The Internet Freedom Fund is OTF's primary way to support projects and people working on open and accessible technology-focused projects that promote human rights, Internet freedom, open societies.
OTF aims to support technologists and activists bring to life ideas that advance inclusive and safe access to global communications networks, counteract censorship and surveillance, and mitigate digital security threats to Internet freedom specifically for at-risk-users, journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists and others living in repressive environments. OTF prioritizes projects coming from individuals or organizations who are applying for the first time, identify as under-represented within the field, and address areas that are underfunded.
The Internet Freedom Fund accepts applications on a rolling basis and is done in a two-stage-process. Applications are submitted as concept notes, upon positive review, OTF invites the applicant to submit a full proposal. The projects and people we support all fall into one or more of the following areas: Technology Development, Applied Research, Digital Security Support, or Events.
Please visit our guidebook for additional information about our application process.
The video below guides you through the concept note step by step, explaining what we’re looking for under each question. We hope that this video, in combination with our revamped guidebook, will help guide you better through the process of applying for funding from OTF.
In this category we support the development of innovative Internet freedom technology, prototypes, and projects as well as core infrastructure projects that serve the Internet freedom and human rights communities. OTF seeks to support technology-focused interventions with clear human-centred benefits for Internet freedom.
Applications for this fund could include:
Creating new open source circumvention technologies
Improving the security, usability, and adaptability of existing open source Internet freedom technologies, as well as maintenance and upgrades
New content redistribution methods able to reintroduce content behind firewalls, or similar services;
Next-generation tools that move beyond traditional “cat-and-mouse” circumvention techniques;
Improving security standards, quality assurance, and best practices within core infrastructure projects;
Efforts that make existing projects more accessible and easier to contribute to (ex. documentation, tool migration, refactoring code, testing)
Applied research efforts supported through the Internet Freedom Fund should be applied - that is, with direct feedback, insight, or applicability to the technology development process. This research may include identifying how, why, or where censorship is happening, studying specific Internet freedom tools and ways to improve them, advancing knowledge around what types of content censors target, or assessing threats to Internet freedom in a specific geographic context.
Applications for this fund could include:
Research that focuses on real-time monitoring and analysis of both technical and political threats to Internet freedom, including network interference and shutdowns;
Research exploring new methods of circumvention that would improve the resiliency of widely utilized tools;
Efforts that increase the understanding and awareness of relevant actors in this space, their roles, and how they contribute to maintaining the Internet’s core ecosystem
User research that identifies Internet Freedom needs for people living under repressive surveillance and censorship, how current and future technologies and tools can help address those needs better, and research into how these tools can introduce usability and localization improvements within the context of the afore-mentioned people.
OTF supports efforts that meaningfully empower digital security practitioners to do their work. As a technology and community-focused funder, we believe that helping to build up the digital security ecosystem will ultimately help internet users to access and understand the tools and workflows that allow them to securely circumvent censorship and surveillance.
OTF aims to support the digital security ecosystem by meeting practitioners at various points in their journey. Applications for this fund could include:
Programs focused on technical upskilling new and existing practitioners, preferably working against a community-driven set of technical priorities
Research efforts looking to map digital threats that affect internet users and high-risk users living in countries with restrictive information controls
Programs focused on setting up or growing regional or local digital security help-desks
Programs focused on sharing threat intelligence information
Reviewers expect applications in this category to include a thoughtful consideration of existing and complementary efforts in your region and a clear explanation of how the proposed effort will lead to positive change in the digital security landscape.
Please be mindful that OTF does not directly support one-off training, training of trainers, or organizational capacity building as an effort’s primary outcome.
OTF provides funding that empowers Internet freedom communities to become stronger and vibrant by focusing on cultivating deeper trust relationships, improving knowledge share and collaboration, and supporting and diversifying the next generation of leaders. The efforts we support bring in new voices not well represented in current conversations and help create collaboration and intersectionality.
We believe that as the global network grows and diversifies to meet more complex challenges, the need to build a collective vision and strategy becomes even more important. We prioritize new projects that have not received funding in the past, as well as those being organized by the communities most affected by censorship and surveillance. OTF will only consider applications for events with a start date that is at least 90 - 120 days away from when the application has been submitted to ensure the completion of the review and compliance process. OTF will not consider applications for events that have already occurred.
Applications for this fund could include:
Targeted research and development gatherings designed to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing between projects in the areas of privacy, circumvention technology, and digital security;
Community organized events to identify needs, share resources, and gain new insights about censorship, surveillance and digital security issues.
OTF awards are performance-based contracts signed directly with the applicant. Payment is issued on completion of stated objectives, activities, and deliverable 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.
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 life-cycle. Monitoring and evaluation assessments are largely based on predetermined and agreed upon metrics, deliverable, and goals as laid out by the applicant in the project proposal work-plan.
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.
We have more information about our application process compiled in our guidebook:
OTF knows our applicants’ time is valuable so we aim to make our application process as transparent and straightforward as possible. In order to better reflect our respect for an applicant’s time and effort in submitting an application, we have detailed below common types of proposed projects that we are unable or very rarely support. If your project falls within one of these categories, we encourage you to explore our alternative sources of support resources to identify a more suitable funder.
Providing Internet Connectivity
OTF does not provide support for basic connectivity except in limited cases around politically instigated internet shutdowns. Numerous U.S. Government programs outside of OTF provide support for bringing Internet connectivity to areas that have never had it previously. The framework OTF operates within ensures a clear distinction exists to protect against overlapping mandates which is why we do not support projects of this nature.
Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D)
OTF does not provide support for projects focused on harnessing technology for the purpose of societal development. Numerous U.S. Government programs exist to support civic technology projects that use technology to solve societal challenges, such as improving government delivery of services, providing equitable access to technologies and improving digital literacy across society. The OTF program is focused on assisting those exposed to censorship or surveillance in repressive environments.
Legal Analysis and Policy Advocacy
OTF does not provide support for projects to improve the legal and policy landscape, outside of narrowly focused technical research to help inform these efforts. Numerous U.S. Government programs provide support for efforts to conduct legal analysis and improve advocacy for specific policies. The framework OTF operates within ensures a clear distinction exists to protect against overlapping mandates. In addition, these types of activities do not reflect the technology centric approach underlying the OTF program.
OTF’s Advisory Council is 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.
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