Sunday, November 30, 2014

Venture capital approach to Internet freedom

Internet freedom
State Department contractors have until Dec. 5 to apply for grants for Internet freedom programs aimed at any region or country, including Cuba.
The State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor will choose the winners. Projects should be designed for "long-term sustainability," fitting with what the bureau describes as its "venture-capital style approach to Internet freedom."
Individual grants will range from $500,000 to $2.5 million. Some $18 million is up for grabs.
Details are below:



Funding Opportunity Title: DRL Internet freedom Annual Program Statement
Funding Opportunity Number: DRLA-DRLAQM-13-099
CFDA Number: 19.345
Federal Agency Contact: Global Programs Office: Internet Freedom

I. Funding Opportunity Description

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) announces the availability of funding for programs that support Internet freedom. DRL’s goal is to promote fundamental freedoms, human rights, and the free flow of information online through integrated support for anti-censorship and secure communications technology, advocacy, digital safety, and research. DRL invites organizations interested in potential funding to submit statements of interest (SOI) outlining program concepts that reflect this goal.

This announcement does not constitute a formal Request for Proposals: DRL will invite select organizations that submit SOIs to expand on their ideas via full proposal separately. Please follow all instructions below.

PLEASE NOTE: DRL strongly urges applicants to register with well in advance of submitting a SOI. For more information on registering, please see DRL’s Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI), as updated in November 2012, available at

Priority Regions and Countries:
SOIs focused globally, or focused on any region or country will be considered. SOIs regarding technology development should have clear country or regional use-cases or plans for deployment. SOIs focused on digital safety, advocacy, and research should also have country, region or population specific goals and priorities that are informed by clear field knowledge and expertise.

Key Program Considerations
For full list, please see Section V, which outlines the full “Review and Selection Process.”

• Consistent with DRL’s venture-capital style approach to Internet freedom, projects should have a model for long-term sustainability beyond the life of the grant.
• DRL strives to ensure its programs advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most at risk and vulnerable or at-risk populations. At-risk populations may include women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, religious and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities. To the extent possible, organizations should identify and address considerations to support these populations.
• DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships, especially with local organization(s) in target countries and/or regions, where applicable. Where appropriate, applicants are invited to form consortia for submitting a combined SOI, in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant.
• For technology development proposals, preference will be given to open source technologies with practical deployment and sustainability plans

Areas of Focus for 2014:
For 2014 DRL has identified areas of focus within some of the funding themes outlined below. SOIs do not need to fit into one of these areas to be considered. They are provided solely to indicate a subset of areas of interest that will be considered.

Internet Freedom Funding Themes
Statements of interest must address one or more of the following program themes:

1) Technology Expanding Open and Uncensored Access to Information and Communications: Development and support of web and mobile anti-censorship technologies that expand open access to information and communications. Projects may include but are not limited to:

• Development of new technologies for defeating censorship, for maintaining availability of information, and for alternative network infrastructures.
• Improvements to proven technologies including deployment, expansion, adaptation, and/or localization of proven anti-censorship technologies; and improvement of usability and user interfaces to enable broader populations of users to adopt anti-censorship tools.
• Content redistribution that uses new methods to reintroduce content behind firewalls or similar services.

Areas of Focus for 2014:
a) Improved usability for Internet freedom tools
b) Security auditing for DRL-funded programs
c) Scalable and sustainable next-generation anti-censorship technologies that move beyond traditional “cat-and-mouse” techniques

2) Secure Communication Technology: Development and support of web and mobile technologies that enhance the privacy and security of digital communications. Projects may include but are not limited to:

• Development of new technologies for secure communications, privacy protection, or anonymization; hardened software and secure operating systems that are less susceptible to intrusion or infection; and secure online services, such as email and website hosting with robust defenses against hacking and other attacks.
• Improvements to proven technologies including the deployment, expansion, adaptation, and/or localization of proven security tools; and improvement of usability and user interfaces to enable broader populations of users to adopt secure communications tools.
• Re-usable libraries or platforms that provide the underlying software that may be used by communication and access tools. This includes tools to disguise encrypted communications as ordinary traffic without compromising security.

Areas of Focus for 2014:
a) Usability and security audits for secure communication tools
b) Platform-level technologies that have the potential to scale because they enhance security for many other tools
c) Resistance against state-sponsored malware or DDoS attacks

3) Digital Safety: Delivery of support, training and information that contributes to greater digital safety for users in Internet repressive societies and/or at-risk populations. Projects may include but are not limited to:

• Digital safety skills development for high-risk activists through trainings, local mentorship, leadership development, peer learning and guided practice approaches.
• Emergency support for urgent cases and special needs of targeted individuals or groups.
• Resource development and information dissemination to targeted communities to raise awareness of digital threats, encourage best practices and respond to sudden challenges to Internet freedom.

Areas of Focus for 2014:
a) Focus on at-risk populations that have less access to traditional power structures.
b) Programs that foster enhanced coordination and partnerships with tool developers to improve feedback and structural changes to tools to make them more broadly accessible and usable.
c) Coordination with other digital security professionals and trainers in region/country.

4) Policy and Advocacy: National, regional, and/or international policy and advocacy efforts that aim to mitigate negative trends toward Internet repression and to promote Internet freedom at a structural level. Projects may include but are not limited to:

• Civil society capacity building programs targeted to non-U.S. based organizations focused on Internet freedom advocacy.
• Broad-based coalition building to expand networks, increase awareness, and support policies that protect and promote Internet freedom.
• Enhanced coordination with business communities and other national, regional or international Internet freedom advocacy stakeholders.

5) Research and Evaluation: Efforts should emphasize applied research that can inform and benefit Internet freedom efforts globally. Research should address technological and political developments affecting Internet freedom. Projects may include but are not limited to:

• Real-time monitoring and analysis of both technical and policy threats to internet freedom, including network interference and disruptions.
• Targeted research to ensure that global stakeholders are better informed about key threats to and opportunities for Internet freedom.
• Evaluations to assess the effectiveness of Internet freedom efforts, including the use, security and/or effectiveness of digital security tools, the impact of digital safety trainings, or policy advocacy efforts.

Activities that are not typically funded include, but are not limited to:

• Academic research with no immediate application; theoretical exploration of technology and/or security issues;
• Purchases of bulk hardware or bulk licenses for commercial encryption or technology products;
• Technology and tools that dictate or suggest specific content.
• Technology development without a clear use case in an Internet repressive environment, or without a clear threat model and understanding of adversarial efforts;
• Study tours, scholarships or exchange projects;
• Projects that focus on expansion of Internet infrastructure, commercial law or economic development;
• Projects not sufficiently connected to real-world impact of improving Internet freedom environments in any country or region.
• Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or without clear evidence of the ability of the applicant to achieve the stated impact;

Background Information on general DRL funding:
DRL supports programs that uphold democratic principles, support and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, and build civil society around the world. Funds are available to support projects that have the potential to have an immediate impact leading to long-term sustainable reforms. Projects should have potential for continued funding beyond DRL resources. Projects must not duplicate or simply add to efforts by other entities.

DRL will not consider projects that reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization, whether or not elected members of government. Organizations that are invited to submit proposals and subsequently approved for an award may be required to submit additional information on the organization and key individuals for vetting. In such cases, issuance of an award is contingent on the timely receipt of the information requested and the successful completion of the vetting process.

II. Award Information

Funding Instrument Type: Grant or Cooperative Agreement

Estimated Total Program Funding: $18,000,000

Estimated Floor of Individual Award Amounts: $500,000

Estimated Ceiling of Individual Award Amounts: $2,500,000

We anticipate that approximately $18 million in Internet freedom funds will be available for use in this solicitation. Additional country and regional resources may be available to support Internet freedom efforts. DRL reserves the right to award less or more than the funds described, including estimated individual award floor and ceiling amounts, under such circumstances as it may deem to be in the best interest of the U.S. government. In practice, awards in excess of $1,500,000 are uncommon. SOIs that request more than the award ceiling or less than the award floor may be deemed technically ineligible.

Project and Budget Periods:
DRL grants generally must be completed in one to three years. DRL may consider applications for continuation for current grants beyond the initial project period on a noncompetitive basis. 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 the Department of State.

III. Eligibility Information:

Organizations submitting SOIs must meet the following criteria:
• Be a non-profit organization/non-government organization, including U.S.-based NGO, PIO, or foreign NGO; or
• Be a non-profit university or research institution; or
• Be a for-profit organization or business, although there are restrictions on payment of fees and/or profits to the prime recipient under grants and cooperative agreements – including those outlined in 48 CFR Part 30 (“Cost Accounting Standards”), 48 CFR Part 31 (“Cost Principles”), and 22 CFR 145.24(b)(3) (“Program Income”); and
• Have demonstrated experience administering successful projects, preferably targeting the requested program area, or similarly challenging program environments. DRL reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations that do not have previous experience administering federal grant awards. These applicants may be subject to limited funding on a pilot basis; and
• Have existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with organization(s) in target countries and/or regions, where applicable.
• Organizations are invited to form consortia and to submit a combined SOI. One organization should be designated as the lead applicant.

IV. Application Requirements, Submission and Deadlines

An organization may submit no more than two (2) SOIs per submission deadline of no more than three (3) pages each. SOIs that do not meet the requirements of the announcement may not be considered.

For all application documents, please ensure:
• Standard form 424 is completed in the online application
• All pages are numbered
• All documents are formatted to 8 ½ x 11 paper, and
• All documents are single-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, with a minimum of 1-inch margins
• Documents may be submitted in either Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF formats

SOIs must include:
1) Organizational Background, including a brief description of the organization, the organization’s mission statement and previous work in the area of Internet freedom, particularly in acutely hostile Internet environments. Due to page limitations, a general organizational history is not recommended. Information should clearly demonstrate an institution’s record and capacity and may include previous grant management experience, whether funded through private or United States Government resources.
2) Description of how the project is innovative, sustainable, generates lasting impact, and does not duplicate current efforts. See “Additional Information” below.
3) Project description, including estimated project duration and objectives. Outputs and outcomes should also be provided. Outputs and outcomes should link to project objectives and include overall target benchmarks. For more information on program design, please see DRL’s Monitoring and Evaluation Primer (
4) An estimated total budget figure. The total budget figure should incorporate estimates for: Primarily Headquarters-Based Costs, Primarily Field-Based Costs, Indirect Costs, and Cost-Share. For more information on DRL budget standards, please see DRL’s Proposal Submission Instructions “Budget Guidelines” section ( ). Please note that while a detailed budget is not requested at this time, organizations invited to submit full proposals must not exceed the estimated SOI budget figure unless advised otherwise.

Submission deadlines: SOI submissions will be reviewed on at least a semi-annual basis according to the following deadlines:

July 1, 2014
December 5, 2014

SOIs must be submitted no later than 5:00 pm (17:00) GMT-5 on the above dates.

Applicants must submit SOIs using either or DRL will not accept proposals submitted via Fax, the U.S. postal system, FedEx, UPS and similar delivery companies, or courier.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to submit applications via rather than Organizations using GrantSolutions for the first time should register on the site to create a new applicant account well in advance of the submission deadline; as this process must be completed before an application can be submitted. To register with GrantSolutions, follow the “First Time Applicants” link and complete the “GrantSolutions New Applicant Sign Up” application form. Organizations that have previously used GrantSolutions do not need to register again. If an organization that has previously used is not able to access the system, please contact Customer Support for help in gaining access.

Organizations that are invited to submit a full proposal for Federal grants will need to obtain a DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number and register with the Central Contractor Registry (CCR) at Click “create user account” and sign up for an “individual account.” For help with, please call the Federal Service Desk at 866-606-8220. DRL strongly urges applicants to begin this process well in advance of the submission deadline.

V. Review and Selection Process

DRL will review all SOIs for eligibility. Eligible proposals will be subject to compliance of Federal and Bureau regulations and guidelines and may also be reviewed by the Office of the Legal Adviser or by other Department offices. Final technical authority for assistance awards resides with offices such as the Department’s Office of Acquisition Management.

DRL will solicit for full proposals based on an evaluation of how the SOI meets the solicitation review criteria, U.S. foreign policy objectives, and the priority needs of DRL. The State Department will host a U.S. government interagency review panel which may include key outside experts subject to nondisclosure agreements. The Panel will evaluate proposals submitted under this request via the standard criteria below:
1) Quality of Program Idea: Proposals should be responsive to the solicitation and exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to the mission of promoting freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online.
2) Program Planning/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 program overview and guidelines described above. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable and achievable. For complete proposals, applicants will have to provide a monthly timeline of project activities.
3) Cost Effectiveness: The overhead and administrative components of the proposal, including salaries, should be kept as low as possible. All other items should be necessary and appropriate. Given that the majority of DRL-funded programs take place overseas, U.S.-based costs should be kept to a minimum. Cost sharing is strongly encouraged and is viewed favorably by DRL reviewers.
4) Multiplier Effect/Sustainability: Proposed programs should address how the expected results will contribute to improving Internet freedom goals and how they will multiply existing efforts. Proposed programs should address how results achieved within the proposed grant period will contribute to long-term institution building , for example, sustainability via garnering other donor support, or demonstrating capacity-building results.
5) Institution’s Record and Capacity: The Bureaus will consider the past performance of prior recipients and the demonstrated potential of new applicants. Proposals should demonstrate an institutional record of successful programs, including responsible fiscal management and full compliance with all reporting requirements for past grants. Proposed personnel and institutional resources should be adequate and appropriate to achieve the project's objectives.

Unless directed otherwise by the applicant, DRL may refer SOIs for possible consideration in other U.S. government related funding opportunities. DRL will only share SOIs for the purpose of consideration for funding and will not share SOIs with anyone outside of the State Department or USAID without the applicant’s permission.

VI. Award Administration

Award Notices: The grant award or cooperative agreement shall be written, signed, awarded, and administered by the Grants Officer. The Grants Officer is the U.S. government official delegated the authority by the U.S. Department of State Procurement Executive to write, award, and administer grants and cooperative agreements. The Notice of Grant Agreement (NGA) is the authorizing document and it will be provided to the recipient. Organizations whose applications will not be funded will also be notified in writing.

Reporting Requirements: All awards issued under this announcement will require both program and financial reports on a frequency specified in the Notice of Grant Agreement. The disbursement of funds may be tied to submission of these reports in a timely manner. All other details related to award administration will be specified the Notice of Grant Agreement as well.

Additional Information: The information contained in this solicitation is final and may not be modified by any DRL representative. Explanatory information provided by DRL that may alter or contradict this information has no effect on the information and requirements of this solicitation. Issuance of the solicitation does not constitute an award commitment on the part of the Government. DRL reserves the right to reduce, revise, or increase proposal budgets in accordance with the needs of the program evaluation requirements.

This request for Statements of Interest will appear on, and DRL’s website,

VII. Other Resources and Contact information

For more information about DRL grants process, monitoring and evaluation, information on generally how to apply, and updates on other DRL solicitations, please see:

System for Award Management (SAM) for DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) numbers information, Central Contractor Registry (CCR) and Excluded Parties Lists:

Contact information: Help Desk: For assistance with accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please contact Customer Support at or call 1-866-577-0771 (toll charges for international callers) or 1-202-401-5282. Customer Support is available 8 AM – 6 PM EST, Monday – Friday, except federal holidays. Helpdesk: For assistance with accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please call the Contact Center at 1-800-518-4726 or email The Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except federal holidays.
See for a list of federal holidays.
For programmatic questions related to SOI submissions please contact

After SOIs have been submitted, U.S. Government officials – including those in the Bureaus, the Department, and at embassies/missions overseas – are not permitted to give advice on individual submissions directly related to this funding competition.

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