The Internet Freedom Fund is OTF's primary way to support projects and people working on open and accessible technology-centric projects that promote human rights, internet freedom, open societies, and help advance inclusive and safe access to global communications networks for at-risk users including journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists, and every-day people living within repressive environments who wish to speak freely online.
Setting the stage
Through the Internet Freedom Fund, OTF strives to uphold and increase capacity for individuals, organizations, and companies who support technology-centered efforts that aim to strengthen internet freedom and promote human rights by circumventing repressive censorship and surveillance, improving related digital security capabilities, and contributing to the overall health of the internet.
Ideal Internet Freedom Fund applicants are:
- Open in nature and collaborative;
- From within communities affected by censorship or are co-designing and co-developing with them;
- Promoting a deeper understanding of internet freedom challenges and limitations;
- Solving a currently unaddressed challenge or preempting an emerging one; and/or
- Are actively maintaining technologies demanded and utilized by people on the front lines of the world’s most repressive environments.
Ideal applications for this fund are focused on:
- Creating new open source circumvention technologies that fill a current need of targeted users;
- Improving the security, usability, and adoptability of existing open source internet freedom technologies;
- Providing new or deeper insights into the challenges of front-line communities that ultimately contribute to the improvement of technological solutions;
- Projects that emphasize applied research;
- Research that focuses on real-time monitoring and analysis of both technical and political threats to internet freedom, including network interference and shutdowns;
- New content redistribution methods able to reintroduce content behind firewalls, or similar services;
- Making targeted communities more resilient to digital attacks via customized solutions;
- Creating new open source circumvention technologies that fill a current need of targeted users;
- Next-generation tools that move beyond traditional “cat-and-mouse” circumvention techniques;
Ideal applications adhere to the following:
- Candidates can apply for up to $900,000 and no less than $10,000 for a year long contract. Note, however, that OTF’s target support ceiling is $300,000, with most supported efforts receiving between $50,000 and $200,000. More information on OTF’s previous levels of support can be found in our Annual Reports.
- Preference is given to organizations and individuals without a history of prior support, and who have a deep understanding of the surveillance, censorship and security issues affecting communities from the Global South living in repressive environments.
- Strong priority goes to projects with the potential for immediate impact and long-term sustainability, and that make intellectual property publicly available via open licensing and open source code.
- OTF highly values projects that incorporate collaborative partnerships with other organizations and/or individuals within the internet freedom community or their respective area of focus.
Project and Budget Periods
OTF awards are generally 6 to 18 months in duration. From time to time, OTF may consider requests to extend existing contracts beyond previously agreed upon durations. Any such decision will be subject to availability of funds, satisfactory progress of the applicants, and a determination that continued funding would be in the best interest of program priorities.
When to Apply
Concept notes for the Internet Freedom Fund are accepted on a rolling basis. You can submit at any time throughout the year, with “round” deadlines every other month. Round deadlines occur on January 1, March 1, May 1, July 1, September 1, and November 1. Concept notes must be submitted no later than 23:59 (11:59PM) GMT on the date of the deadline in order to be considered as part of that round.
Concept Note Submission and Review: Once a round deadline has passed, we review and respond to all concept notes submitted during that round. This means we conduct six distinct review periods per year. So, for example, for the January 1 round, whether you submit your concept note on November 2 or December 31, all concept notes for that round are reviewed only after the deadline has passed. During the initial concept note review phase, we may reach out to ask some clarifying questions.
Concept Note Determination: Once we’ve had the chance to review your concept note and ask clarifying questions if needed, we’ll then contact you (along with all applicants for that round) via email and let you know whether your concept note has been invited to submit a proposal or declined. If we’re inviting you to submit a proposal, we’ll specify a date by which you’ll need to submit that. If we’ve declined your concept note, we’ll provide you with feedback on why your concept was not approved.
Proposal Invitation: If invited to proposal, you’ll have the chance to expand beyond the high-level overview you shared with us in your concept note. The biggest difference between your concept note and proposal will be the level of detail around your project’s planned activities and budget. Ideal applicants are specific and cost-conscious in these areas, while drilling down on details that will help make your big-picture idea come to life. You can expect us to contact you with follow-up questions or comments to solicit additional clarifying information; we do this for just about all of the projects we end up supporting. You can find additional proposal-specific guidance in greater detail here.
Advisory Council Review: OTF’s Advisory Councilis made up of a diverse array of subject matter experts who understand various relevant fields and issues as they relate to Internet freedom. In their capacity as Advisory Council members, they provide strategic guidance to OTF, including by reviewing proposals. They are subject matter experts who have a vested interest in OTF funding decisions and are uniquely positioned to bolster our project oversight capacity, expertise, perspective, and accountability. At least two reviews from Advisory Council members are required before a proposal can move forward.
Proposal Determination: Upon successful review by the OTF team and Advisory Council, we will inform you whether your proposal has been accepted or declined.
Legal Review: Approved proposals are reviewed by our executive, legal and financial departments. If you reach this stage, an OTF Program Manager will be assigned to work with you on completing this step.
Contract Issued: Once a contract has been approved, it will be issued to the applicant to sign and return. Note that each contract includes standard provisions for U.S. Government funded agreements. A sample contract can be viewed here.
Project Oversight: An OTF Program Manager will be assigned to assist you for the duration of your contract. All OTF-issued contracts provision for consistent and diligent oversight that go beyond the minimum accountability safeguards and requirements. Please note that payments are only made once OTF determines that contract deliverables have been satisfactorily completed.
Opportunity is About:
Candidates should be from:
Description of Ideal Candidate:
Ideal applicants are making use of, support, or develop open and accessible technologies promoting human rights and open societies, and help advance inclusive and safe access to global communications networks.
In addition, ideal applicants meet one or more of the following:
- Individuals of all ages irrespective of nationality, residency, creed, gender, or other factors, with the exception that OTF is not able to support applicants within countries that the United States has trade restrictions or export sanctions as determined by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC);
- Non-profit organization/non-government organization, including U.S.-based NGO, PIO, or foreign NGO;
- Non-profit university or research institution in any country;
- For-profit organization or business in any country;
- Consortia of multiple people or organizations with one individual or organization designated as the lead applicant;
- Have demonstrated experience administering successful projects, preferably targeting the requested program area, or similarly challenging program environments where OTF reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations;
- Ideal applicants should not duplicate or simply add to efforts supported by other USG funding programs;
- Ideal applicants must not reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization, whether or not elected members of government.
A Commitment to Diversity
OTF prioritizes projects coming from individuals or organizations who are new to the internet freedom community and are requesting less than $300,000 for efforts with a duration less than 12 months. This allows us to empower a new pool of technology and development talent that may not have been otherwise supported.
- Quality of project idea: Applications should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to the mission of promoting freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online.
- Ability to achieve objectives: A relevant work plan should demonstrate substantive undertakings and logistical capacity of the organization. The work plan should adhere to the overview and guidelines described above. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable and achievable. After this application, OTF will request a full proposal, where applicants will have to provide a monthly timeline of project activities.
- Cost effectiveness: Any overhead and administrative components included in the application should be kept as low as possible. All items should be necessary and appropriate. Cost sharing is strongly encouraged and is viewed favorably by OTF.
- Multiplier effect/sustainability: Applications should address how the expected results will contribute to improving internet freedom goals. Applications should address how the effort will be sustained in the long-term.
- Applicants’ record and capacity: OTF will consider the past performance of prior recipients and the demonstrated potential of new applicants. Proposed personnel and institutional resources should be adequate and appropriate to achieve the project’s objectives.
All concept notes and proposals are reviewed by the OTF team. Proposals are also reviewed by an independent Advisory Councilcomprised of global experts who are well-known free expression defenders, technologists, academics, and other types of experts who have a deep knowledge of the intersection between human rights and technology. Advisory Council members voluntarily review and provide feedback to the OTF team on all proposals accepted for OTF funding.
Monitoring & Evaluation
Successful applicants selected by OTF are paired with an OTF program manager who oversees all project monitoring and evaluation for the duration of the awarded contract lifecycle. Monitoring and evaluation assessments are largely based on predetermined and agreed upon metrics, deliverables, and goals as laid out by the applicant in the project proposal workplan.
As described above, because payment is dispersed at regular intervals upon completion of stated contractual goals, successful applicants can expect regular contact with their OTF project manager. Monitoring consists of compulsory monthly reports and also phone, email, or in-person discussions and consultations as needed.
Deadline: As soon as possible
Cost/funding for participants:
- OTF awards are performance-based contracts (see an example template here) signed directly with the applicant. Payment is issued on completion of stated objectives, activities, and deliverables per a schedule outlined in the contract. OTF reserves the right to award less or more than the funds requested as deemed in the best interest of OTF’s priorities.
- Applications that request more than the award ceiling of $900,000 or less than the award floor of $10,000 may be deemed technically ineligible. Note that OTF’s target support ceiling is $300,000, with most supported efforts receiving between $50,000 and $200,000.