The History of People-Centered Internet

PCI was envisioned in 2015 by co-founders, Mei Lin Fung and Vint Cerf, who brought together an international group of thinkers and doers for the first “People Centered Internet Forum.” The group outlined a list of goals and proposed actions that could drive an agenda for a new “People-Centered Internet” initiative. The first article written about PCI, a column in Business Daily Africa by Bitange Ndemo, highlights the power of the Internet to connect people across Africa and the world. 

Drafted in 2015, the Principles of the People-Centered Internet are grounded in diversity and equity. 

  1. Complete universal Internet coverage that enables functionality that is otherwise unreachable or ineffective
  2. The Internet is affordable, open, available and accessible to all
  3. Fosters digital literacy, local content in local language to achieve widespread usage and increased value to people, families, communities and countries
  4. The system achieves a level of trust that meets the users’ expectations of affordability, privacy, safety and security
  5. The quantity and quality of educational and information services is increasingly available to families and communities
  6. Anyone can contribute to improvement of the utility of the global Internet.
  7. Personal information in the digital environment is protected by law and controlled by the individual owner.

As a part of the initial vision, the group proposed a set of actions that became the foundation of PCI’s work:

  1. Supporting the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals in education, health and other development objectives
  2. Building trust and inclusion to bridge generations, nations and cultures
  3. Empowering women and youth with relevant Internet content to better equip future generations
  4. Supporting locally-led initiatives and grassroots innovations as well as top-down policies and reforms to support scaling up of promising innovations to improve human lives in diverse contexts
  5. Developing narratives to influence decision makers to leverage technology to transform their economies, institutions, and societies. 
  6. Promoting research, innovation, and knowledge sharing in best practices in national policies and strategies to advance digital transformation in government, economy, and society and maximize the digital dividends of the Internet

PCI grew from this initial meeting to a broader “PCI Community” – those around the world who share ideas together and support PCI’s goals through their own work and advocacy. PCI formalized its structure in 2018 and received its 501(c)3 designation in August 2019.

PCI Founding photo

Those present at the first People Centered Internet forum in 2015 (in the photo above):

Manu Bhardwaj (US State Dept.)
Mei Lin Fung (Organizer, US & Singapore)
Vint Cerf (Chair, US)
Nagy Hanna (Advisor to the World Bank, US)
Anil Srivastava (Open Health Systems Laboratory, US)
Ahmed Calvo (Stanford Haas Center for Public Service, US & Costa Rica)
John Mitchell (Vice Provost Teaching & Learning Stanford, US)
David Nordfors (I4J, US & Sweden)
Vince Kohli (Future of Empathy, US & India)
Eileen Clegg (Visual Insight, US)
Virgilio Almeida (Brazil)
John Ryan (Wire the World, US & UK)
Lynn Gallagher (ex-USAID, US)
Madis Tiik (Tallinn University, Estonia)
Mark Finnern (Thrivable Future Salon, US & Germany)
Monique Morrow (Cisco, US),
Deepak Mishra (World Bank, US & India)
Ray Jeter (Air Force, US)
Anna Waldman-Brown (Maker & Hacker spaces, US)
John Matttison (Kaiser Permanente, US)
Kimberly King (One Island Institute, US)
Bruce Green (US), Peter Forsyth (Wikipedia community, US)
Jac Qualine (Intuition Power, US)
Steve Huter (Network Startup Resource Center, US)
Valerie Landau (Samuel Merritt University, US)
Ndemo Bitange (University of Nairobi, Kenya)
Effie Chow (East West Academy of Healing Arts, US)
Stefan Nachuk (UCSF, US)
Shannon McElyea (Friend-Raiser, US)
Lucienne Abrahams (LINK Center, University of the Witswatersrand, South Africa)
Jeff Richardson (South Bay Organization Development, US)
Chris Bui (The American Focus, US)
Bill Daul (NextNow, US)


Formalizing structure and setting a course

In 2018, the founders and Executive Director, David Bray, led the effort to officially establish the PCI organization and apply for nonprofit status (which became official in August 2019). 

The new organization also undertook its first projects in 2018 by convening members of the community for specific projects and supporting the work of others:


“Digital Puerto Rico” recommendations

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Congress gave Puerto Rico a very narrow window for crafting and submitting a recovery plan for the use of federal funds. A team of PCI Community members worked with FEMA contractors to provide recommended “Courses of Action” to leverage recovery investments in technology for broader impacts. Several of the recommendations were included in the final plan that was submitted to Congress.


“Our Digital Future” Event Marking 70 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and One-half of Humanity Online

On December 10, 2018, PCI joined with Constellation Research to celebrate the milestone of one-half of humanity online and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The discussion noted the long history of human rights scholarship and international agreement and the applicability of those principles to the big questions that our connected society faces today.