SMEX launched the inaugural Mariam Al-Shafei Fellowship on Technology and Human Rights in November 2022 to bring new minds and voices to the digital rights field, raise innovative solutions to the many-layered issues that govern the use and access to the internet, and expand research on emerging topics within digital rights in the MENA region. 

We have renamed the fellowship to “Mariam Al-Shafei Fellowship on Technology and Human Rights” to honor the legacy of one of our founding colleagues, Mariam Al-Shafei, who passed away on December 29, 2022. We hope this move pays homage to her contributions and efforts in coordinating this project before her passing and to the remarkable life she had lived. In 2016, Mariam survived a stroke that completely changed her life. At age 28, she was temporarily paralyzed and developed post-stroke Aphasia. Mariam lost the ability to speak, walk, write, and read—and her partial recovery took years of daily struggle and toil. Mariam dedicated much of her life to raising awareness about living with these conditions and used social media to document her healing journey openly and unapologetically. In all her posts, her consistent message to her followers centered on finding true joy in life’s simple

About Mariam Al-Shafei

This fellowship owes its name to our dear friend and colleague, Mariam Al-Shafei, who left this world on December 29, 2022. Mariam’s sudden death occurred just as SMEX was launching this fellowship, and she was part of the team that put it together. Renaming the fellowship in her name is a tribute to Mariam’s memory and contribution to the lives of everyone who knew her and those yet to know her story. Read more about Mariam Al-Shafei’s life and her championing of internet accessibility for people with language impairment.

About the Fellowship

The Mariam Al-Shafei Fellowship on Technology and Human Rights is open to early to mid-career candidates based in or with significant ties to West Asia and North Africa. Individuals whose work contributes to advancing civic issues at the intersection of technology and society, including data scientists, sociologists, policy experts, journalists, digital rights activists, economists, artists, and actors from relevant areas, are encouraged to apply. Since projects will heavily rely on research, we invite those currently enrolled in or recently completed postgraduate work to apply for this fellowship.

What does SMEX expect from the fellows?

This 10-month, part-time fellowship requires a commitment of approximately 15 hours per week, including active participation in monthly virtual meetings. Fellows will report directly to the Fellowship Coordinator, maintaining regular communication with their line manager. They will work closely with mentors to create project plans and timelines. Progress reports highlighting challenges, lessons learned, and major achievements must be submitted monthly to SMEX, ensuring transparency and adaptability throughout the fellowship.

What does SMEX offer fellows?

  • Working with a mentor who is a technical expert in a field related to the fellow’s topic 
  • Monthly meetings with a mentor and/or fellowship program manager to support the fellows as they execute their approved work plan, as well as quarterly convening for the entire cohort to share their progress and benefit from peer support and feedback
  • A monthly stipend of $900 net
  • Fully paid travel and accommodation to attend SMEX’s annual Bread&Net event
  • Access to SMEX’s extensive digital rights network, including coalitions SMEX convenes and introductions to practitioners who may offer platforms and other opportunities for collaboration 
  • Training related to digital security and campaigning
  • Additional funds may be available to cover costs associated with attending one additional conference or meeting of direct relevance to the topic researched and located in the WANA region

In addition to these benefits, it’s important to note that this is a non-resident fellowship program with remote engagement as the primary mode of interaction. Fellows will be invited to SMEX’s annual event,Bread&Net. Applicants selected from Beirut have the option to utilize SMEX’s resources at their offices. For fellows based abroad, there is the possibility of requesting an additional fixed Technology Stipend to cover IT costs, which can improve remote meeting participation and provide support for necessary digital resources. The fellowship program is designed to be flexible and dynamic, accommodating each fellow’s unique skills, interests, and experiences.

Eligibility and Criteria

Ideal candidates will have strong English and Arabic research, writing, and speaking skills. Applicants are expected to have demonstrable experience in and commitment to protecting and promoting digital rights and internet freedoms. The strongest candidates will have thought about how their project ‘grows the field’ of digital rights. 

  • Geographical Eligibility: Applicants should be based in or have significant ties to the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region.
  • Professional Background: The fellowship is open to early to mid-career professionals, including but not limited to data scientists, sociologists, policy experts, journalists, digital rights activists, economists, artists, and individuals from related fields.
  • Education: Candidates currently enrolled in or have recently completed postgraduate studies are encouraged to apply, as the fellowship projects will require a research-oriented approach.
  • Language Skills: Proficiency in English and Arabic, including strong research, writing, and speaking abilities, is essential.
  •  Commitment to Digital Rights: Applicants should demonstrate commitment to protecting and promoting digital rights and internet freedoms.
  • Project Relevance: Ideal candidates will have thoughtfully considered how their proposed project contributes to advancing digital rights and meaningfully ‘growing the field.’
  • Availability: Fellows must be available to commit approximately 15 hours per week to their fellowship responsibilities, including active participation in monthly virtual meetings.
  • Collaborative Spirit: Fellows should be open to collaboration, peer support, and mentor engagement.
  • Professional References: Applicants must provide contact information for two professional references who can speak to their qualifications and commitment.

These criteria ensure the fellowship is open to dedicated individuals with the right qualifications and commitment to advancing technology and human rights in the WANA region. Please carefully review these criteria before submitting your application.

How to Apply
Application for 2024 is now closed. Follow us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated regarding the Fellowship and digital rights news.

Final decisions will be based on the strength of the application, the relevance of the topic to SMEX’s programmatic work, the interview, and the overall fit with the fellows’ cohort. 

For any inquiries about the fellowship, please contact joud[at]smex[dot]org.