Stop the ICANN Budget Cuts and Save the Fellowship Program!

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We are deeply concerned about the budget cutbacks proposed by ICANN for the fiscal year 2019. Amid claims that the budget is tightened due to the slow growth of the domain name industry, the FY19 budget proposal significantly increases personnel costs by $7.3M while at the same time makes an extreme 50% cut to the Fellowship Program, which is mostly comprised of volunteers from developing countries who cannot afford to attend the ICANN conferences in person. Our understanding of this counterintuitive financial proposal is that it aims to increase salaries and bonuses of ICANN employees at the expense of jeopardizing the strategic objectives of the ICANN organization which are to "evolve and further globalize ICANN" and to "serve the global multistakeholder community".

Since its establishment, the ICANN Community has grown from a few people in the past to over thousands of people attending each meeting, both newcomers and regular attendees. Some attendees have joined the ICANN Community through the Fellowship Program and others have taken on leadership positions in different constituencies as well as joined the ICANN Organisation and the ICANN Board. With the proposed budget plans, the number of fellows is planned to be drastically reduced from 60 to 30 (see page 22 of ICANN's Document 2: Draft FY19 Total Budget).

The Fellowship Community has also grown, with diversity at the forefront of ensuring that almost all communities are represented. Documents regarding the travel budget for the recent Johannesburg meeting demonstrate that ICANN generously spent about $170,000 to support 60 Fellows, so reducing the number to 30 would save around $200,000 per year. This amount is less than 0.15% from the overall $138M budget for FY19. On the other hand, the FY19 budget will allocate $1.9M to the Office of the CEO that consists of 3 employees, while $10.3M will be dedicated to a team of 27 experts responsible for Strategic Communications (see page 12 of the document cited above).

At the same time, the budget plan proposes to expand headcount from 400 to 425 by hiring 25 new staff and by increasing personnel costs from $69.5M to $76.8M (see page 11 of ICANN's Document 1: Draft FY19 Operating Plan and Budget Introduction and Highlights). This is an increase of $7.3M per year which would result in roughly $180,000 spent on a yearly basis for each ICANN employee. If the planned hires are reduced by only 2 (from 25 to 23), this would be more than sufficient to give each year the opportunity to 90 fellows to become part of the community.

We believe that without funding through the ICANN Fellowship Program, a significant number of people would not be able to attend ICANN meetings and to further engage in ICANN activities at global, regional and local community levels. Given that most of the fellows are from developing countries, the Fellowship Program is not only a learning platform for capacity building to empower volunteers with the skills needed to create a positive impact both within ICANN and in their home countries, but also it is practically the only way to overcome the insurmountable financial burden faced by individuals coming from world regions where even access to drinking water is problematic, not to mention access to computers and quality IT infrastructure that is taken for granted in developed countries.

We, therefore, strongly urge that the proposed budget is reconsidered so as the number of fellows be kept at 60 and not cut by half.

Please sign this petition to stop the ICANN budget cuts and help save the Fellowship Program!


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