The ninth annual Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) united leaders and activists from all over the world to defend democracy. Once again Oslo became the hub for new collaborations and innovative solutions, bringing together experts in advocacy, business, media, philanthropy, policy, and technology.
Participants at the 2017 OFF watched riveting talks, joined inspiring panel discussions, learned valuable lessons from tech experts, engaged with organizations promoting individual freedoms around the world, and enjoyed musical performances and stand up comedy. The forum connected the world of business and technology with non-profits, governments, and foundations to brainstorm new and creative solutions to the world’s most pressing human rights issues.
Speakers at the 2017 OFF included Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Iraqi parliamentarian Vian Dakhil, Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif, Zimbabwean civil rights leader Evan Mawarire, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum. Dozens of other activists and human rights defenders attended to exchange ideas and form new alliances.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Author Anne Applebaum
What the World is Saying About OFF
More than 315 individual stories were written about the forum as of July 1, 2017, reaching millions of readers. News channels and outlets present at the event included The Economist, Reuters, The New York Times, Verdens Gang, VICE, El País, and WIRED UK.
Panel Discussions and Workshops
The final day of the forum urged participants to brainstorm new solutions for human rights challenges. Panel discussions and hand-on workshops brought together experts from a variety of backgrounds to build on what they learned during the first days of the forum.
The Levi Strauss Foundation sponsored a panel discussion on supply chains and workers’ rights in the fashion industry
The panels explored the rise of fake news, the importance of corporate social responsibility, human rights in the fashion industry, ways of holding perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable, methods to counter the threats of censorship and surveillance on the internet, and strategies to keep populism in check through engaging civil society.
Venezuelan activist Antonietta Ledezma at the opening press conference
Live coverage of the Oslo Freedom Forum has been viewed by more than 40,000 people. Additionally, official 2017 OFF videos have been viewed more than 1,000 times as of July 1, 2017. More than 2,000 people attended the six days of city-wide forum programming in Oslo.
OFF captured the attention of social media, and more than 65,000 users included our conference hashtags #OsloFF and #DefendingDemocracy in their Twitter and Instagram posts. Since 2016, the number of total posts have risen from 8,485 to 26,060 and the number of users has increased from 47,795,921 to 67,858,146. Overall social media impressions grew from 90,019,747 to 236,845,147.
In 2017, 12 film crews traveled to Norway to capture the OFF experience, including The Economist, VICE, NRK, TV2, and The Young Turks. Additionally, programming was viewed more 1,500,000 times through OFF media partners.
Stories of Impact
New connections are made at OFF every year. In 2017, speakers and activists met with leaders from policy, technology, design, media, and philanthropy from around the world. Speakers met privately to discuss policy with the president of the Parliament, and Norwegian politicians held a “tech and innovation breakfast” with conference participants from organizations as diverse as Salesforce and the Schmidt Family Foundation.
Iraqi parliamentarian Vian Dakhil met Prime Minister Erna Solberg
Oslo Vice Mayor for Business Development Geir Lippestad opened and participated in the Tech Lab
Hundreds of local students participated in this conference and met real life human rights heroes. Through the Oslo Scholars Program, speakers are connected with university students from all around the world for a three-month internship following the forum. Also, the Kistefos Scholars Program gives five Norwegian students the chance to participate in OFF each year. These programs inspire future human rights leaders, activists, introducing them to human rights issues.
Technology and Free Expression
This year OFF hosted the largest ever Tech Lab for activists. Technology experts in digital security, censorship evasion, internet access, and data encryption discussed ways that dissidents and journalists can protect their privacy and circumvent government censorship. Participants included The Bitfury Group, Twitter, Yubico, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Institut Francais, pEp Foundation, Sourcefabric, and VirtualRoad.org.
This year’s OFF also debuted the Interactive Expo, an event in which participants took part in product demonstrations and one-on-one discussions with representatives from media, advocacy, design, and tech companies working to advance human rights.
Participating organizations included:
Attendees try out the innovative VR technology used by Nuba Reports, a journalist initiative reporting from the front lines of Sudan’s conflict zones
Accountability Lab showcased its incubator program that is fostering a new generation of citizen activists fighting corruption
OFF in the Park
OFF engaged the local people of Oslo with six days of public programming in Spikersuppa square. Members of the public learned about democracy with a series of interactive exhibits, a series of documentary screenings featuring former OFF speakers, lively panel discussions, and an art project called FIREWALL that let users experience browsing the internet under censorship in China.
Art and Culture
The 2017 OFF celebrated the intersection between the arts and human rights by featuring live music, comedy, and art exhibits as a central part of forum programming.
This year, Grammy-nominated musician Carah Faye performed during the conference, and British comedian Chris Turner provided entertainment with his freestyle rap routine
The 2017 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent was awarded on the last day of the conference. The 2017 laureates were Zimbabwean actor and playwright Silvanos Mudzvova, Venezuelan satirical media site El Chigüire Bipolar, and Bahraini poet Aayat Alqormozi. The laureates were received a cash prize and bronze statue inspired by a sculpture built by protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989.