smells so good.

She went through the world with such a deep appreciation for being alive. For spending time with her family, her friends, people she’s known forever, and people she met for the very first time. For smelling and experiencing and touching everything around her.

And this caused her to move through the world with such incredible joy.

This past fall, as COVID restrictions lessened, our friends Boris and Alana hosted a veggie roast at their home. It was Friday night and while we were biking home from school I asked her if she wanted to go to the party, not sure if she’d be up for it after a long school week. I remember her face lighting up with pure joy. “Of course Daddy.” She loved parties – birthday parties, street parties, parties at school – she loved parties. And she was always up for anything. I’m not sure why I expected differently.

We arrived and she disappeared into a house full of people who she basically didn’t know. I listened with such pride as she exclaimed the food was delicious and went around thanking the people who made each dish. I watched with such pride as she moved from adult to adult for conversations full of curiosity, and as she sat down for a game of chess with Boris’ son Kian, and as she bashed in a Pinata. And then I watched with the wonder and pride only a parent can feel as Aliyah organised all of the kids at the party to sort all of the candy they collected from the Pinata, so that the kids could together ensure each of them got what they wanted, so that it was equitable. She was always so kind and concerned about others.

She left making plans to host the next party, postponed to a Purim-party later this month. Aliyah loved bringing joy to others.

The community that is here today, and watching online from elsewhere in Canada, Berlin, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Israel, or the United States, or anywhere else, is a testament to what it means to live with joy and to light up the spaces we move through. Even for those who never met Aliyah – they feel her joy through our eyes or those of her Buby, Baba and Papas, her aunts and uncles and cousins. Or parents who experience her joy through the stories of their children.

It’s hard to sit in that joy today, to appreciate anything at all about this moment. But we must, because that’s what Aliyah would have wanted and what she would have found a way to bring on this day.

Pure joy

Seeking meaning: Creativity and sense of self

We’ve all heard the cliche, dance like there’s no one watching. Aliyah did. It didn’t matter if it was the back of the classroom, at recess, in the streets, or at the dinner table. There wasn’t a day in the past years where we didn’t get the pleasure of her singing and elaborate choreography, or sometimes just feeling the music flow through her and let it move her.

She was her own person. She had her own ideas, and they were big, they were elaborate, and they were creative. And it was a fun challenge trying to help her bring her big visions to life.

This was always the case around Halloween each year. Aliyah loved Halloween. She loved dressing up. Her costume choices were her own. Powerdog the fuzzy rainbow magical dog. A spiderbat. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of these – they come from her imagination.

If you ever stepped inside our house, there was action everywhere. Anything and everything was a character. Everything had a story. Toys, utensils, fruit and veggies, furniture, plants. When Aliyah looked at the world, she saw stories and relationships. Dare you peel a banana from the fruit bowl, the pen lying on the counter would be upset because you just took the coat off his friend in the middle of a snowstorm.

George used to joke that Aliyah had more creative thoughts and ideas in a day than any of us had in a year. Aliyah’s creativity was endless.

There were lots of “friends” in the house, all of the time

So many of us go through life holding back bits of ourselves. Not taking risks with our wild ideas. Aliyah taught us to live life so that we have no regrets, because she sure didn’t.

Seeking meaning: Activism and humility

Aliyah had a deep and intuitive sense of what was good and what was right. She was clued into what was going on, far outside her own life. She cared about people and the state of the world, and she cared so much it would often cause her a great deal of stress. Most recently, she was very concerned about the war in Ukraine. And the climate crisis made her heart ache. A pre-kindergarten teacher once told us that she felt Aliyah was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. At age four.

This was our Aliyah. For her, understanding and caring wasn’t enough though. She felt deeply compelled to do something. In Judaism, this is called tikkun olam – repairing the world. From her actions in the past few years, it’s so clear that repairing the world would have been her life’s work.

Her current passions were environmentalism and gender equity.

Aliyah at the Women’s March in Berlin, March 8, 2019

Almost exactly a year ago Aliyah came home upset. She pulled out of her bag a March Madness bracket pool being organised at her school, Jackman Junior Public School. For those who don’t know, this is for college basketball in the United States and people have challenges where each person submits their guesses for the winners of dozens of games up to the final.

Aliyah was upset because there were only men’s teams part of this challenge. Are there no women’s teams she asked? Is there no women’s March Madness? I’m embarrassed to say I had to look it up – yes, there is a women’s bracket, but it wasn’t included as part of the challenge. We finished the conversation and she was upset all evening and had trouble going to sleep.

The next day in the early afternoon Sari, who is a teacher in Aliyah’s school, sent me a recording of an announcement at the school. It explained how having only the men’s tournament didn’t live up to the equity values of the school, and that it was Aliyah Rotman in Grade 1 who advocated for a change to also include the women’s bracket. Aliyah had sought out the equity club lead for the school that morning to explain the situation and ask why it was that way, and they both got in touch with the principal. In a school of nearly 700 kids and staff, it was 6 year old Aliyah who saw the inequity, spoke up, and made a change. Sari and I had nothing to do with it, we didn’t even know it was happening. Aliyah just did it – that’s who our kid was.

For me the remarkable part of this story came next. She was deeply embarrassed by being named in the announcement to the school and by the congratulations she received afterward from her class. She was even embarrassed when Sari and I told her how proud we were when she came home that afternoon. When we asked why, she explained that it wasn’t her who mattered, it was the women’s basketball players. I think it takes some people a lifetime to reach that depth of humility.

Aliyah had plans to plant lots of trees. She loved nature and knew that trees could help with climate change. She planned to organise her school first, then other schools through kids on our street, and then all the schools in the city. I remember her asking, Daddy, do you think I could plant a million trees? I have no doubt she would have done it. 

She was saving her allowance to buy and plant the first of the trees this spring.

We’re going to get started for her. Today.

On your way from the cemetery, or out of the chapel if you’re not going to the cemetery, you can pick up a sapling. We have 250 saplings today thanks to our wonderful friends Karyn, Ken and Jamie, and their daughter Rowan, who is one of Aliyah’s very best friends and who she loved deeply. Attached to each sapling are instructions and a passage from one of Aliyah’s favourite books, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

“Now that you’re here,

The word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.

UNLESS someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

It’s a Truffala Seed.

It’s the last one of all!

You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.

And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.

Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.

Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.

Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.

Then the Lorax

and all of his friends

may come back.”

Let’s all care a whole awful lot like Aliyah did, and begin her work of planting trees all over the world these coming months.

Aliyah was exceptional. And we hope that some of what we’ve shared can help bring even more meaning to her too-short life.

Dearest Aliyah. We love you. We have been so grateful to have you as our daughter. We are better human beings because of what you taught us, how we saw the world through your eyes, and who you were. You’ve shown us what it truly means to love and be loved, every day. 

Aliyah, we love you.

We’re hiring: Technical Innovation Crowdsourcing and Open Source Engagement Engineer

To further our work here at Mozilla in searching for and acting on ideas beyond the traditional bounds of our organisation, we’re building our Open Innovation team.

This blog post from earlier this year is a great summary of our purpose:

Mozilla’s Open Innovation Team has been formed to help implement a broad set of open and collaborative practices in our products and technologies. The main guiding principle of the team’s efforts is to foster “openness by design”, rather than by default.

I’m excited that we’re growing this team, hiring for two new roles.

Open Source Engagement Engineer – https://careers.mozilla.org/position/gh/906005
We’re looking for a community engineer who has established themselves as a leader in building successful open source software, to help Mozilla get great at open source and to contribute to advancing the state of open source more broadly.
Program Manager, Technical Innovation Crowdsourcing – https://careers.mozilla.org/position/gh/922810
We’re looking for an expert in crowdsourcing for complex technical problems, who is excited about building a brand new, cross-Mozilla program in this area.
I would love to hear from you if you’re interested in either role, or if you know someone who might be. Please reach out directly — I’m groter@mozilla.com .

Refreshing the Participation Buffet

Have an impact on Mozilla’s mission.

The answer has been consistent every time we’ve asked volunteer Mozillians what their primary motivation is for contributing to Mozilla. 3 years ago, last year, this month, “have an impact on Mozilla’s mission” is always the number one answer.

What we’ve also heard over the past few months is that lacking clarity on the best areas to have an impact is one of the main things limiting contribution. When I look at this objectively, I completely understand. Mozilla is a huge and complex project, with multiple products, projects and activities, and we’re right now in a constant state of change as Mitchell recently articulated nicely. To exacerbate the situation, we haven’t been very good at clearly communicating where Mozilla is heading.

Our much needed effort to reinvent participation at Mozilla has added yet more ambiguity to the mix. As a Participation Team, we’ve made some progress on bringing more clarity, and have laid out a broad strategy for 2016. But this isn’t enough. We need to do better.

We need to help Mozillians know where they can apply their skills, time and passions to have an impact on Mozilla’s mission.

My teammate Rosana Ardila had a great analogy that I’ll borrow: We once had a delicious, well laid out food buffet of contribution and impact areas at Mozilla. But that food has been sitting out for quite a while. Some of it is stale. Some of the dishes aren’t even on the menu anymore. We’ve moved around the serving stations so that some are sitting in a dark corner that nobody can find. Some of the food is still really tasty and just needs a flame lit underneath it … okay, I’ll stop killing the analogy!

Over the next couple of months we’re going to refresh this participation buffet.

We’re going to do this by both designing and rolling out some new, high impact and well designed contribution areas and campaigns, in partnership with teams around Mozilla. And we’re also going to curate and highlight fantastic contribution opportunities driven primarily by other teams.

We need all Mozillians (employees and volunteers) to help with this, by helping to build, highlight and lead great areas of participation. Please get in touch with your thoughts and ideas (groter@mozilla.com).

Our filters for what makes it into the buffet are simple and what we have come to understand will represent outstanding participation at Mozilla.

First, we will focus on participation areas that:

  1. Help Mozilla innovate, driving the leading edge of our work and thinking.
  2. Extend Mozilla’s reach, by bringing Mozilla products, ideas and issues to more people, and connecting more people with Mozilla.

Second, we will highlight contribution opportunities that have a well designed participant experience, and that have thought-through methods for bringing value to both Mozilla’s mission and to Mozillians. To be clear, these opportunities won’t each be applicable to everyone; most will require a specific set of interests or backgrounds. We do want to make sure that the full buffet will provide opportunities for a diverse range of participants and plenty of opportunities for people to build new skills.

Third, we know that we don’t have the next phase of Mozilla figured out — far from it! So activities that help us learn about the future of participation at Mozilla are a priority. And by definition, that will mean trying things out that may not work.

How about a sneak preview? What can you get involved with RIGHT NOW!?

You’ll be able to find great opportunities highlighted here – https://wiki.mozilla.org/Participation#Focus_Areas_for_Participation

There’s a couple ready right now, and many more that we’ll highlight soon on Discourse and the Wiki page above.

Helping Mozilla innovate:

  • Dino Tank London – We want you to pitch problems that are worth solving at Mozilla! This opportunity closes on May 27th, but will be refreshed again in June/July.

Coming soon…

Extending Mozilla’s reach:

  • Open Comms: Making Encryption Mainstream – submit ideas on how to educate people around the world or in your community about the importance of encryption. This closes on June 3rd, but Open Comms will have many more opportunities coming soon.

Coming soon…

  • Next phase of the Take Back the Web campaign
  • MakerParty
  • Growing the Firefox Nightly community
  • Something exciting on engaging developers

Final ask

Please do let me know what you think of the above. Does it resonate? Do you have areas you’d suggest we highlight or build for? What else might be missing from our approach?

Head over to this conversation on Discourse to share your thoughts and ideas.

Reinventing Mozilla on campus

Throughout history, University students, staff and professors have often shaped the leading edge of change and innovation. The history of the web is no different: the student-built Lynx browser was one of the first and Mosaic (Firefox’s distant ancestor!), pioneered by students and staff, opened the graphical web to millions.

I saw the impact that students and professors can make through my own experience at Engineers Without Borders Canada. Engineering students and professors on campuses across Canada and in Africa built remarkable ventures, reshaped curriculum, changed on-campus and government policy, and taught hundreds of thousands of young people about global development.

I fully believe in the potential of students, staff and professors on campuses around the world to have massive impact on Mozilla’s mission. As innovators, contributors and open web advocates. Engineers, scientists, lawyers, social scientists, economists and designers.

From what I know about my past experience and have heard in the past year working for Mozilla, our mission resonates tremendously with students and professors. The range of impact and involvement is considerable. Until now, we’ve only just scraped the surface of this potential.

We need to reinvent Mozilla on campus.

Our existing engagement on University campuses around the world is an assortment of largely disconnected programs and people. Firefox Student Ambassadors and Firefox Clubs. Mozilla Clubs. Code contribution by individual contributors. Maker Party. Mozilla Science Lab. Various professor and lab partnerships. Employee recruitment. Many of these are successful in their own right; there’s an opportunity learn from each of them, find connections, and imagine opportunity to scale their impact with a more coordinated approach.


Photo credit: Tanha Islam and Trisa Islam [1]

The largest of these by student involvement, Firefox Student Ambassadors (FSAs) and Firefox Clubs, has been constrained by limited and variable employee support and a focus on marketing. Our student leaders have already been “hacking” this program to introduce advocacy, code contribution, support, localization, teaching and many other activities; official support for this has lagged.

Our team came into this year with a key hypothesis as part of our strategy: That we can supercharge participation with a reinvented campus program.

The Take Back the Web campus campaign focused on privacy and security has been our first effort to test this hypothesis. Already it’s showing great promise, with over 600 campus teams signed up (including hundreds of FSAs) to have impact in 3 areas. We’re focused on learning as much as we can from this campaign.

The campus campaign is a step toward reinvention. But I think it’s now time to take a step back to ask: What impact can we imagine with a coordinated effort on campuses around the world? What do students, staff and professors want and need to be involved with Mozilla’s mission? How might we evolve our existing programs? What programs and structures would we design, and how do they relate to one another? How can we invite people on campus to innovate with Mozilla?

These are the broad questions that will guide a process over the next 9 weeks. By July 15th we aim to have a clear articulation of the impact we can have, the programs we’ll invest in and how they relate to one another, and the opportunities for students, staff and professors to participate.

We’re hoping that this process of reinventing Mozilla on campus will be participatory, and we’re inviting many voices to contribute. Lucy Harris on the Participation Team will be stewarding this process and shaping the final options. Mark Surman, Mitchell Baker, Chris Lawrence, Katharina Borchert and I will be involved in making a final decision on the direction we take.

You can read more about the details of the process in this post, but let me summarize it and the opportunities you have to be involved:

Phase 1: Listening (May 16-27)

→ provide thoughts on existing programs and opportunities you see

Phase 2: Synthesis and options (May 27-June 10)

→ we’ll frame some tensions for you to weigh in on

→ we’ll shape a set of options for conversation during the London All Hands

Phase 3: Final input (June 10-24)

→ we’ll articulate a set of options for you to consider as we move forward, and will be diving deep into these and key questions during the Mozilla All Hands in London

Phase 4: Final Decision and Disseminate (June 24-July 15)

→ we’ll take all the input and decide on a direction for moving forward


Let me finish by reiterating the opportunity. University campuses are a hotbed of innovation and a locus for creating change. Mozilla can tap into this energy and catalyze involvement in unleashing the next wave of openness and opportunity in online life. Finally, our team is excited about helping to shape a direction we can take, and investing in a robust program of participation moving forward.

I’m excited for this journey of reinventing Mozilla on campus.


[1] Photo credit: Tanha Islam and Trisa Islam

Participation Team: Getting organized and focused

The Participation Team was created back in January of this year with an ambitious mandate to simultaneously a) get more impact, for Mozilla’s mission and its volunteers, from core contributor participation methods we’re using today, and b) to find and develop new ways that participation can work at Mozilla.

This mandate stands on the shoulders of people and teams who lead this work around Mozilla in the past, including the Community Building Team. As a contrast with these past approaches, our team concentrates staff from around Mozilla, has a dedicated budget, and has the strong support of leadership, reporting to Mitchell Baker (the Executive Chair) and Mark Surman (CEO of the foundation).

For the first half of the year, our approach was to work with and learn from many different teams throughout Mozilla. From Dhaka to Dakar — and everywhere in between — we supported teams and volunteers around the world to increase their effectiveness. From MarketPulse to the Webmaker App launches we worked with different teams within Mozilla to test new approaches to building participation, including testing out what community education could look like. Over this time we talked with/interviewed over 150 staff around Mozilla, generated 40+ tangible participation ideas we’d want to test, and provided “design for participation” consulting sessions with 20+ teams during the Whistler all-hands.

Toward the end of July, we took stock of where we were. We established a set of themes for the rest of 2015 (and maybe beyond), are focused especially on enabling Mozilla’s Core Contributors, and I put in place a new team structure.


  • Focus  – We will partner with a small number of functional teams and work disproportionately with a small number of communities. We will commit to these teams and communities for longer and go deeper.
  • Learning – We’re continuing the work of the Participation Lab, having both focused experiments and paying attention to the new approaches to participation being tested by staff and volunteer Mozillians all around the organization. The emphasis will be on synthesizing lessons about high impact participation, and helping those lessons be applied throughout Mozilla.
  • Open and Effective – We’re investing in improving how we work as a team and our individual skills. A big part of this is building on the agile “heartbeat” method innovated by the foundation, powered by GitHub. Another part of this is solidifying our participation technology group and starting to play a role of aligning similar participation technologies around Mozilla.

You can see these themes reflected in our Q3 Objectives and Key Results.

Team structure:

The Participation Team is focused on activating, growing and increasing the effectiveness of our community of core contributors. Our modified team structure has 5 areas/groups, each with a Lead and a bottom-line accountability. You’ll note that all of these team members are staff — our aim in the coming months is to integrate core contributors into this structure, including existing leadership structures like the ReMo Council.

Participation Partners Global-Local Organizing Developing Leaders Participation Technology Performance and Learning

William Quiviger

Brian King


Rosana Ardila

Ruben Martin

Guillermo Movia

Konstantina Papadea

Francisco Picolini


George Roter (acting)

Emma Irwin


Pierros Papadeas

Nemo Giannelos

Tasos Katsoulas

Nikos Roussos


Lucy Harris

Bottom Line:

Catalyze participation with product and functional teams to deliver and sustain impact

Bottom Line:

Grow the capacity of Mozilla’s communities to engage volunteers and have impact
(includes Reps and Regional Communities)

Bottom Line:

Grow the capacity of Mozilla’s volunteer leaders and volunteers to have impact

Bottom Line:

Enable large scale, high impact participation at Mozilla through technology

Bottom Line:

Develop a high performing team, and drive learning and synthesize best practice through the Participation Lab

We have also established a Leadership and Strategy group accountable for:

  • Making decisions on team objectives, priorities and resourcing
  • Nurturing a culture of high performance through standard setting and role modelling

This is made up of Rosana Ardila, Lucy Harris, Brian King, Pierros Papadeas, William Quiviger and myself.


As always, I’m excited to hear your feedback on any of this — it is most certainly a work in progress. We also need your help:

  • If you’re a staff/functional team or volunteer team trying something new with participation, please get in touch!
  • If you’re a core contributor/volunteer, take a look at these volunteer tasks.
  • If you have ideas on what the team’s priorities should be over the coming quarter(s), please send me an email — .

As always, feel free to reach out to any member of the team; find us on IRC at #participation; follow along with what we’re doing on the Blog and by following [@MozParticipate on Twitter](https://twitter.com/mozparticipate); have a conversation on Discourse; or follow/jump into any issues on GitHub.

Why Mozilla (for me)?

It’s official. I’m here at Mozilla for the indefinite future with a title of Head of Core Contributors, Participation. Basically, I’m responsible for enabling a team of volunteers and staff to grow the size and impact of our community of most-committed volunteer Mozillians.

As I considered this role, I asked myself: Why Mozilla? Of all of the places in the world that I can apply my energy and talents, why here? I wanted to share my answer (as of today):

The past 150 years has brought the greatest advances in freedom and opportunity in human history.

It has also brought (a) existential, complex global and local challenges, and (b) a centralizing of power. Centralized power cannot solve, and is often the cause of, these existential challenges.

The web is the single greatest (and maybe only) chance humanity has to address these challenges, because it can decentralize power and unleash the human ingenuity of millions of people.

But the web itself is being centralized and made less open. From locked-down content, to ring-fenced platforms, to the advertising/ economics of the web, to technology stacks. The largest and most powerful organizations and governments in the world are eroding the openness of the web.

Mozilla is probably the world’s best chance to reverse this trend. We are the only organization in the world that is championing a vision of openness on the web, has the scale to achieve it, and as a mission-driven, not-for-profit doesn’t have its purpose corrupted by shareholders and profit motives.

At the same time, this is such a wildly ambitious organizational vision that only a movement of talented people working together — volunteer Mozillians and our allies — has a chance to see this vision become a reality.

What’s truly energizing about my role is that the Mozilla brand, user-base, financial resources and mythology is a platform to build a participation function that can scale to directly enabling millions to take actions aligned with their own passions and beliefs. This can be at the leading edge of what anyone has done before in organizing people globally and locally. And when we are successful, the web will be the platform we need to address humanity’s most pressing challenges.

Finally, to quote a great Canadian Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message”. The pattern of working that Mozilla is pioneering is transformative (or will be with the organizational changes that have been articulated in the vision of radical participation) — open, self-organizing and adaptive, creativity from the edges, distributed leadership and voice, each and every Mozillian accountable to each other and for the whole.

At a meta level, these are key to the broader global social justice changes I believe in. This pattern, and its impact on the millions of deep relationships we can build through participation, may be another of Mozilla’s enduring legacy and impact.

McMaster Engineering Convocation Address – June 2015

I gave this address at the McMaster University Engineering Convocation, on June 12, 2015.

Thank you Chancellor  Large. President Deane. Provost Wilkinson. Dean Puri. Honoured guests. Distinguished faculty. Fellow graduates and honorees. And, most importantly, parents.

I wanted to start with a very exciting personal announcement. An accomplishment that I think you can all relate to. Here it is: This month, this very month, I will have paid off all of my student loans.

So that’s something you can look forward to. 16 or 18 or 20 years from now. You too might have finished paying for your University education. Really, student loans are a monthly reminder of the great value of your education.

What else can you look forward to? And what does that mean for you now? As I was thinking about this day, I racked my brain, thinking about the past 16 years, thinking about my 22 year old self, and what would have resonated with him.

One thing came to mind. Rogaine.

What I realized is that I certainly have a distorted, imperfect memory of my 22 year old self. I don’t know what I was thinking about. What I was dreaming about. What I was feeling as I sat where you sit now.

I also realized that I almost certainly have a distorted view of the past 16 years, the choices I made and the what I wished I would have known. I see the past through either rose tinted glasses or a darkened lens, depending on how I’m feeling about myself and my ambitions, how I’m feeling about others and the world.

And everyone’s path through life is different.

But life has a funny way of collecting wisdom, little souvenirs that you pick up on the side of the meandering road of life. Now — to kill the metaphor for a moment — some of these souvenirs turn out to be cheap plastic trinkets — that ridiculous fridge magnet I bought in Prague with a built-in thermometer.

On the other hand, some of those souvenirs of wisdom turn out to be pure gold. There are two pieces of wisdom, which I consider pure gold, that I will offer you today.

First, beware accepted truths. Beware the hidden pressures of society. Beware the status quo.

It’s all around you. You’ll experience it in the most overt ways. When your first manager tells you that “we don’t do it that way in this company,” and you realize for the first time that the cubicle you were assigned is not just a physical space, but also a metaphor for how your ideas will be confined.

I certainly experienced this when we were starting Engineers Without Borders. We were welcomed to work on issues of poverty and inequality, but only if we sat our cubicle of technical expertise.

Thankfully, we didn’t listen. And now this organization is amongst the world’s most impactful organizations working to address the most pressing challenges in food and water and small business development. Amongst the most powerful advocacy organizations in Canada. Engineers. Standing up and speaking. Articulately. Imagine that.

Well, thousands around Canada and in Africa did and do. But only because we ignored the naysayers. Disobeyed accepted truths. Refused to submit to the status quo.

I won’t pretend that it doesn’t take courage to behave in this way. It does take courage. You may run off in another direction, arms waving excitedly, yelling follow me, follow me. And turn around a year later to find yourself alone in the wilderness. Failure is most certainly one outcome.

But just remember, you could take the most secure job you can imagine, optimizing the production line at Dofasco for example. And in 3 years you might have a pink slip waiting at your desk, as ArcelorMittal has decided to downsize the Hamilton operation.

If failure is always a possibility, why not follow your heart and your passion? Why not challenge the status quo?

Of course, you can only challenge these accepted truths if you know they are there. The subtle pressures are much more insidious. These are hidden forces that erode possibility and guide our behaviour without us even realizing.

The ads that surround us with supermodels, reminding us all of our physical inadequacy. The separate girl and boy sections of Toy R Us. The hundreds of times in the past weeks that you’ve been asked “what job are you heading to?”, implicitly delivering the message that perhaps taking the next few years off to roam the world or volunteer with a charity would be deviant.

Or at a macro level. Issues are framed as poverty reduction strategies, or climate change mitigation plans.

Climate change mitigation. Why are we satisfied with accepting the inevitability of forever shifting the weather patterns of our earth? Of placing billions of people’s livelihoods at risk? It’s like going to a friends house, picking up an expensive antique vase and saying “sorry, I’m about to smash this to smithereens by throwing it on the ground. But have a really great broom that can pick up at least 70% of the pieces.” No. I want my antique vase. I want my daughter to have a livable earth when she grows up.

But these hidden pressures change the frame — mitigation and reduction — and it’s cozier to just accept them as truths.

This is the point when I appeal to your engineering training and engineering instincts. While each one of us brings a different set of skills and personalities to this profession called engineering, there are at least two common traits between us.

Curiosity. And creativity.

It’s not coincidental that these are the two most powerful antidotes to the status quo. Engineers have a long and proud tradition of heresy. Of asking piercing questions. Of calling out doctrine as outdated or irresponsible.

And, most importantly, of offering a creative and different way forward.

I implore you to lean into this tradition of being curious and creative in the face of accepted truths and the status quo.

My second nugget of wisdom: Your values will drive your choices, and your choices define your life.

Let’s dig into this a little more. Certainly there’s a scientific approach to making great decisions — considering multiple options, getting different perspectives, performing data driven analysis. Our training as engineers prepares us extraordinarily well for most choices you will face.

However, there’s an entire class of decision that, I would argue, your engineering education did a terrible job of preparing you for. These are things like: Where should I work? Should I report this questionable practice in my company even though doing so is risky for my career? Should I be a vegetarian? Where should I buy groceries from? Boxers or briefs? Or maybe commando?

These decisions operate on a different plane than logic. And we make most of them unconsciously, our default settings taking hold.

This is why bringing your values to the fore are so critical.

Practically, it’s about, first, choosing to decide more often about things that seem “settled” — like where you buy groceries. Then, when faced with a choice, just close your eyes and picture yourself a week or two after the choice is made. Picture yourself standing in front of a group of Kindergartners and explaining that choice with passion. Picture how you would feel.

That’s your intuition. And your intuition reflects your values.

What I can say is this: The only decisions I truly regret from the past 16 years are decisions when I went against my intuition; decisions that did not ultimately align with my values.

Those are my two nuggets of gold: Beware the status quo. And make values-based choices.

Let me leave you with a couple of parting thoughts.

First, life has a way of picking up the momentum of an 18-wheeler hurtling downhill without brakes. Today you’re graduating, and tomorrow you’re 57 years old with teenage kids and a house in Dundas. Those nuggets of wisdom and other souvenirs that you pick up along the way get lost in the noise of living.

My advice: Set yourself a tripwire. Many tripwires. They might be a yearly letter to yourself. A camping trip each summer. A friend who will ask you tough questions. A sabbatical every 5 years. For me, all of my computer passwords are names of people in Ghana and Zambia and Malawi who remind me daily of my life’s purpose.

Find your tripwires, set them, protect them. If you do, you’ll wake up at 57 years old with no regrets and a life that you will make you proud.

Fellow graduates. We are at a key moment in human history. We are among the most privilged and fortunate people in the world, living in the greatest, most humane and most diverse country in the world. Graduating from a tremendous University.

Fellow graduates, let us have the finger of history point to our generation, on the engineers of our generation, as the ones who stepped up. Who made values-based choices. Who worked on problems that matter to our world.

I know you have it in you. I wish you luck and skill and courage.

Introducing the Mozilla Participation Lab

I’m excited to introduce the Mozilla Participation Lab, an initiative across Mozilla to architect a strategy and new approaches to participation.

As Mitchell articulated, people around Mozilla are deeply invested in the question: how can participation add even more value to the products and communities we build that are advancing the open web?

Across Mozilla there’s a flurry of activity aimed at answering this question and increasing participation. Mitchell framed the scope of this exploration as including three broad areas: First, strengthening the efforts of those who devote the most energy to Mozilla. Second, connecting people more closely to Mozilla’s mission and to each other. And third, thinking about organizational structure and practices that support participation.

The Mozilla Participation Lab is designed to strengthen and augment the efforts and energies that Mozillians are devoting to this exploration in the months ahead. If you count yourself as one of those Mozillians who is working on this problem, my hope is that you’ll see how the Mozilla Participation Lab can be relevant for you.

First, let’s back up for some context…

In January, Mitchell and Mark along with the Participation Team laid out a Participation Plan for Mozilla that articulated an ambitious vision for participation in 2017:

  • Many more people working on Mozilla activities in ways that make Mozilla more effective than we can imagine today.
  • An updated approach to how people around the world are helping to build, improve and promote our products and programs.
  • A steady flow of ideas and execution for programs, products, and initiatives around the world—new and diverse activities that move the mission forward in concrete ways.
  • Ways for people to participate in our mission directly through our products—there is integration of participation into the use and value proposition.
  • Ultimately: more Mozilla activities than employees can track, let alone control.

While this vision describes where Mozilla wants to be, how we’re going to get there still needs to be figured out. The how is an important and explicit goal in the participation plan for 2015: Develop a bold long-term plan for radical participation at Mozilla.

This is the goal you’ve heard Mitchell and Mark talking about, and they’ve hired me to get this work going over the next 6 months.

Initially, they talked about this goal being pursued by a task force—a group of people who could go away and “figure this out”. But as we started to build this out, a task force didn’t feel right.

Mozilla Participation Lab

What is the Mozilla Participation Lab? Concretely, the Lab will have three related sets of activities.

1) Focused experiments.

The Participation Team will initiate experiments, after consulting and coordinating with product/functional teams and volunteers, around particular hypotheses about where participation can bring value and impact in Mozilla. All of these experiments will be designed to move a top-line goal of Mozilla (the product side of the virtuous circle), and give volunteers/participants a chance to learn something, have impact or get some other benefit (the people side of the virtuous circle). If the experiments work, we’ll start to see an impact on our product goals and increased volunteer engagement.


These experiments will be built in a way that will assess whether the hypotheses are true, what’s required for participation to have impact, and what the return on investment is for our key products and programs, and for Mozillians.

For example, many in Mozilla have articulated a belief that participation can enable local content to make our products better and more relevant, and so we are working on a series of experiments in West Africa alongside the launches of the Orange Klif. If these are successful, they will have had an impact on Firefox OS adoption while building vital, sustainable communities of volunteers.

In order to identify these experiments, our team has already talked with Mozilla staff and volunteers from all over the organization, plus Mozilla’s leadership (staff and volunteers). Here’s a long list of rough ideas that came out of these conversations; we obviously need to make some choices! Our aim to is settle on and launch a first set of focused experiments over the next couple of weeks.

2) Distributed experiments.

I’ve had conversations with roughly 100 Mozillians over the past couple of months and realized that, in true Mozilla distributed style, we’re already trying out new approaches to participation all over the world. Buddy Up, TechSpeakers, Mozilla Hispano, Clubs, Marketpulse are just a few of many many examples. I’m also confident that there will be many more initiatives in the coming months.

My hope is that many of these initiatives will be part of the Participation Lab. This will be different than the focused experiments above in two ways. First, the Participation Team won’t be accountable for results; the individual initiative leaders will be. Second, they can probably be lighter-weight experiments; whereas the focused experiments are likely to be resource intensive.

How does an initiative fit? If it meets two simple criteria: (1) it is testing out a set of hypotheses about how participation can bring value and impact to our mission and to Mozillians, and (2) we can work together to apply a systematic methodology for learning and evaluation.

Of course, it’s the leaders of these initiatives who can choose to be part of the Lab—I hope you do! To be upfront, this could mean a bit of extra work, but you can also access some resources and have an influence on our participation strategy. I think it’s worthwhile:

  1. We will work together to apply a systematic learning and experimenting methodology (documented here).
  2. You can unlock support from the Participation Team. This could be in the form of strategic or design advice; specific expertise (for example, volunteer engagement, building metrics or web development); helping you gather best practices from other organizations; or small amounts of money. We do have limited staff and volunteer time, so may need to make some choices depending on the number of initiatives that are part of the Lab.
  3. Your initiative will make a significant contribution to Mozilla’s overall participation strategy moving forward.

3) Outside ideas.

We will bring together experts and capture world-leading ideas about participation from outside of Mozilla. This is a preliminary list of people we are aiming to reach out to.

Who’s involved?

In short, a broad set of Mozillians will be supported by a smaller team of staff and volunteers from the Participation Team. This team will coordinate various experiments in the Lab, curate the learning, build processes to ensure that all of this is working in the open in a way that any Mozillian can engage with, and make recommendations to Mozilla leaders and community members.

What’s the result, and by when?

The primary outputs of the Lab are:

  1. A series of participation initiatives that result in more impactful and fulfilling participation toward reaching Mozilla’s goals. (Read more below about how what you’re working on right now can fit into this.)
  2. An evidence-based analysis of the effectiveness of specific participatory activities.
  3. Recommendations on how we might expand or generalize the activities that provided the most value to Mozilla and Mozillians.
  4. A preliminary assessment of the organizational changes we might consider in order to gain an even greater strategic advantage from participation.
  5. A set of learning resources and best practices packaged in a way that teams across Mozilla will be able to use to strengthen our collective participation efforts.
  6. Possibly, a series of strategic choices and opportunities for Mozilla leaders and community members to consider.

The first set of activities will take place primarily in Q2, wrapping up by early July, at which point we will assess what’s next for the Lab.

How is this relevant for you?

You have the opportunity to participate in the Lab and in shape the way forward for participation in Mozilla. Here’s how:

1) Be part of the team. Do you want to have a big hand in shaping how Mozilla moves ahead on participation?

In the coming couple of weeks we’ll be starting some focused experiments. If these are problems you’re also excited about (or are already tackling), please get in touch. We’re certain that coders, marketers, project managers, designers, educators, facilitators, writers, evaluators, and more can make a big difference.

Also, if you’re interested being part of the learning team that is tracking and synthesizing lessons from inside and outside Mozilla, please get in touch.

2) Are you already running or planning a new participation initiative, or have an idea you’d like to get off the ground? Could you use some help from the Lab (and hopefully volunteers or other resources)? I’d love to have a conversation about whether your initiative can be part of the Participation Lab and how we can help.

3) Can you think of someone we should be talking to, a book or article to read, or a community to engage? Pass it along. Or better yet, help us to get in touch with people outside of Mozilla or summarize the key lessons for participation.

4) Follow along. We’d like many Mozillians to share their feedback and ideas. We’ll be working out in the open with a home base on this wiki page.

Please get in touch! Reply to this post or send me an email: groter <at> mozilla.com

Let’s together use this Lab as a way to architect an approach to participation that will have a massive positive impact on the web and on people’s lives!

Up next…Mozilla!

How could I possibly follow-up my incredible years spent with the very special Engineers Without Borders Canada? That was the central question hanging in the back of my mind, even as I promised myself ‘no pressure, take your time’ over the past 5-months traveling the world with my partner Sari and our delightful now-9-month-old daughter Aliyah.

Reflection and spending time in other organizations has helped me see just how special EWB is — there’s a greater concentration of world class people (smarts, skills and dedication) in EWB than I’ve seen anywhere else, and the organization is pushing the leading edge in a way that is courageous and necessary. What would come next professionally? What was a must have and what was a want to have?

My big realization was that I would be most fulfilled by joining another organization with a change-the-world sized mission. Another organization that cares not just about ‘what’ they are doing, but is also pioneering new models on ‘how’ we organize our companies and public benefit institutions. Another organization that builds communities and mobilizes people to unleash their potential.

I also wanted a broad set of responsibilities, but not another CEO or co-founder role right now. I wanted to be working alongside highly motivated people who I can learn from. And I wanted a sector that moves fast, that isn’t “stuck” in the ways that international development can get stuck.

Enter Mozilla!

Believe it or not, there was a role and organizational combination out there that fit like a glove! I’m really excited to be joining Mozilla.

Most people know Mozilla for our web-browser Firefox. Some people might even know that Firefox is an open-source project, with thousands of volunteer contributors alongside staff. Fewer people know that Mozilla is a mission-driven, change the world, non-profit. We are promoters and protectors of an internet that is open and free, a hotbed of innovation, a platform for economic and social development, for bettering humanity.

Practically, we build great products and technologies (some that you see like Firefox, and some that you don’t, like the standards that allow you to watch a video in your web-browser) that embed the values of Mozilla. For example, when you’re using Firefox, you’re not uploading your personal information like when you use Chrome — privacy and user agency are values we care about and are native to our products.

Beyond products, we also build educational resources and courses (for high skill and early web learners), do policy advocacy, help support people making technology for news organizations, help support people who are trying to bring open standards to science, develop tools and alliances and products to bring the web to the “bottom 2 billion”, etc. Lots and lots!

This is a cool video that explains more:

So, what am I doing here? I got to create my own title and I’ve chosen “Participation Sherpa” (clearly a descriptive title versus hierarchical one): I think I’m beginning to know what that means!

As you can glean, there’s a lot going on at Mozilla. With roughly 20,000 volunteers; another ~1+ million people participating in our education networks, developer networks, fellowships and advocacy work; and ~300 million product users, there are a lot of people involved. This interaction of people and impact is beautifully messy and has developed rather organically. But it’s creaking in places. People are not getting as much value as they could from their interactions with Mozilla, and the mission is not benefiting as much as it could from their participation.

My role is to help Mozilla evolve this participation relationship by leading the architecture of a strategy, a new team and the cultural and structural elements that supports this. It means working on strategy and operations, working with people around the organization to run experiments, helping staff and volunteers optimize the way they are working (building communities, building participation opportunities), and learning from all the activity already going on. The exciting part is that I’m reaching into and implicated in literally every part of Mozilla.

Logistically I’m based in Toronto, for now! And it’s a 6-month contract, for now!

I’m fired up and found a great first answer to “how do I follow-up my incredible years spent with the very special Engineers Without Borders Canada”!

Subtle messages to my daughter: What is exercise for?

I notice more of the world. That’s the best way I know to describe how my world has changed since last June when my daughter Aliyah was born. A big part of that are the subtle societal messages that I now see being delivered to her, about how to act, think, what is right and wrong, what is beautiful and what is ugly … about everything.

Raising my own family’s, and Aliyah’s, consciousness of these messages is realistically all I can do about this directly, absent becoming a hermit. But I can’t resist being a little activist and evangelical about what I’m learning, so I’ve decided to start a series every time I come across something with this theme. Hopefully, this contributes in my small way to the system changes that are needed.

What is exercise for?

I love exercising. It makes me feel energized and creative, and it quenches my thirst for competition (often just against myself) in a healthy way. But I’ll also admit that my relationship with exercise is not always perfectly healthy — sometimes it’s about negative body image crap.

Where does that come from? Who knows really. I’ve been deluged by 38 years of messaging saying that I should work out to look better, to get a summer body, to get the girl.

And Aliyah is about to be deluged by the same messages. Some of them are subtle, some really obvious, but they have totally penetrated how we talk about exercise.

What’s a healthy reframing of exercise? I loved this post:


Come on!  Get that body ready for your winter beach vacation!  Think about how you want to look at those holiday parties!  PICTURE HOW YOU’LL LOOK IN THAT DRESS!

I’ll never talk to my daughter about fitting into THAT DRESS.  But I will talk to her about what it sounds like to hear pine needles crunching under my feet and what it feels like to cross a finish line and how special it is to see the world on foot.  I will talk to her about hard work and self sufficiency.  I will teach her the joy of working out by showing her I love it.  And I’ll leave the rest up to her.

Great advice.

(Thanks Sari for sending it along.)