Sabrina Hersi Issa on Redirecting Cash and Influence to Empower Human Dignity
Sabrina Hersi Issa, founder of Be Bold Media, describes her work with a splash of humor:
“I’m a human rights technologist, which is how I’ve come to describe my work applying a justice framework to technology solutions and get my mother to stop asking me about going to law school. In practice, this means I leverage both technology and media to improve human dignity.”
She didn’t know how all the details would turn out when she first launched Be Bold Media, but developed structures as she went along, guided by her values. “At the time I started my company, I did not have a clear line to what exactly I was building. I just knew in my gut that there had to be a better way, and I was committed to figuring out my path toward that.”
For Issa, this work directly impacts people’s lives and is ultimately about respect, especially for Black and Brown people. She thinks of systems we encounter in our daily lives and what the ‘user experience’ would be for people from diverse backgrounds.
This line of thinking started when she acted as translator when her grandmother voted and saw firsthand how difficult the democratic process was for non-native English speakers. This experience led her to create software matching volunteer translators with immigrant voters.
Harnessing technology, and how decision makers apply it to improve the lives of ordinary people, particularly those in marginalized communities, is Issa’s passion. This inspires much of her human rights activism and research, her angel investment, and her organizational consulting with Be Bold Media.
Be Bold Media helps organizations improve diversity and inclusion, harness digital technologies, develop media strategies, and scale up their marketing to a global level. Proudly led by a Black, feminist, Millennial woman, the agency works through a data-driven, evidence-based social justice lens.
However, she says the greatest resource she brings to organizations has more to do with her heart and perspective than with technology. “I find the most useful expertise I have that has been valuable to all the companies and organizations I advise during the pandemic has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with my deep and intimate understanding of grief, trauma, and resiliency.”
Be Bold Media fosters a variety of social justice initiatives known as Impact Labs through independent partner Bold Impact. These include the People’s Iftar, a fundraising campaign for grassroots Muslim community organizations, and the Survivor Fund, empowering sexual violence survivors.
Many of these projects, Issa says, are efforts to create spaces she wished she had for herself when she was growing up as a young Muslim immigrant woman of color. When asked how to best help marginalized communities, Issa encourages society to empower them with resources and to amplify their voices.
“The most important action society can take to shift capital and investment to under-resourced communities is to explicitly resource them, explicitly elevate leaders with lived experiences, and explicitly live in the value of interconnectedness.”
She’s also the founder of the Bold Prize, an annual crowdfunded financial prize and recognition for Black women leaders who courageously speak truth and promote justice within the tech industry. She organizes Rights x Tech, a forum for technologists and activists to explicitly explore the intersections of technology and power, as well as a digital security summit for activists.
Issa reminds us, “We must reckon with the complexity of race and power in the world and in our technology. Without integrating the realities of racism and oppression into how we build technology, we will only continue to face the world as it presently exists.”
Algorithms and artificial intelligence are created by biased human beings and do not automatically make our social systems more just. “We cannot bypass the fact that algorithms are regularly found to compound and expand injustices and biases in order to keep a cadence of convenience. These algorithms may make certain processes more efficient but efficiency is not fairness.”
Issa currently serves as a Practitioner Fellow at Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab, recommending policies addressing intersectional impacts of Covid-19 on communities of color.
Issa also helps the organizations she consults to adjust to Covid-19. She has had the privilege of working with many organizations that made diversity, equity, and inclusion integral aspects of their structures from the beginning. Still, she urges every organization, as hard and scary as it seems, to make those issues priorities not less-crucial goals to sacrifice to survive the virus.
“Bravery is the belief in the sun rising again. When we meet tomorrow, we all should get to enjoy the light.”
When asked how Rare Magazine readers could support her work, Issa shared several ideas. People can sign up for her newsletter, suggest their organizations hire Be Bold Media as consultants, and attend Be Bold’s monthly virtual Rights x Tech forums, “joyful, lively, and inclusive learning spaces” exploring tech, power, and human rights. Most of all, though, she urges us to work together in community for our highest values. “Set to work showing up for yourself in a way where you are living in the light.”
Written by Cristina Deptula