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Research and synthesis by SUPERRR Lab.

Regional Context

The geopolitical argument is going well with political decision-makers in defending European values online against the US and China. This influences the framing of funds, but potentially also funding decisions on a project level.

Funding logic in tech is usually short-term, outcome-related. Against big tech, you need to play the long game and plant many seeds for a few to actually grow in years or even decades. There is an increasingly systemic or strategic view on infrastructure: many parts need to work well, one flaw in the infrastructure stack unbalances everything. The role public funding should play in supporting digital infrastructure is contested: digital infrastructure should be a core mission for government actors but somehow also needs independence from political agendas.

Definitions of ā€œinfrastructureā€ are getting wider: ā€œInfra-structure means ā€œone level belowā€, so it really depends on your own standpoint what you define as infrastructure.ā€ (Prototype Fund via Eileen Wagner.) If we make infrastructure more hyper-local - much smaller - this could change things (towards social equity). But foundations and governments donā€™t take these steps, they want to work globally.

There is a lot of funding for digital infrastructure in the region already. This means that communication might be more of a problem than actual funding opportunities.

"...Tech funding needs to be considered a continuous investment, not a start-up grant."

Digital Infrastructure Funding Landscape

  • Funding Digital infrastructure needs continuous support. That is why it is difficult to fund. Example: 5 hrs per week over five years - which funder can support that with an adequate amount of management overhead?
  • Typical one-size-fits-all grants do not work, we need more tailored approaches, there is a need for different funds and ways of support.
  • Government funding and private foundations have different strengths and limitations. They could complement each other but donā€™t (everyone has their own rationale and goals). More exchange is needed towards systemic funding for the sector.
  • Private companies need to play a role in funding digital infrastructure. Otherwise, parallel tech ecosystems will emerge. Overall question: Should funding include or exclude private companies?
  • There is a lot of money in the blockchain field, with new foundations emerging. Their tech is value-aligned. The funder field could partner with them.
  • Funding needs to be anti-competitive in the digital infrastructure field.
  • Classic tech fundersā€™ perspectives and work realities are very different from DI groups; they donā€™t work in the open. Grass-roots or community-based funders are better equipped to support digital infrastructure communities.
  • You canā€™t rebuild the stack for free for all the money in the world; you need to make tech companies adopt better tech and parts of the improvements you funded. Litigation is an important tool for that.
  • There is a need for tech funding to be considered a continuous investment, not a start-up grant.
  • Tech funders can't provide core funding and make projects compete with each other for funding. While they wanted to follow a more systemic, long-term approach (acknowledging that you can't change tech in the short run) that looks at gaps in public digital infrastructure that need to be filled, they basically can't because of their own rules and statutes.