Deadline: 9 November, 2018.

A. Project Description

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) announces an open competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for long-term, core support for proven anti-censorship technologies. In support of the U.S. government’s policy to “promote an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet that fosters efficiency, innovation, communication, and economic prosperity, while respecting privacy and guarding against disruption, fraud, and theft,” as described in E.O. 13800, DRL supports efforts to enable civil society actors to safely achieve access to the uncensored Internet through support for anti-censorship technologies. DRL invites organizations interested in potential funding to submit proposals outlining program concepts that reflect this goal.

Priority Regions:

Global, with a focus on Internet repressive environments.

Project Objectives:

Online censorship has increased dramatically over the last five years. According to Freedom House’s annual Freedom on the Net report, more than two-thirds the world’s Internet users live in a country where the Internet is censored or restricted.[1] As a result, many human rights defenders, civil society actors, and at-risk and vulnerable populations have come to rely on anti-censorship technologies to access the global Internet. These tools have become essential resources for individuals living in repressive environments to exercise their human rights online and access information, associate, and communicate freely.

In order to ensure that civil society actors and at-risk and vulnerable populations continue to have access to these critical resources, DRL is seeking proposals for multi-year, core support for proven anti-censorship technologies that can be expanded to serve a larger and more diverse user base. Programs should provide civil society actors and at-risk and vulnerable populations around the world with long-term, reliable, uncensored access to the global Internet.

The anti-censorship tool(s) should have the following attributes/capabilities:

  • Proven track record of successfully circumventing online censorship in highly Internet-restricted environments, and of responding rapidly and effectively to censorship events;
  • Capacity to support hundreds of thousands of simultaneous user sessions on an ongoing basis for the period of the grant;
  • Significant existing global user-base;
  • Independently verifiable user metrics, including unique monthly users per country, made available to DRL;
  • Open-sourced components wherever viable;
  • Use of modular community-developed transport libraries, and a record of contributing improvements back to those libraries;
  • A comprehensive external security audit, with results made available to DRL;
  • Client support for major desktop and mobile platforms;
  • A design and deployment model that meets the unique needs of civil society and marginalized populations ;
  • Versions and/or language support for most or all countries that employ censorship apparatus such as a “firewall”;
  • A demonstrated focus and attentiveness to usability for a diverse global user base.

Applicants should also address how this technology is distinct from and/or expands upon other existing anti-censorship tools.

Key Program Considerations:

This list of considerations is provided as a guide to help applicants develop responsive, robust program strategies.

  • Preference will be given to open source technologies with practical deployment and sustainability plans. These technologies are inherently more transparent and re-usable. At the same time, DRL recognizes that anti-censorship tools may at times rely on non-publicly disclosed information or code for a small portion of their system.
  • 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 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 proposal, but the primary organization that is developing and deploying the anti-censorship technology must be the lead (“prime”) applicant.
  • DRL strives to ensure its programs advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most at-risk and vulnerable populations.

Projects should aim to have impact that leads to democratic reforms, and should have the potential for sustainability beyond DRL resources. DRL’s preference is to avoid duplicating past efforts by supporting new and creative approaches. This does not exclude from consideration projects that improve upon or expand existing successful projects in a new and complementary way.

To maximize the impact and sustainability of the award(s) that result(s) from this NOFO, DRL reserves the right to execute a non-competitive continuation amendment(s). Any non-competitive continuation is contingent on performance and availability of funds. A non-competitive continuation is not guaranteed; the Department of State reserves the right to exercise or not exercise the option to issue non-competitive continuation amendment(s).

DRL may ask successful applicant(s) to incorporate coordination of an implementer and stakeholder meeting into the Scope of Work of the final project. DRL will discuss this possibility with particular applicant(s) during the proposal negotiation phase.


B. Federal Award Information

DRL anticipates having approximately $7,000,000 of FY 2018 Democracy Fund/Human Rights Democracy Fund (DF/HRDF) funds available to support approximately two to three successful applications submitted in response to this NOFO, subject to the availability of funding. Primary organizations can submit one application in response to the NOFO.

Applicants should not request less than $500,000 and no more than $3,000,000. Applicants should include a period of performance between two and four years.

The U.S. government may (a) reject any or all applications, (b) accept other than the lowest cost application, (c) accept more than one application, and (d) waive informalities and minor irregularities in applications received.

The U.S. government may make award(s) on the basis of initial applications received, without discussions or negotiations. Therefore, each initial application should contain the applicant’s best terms from a cost and technical standpoint. The U.S. government reserves the right (though it is not under obligation to do so), however, to enter into discussions with one or more applicants in order to obtain clarifications, additional detail, or to suggest refinements in the project description, budget, or other aspects of an application.

DRL anticipates awarding either a grant or cooperative agreement depending on the needs and risk factors of the program. The final determination on mechanism will be made by the Grants Officer. The distinction between grants and cooperative agreements revolves around the existence of “substantial involvement.” Cooperative agreements require greater Federal government participation in the project. If a cooperative agreement is awarded, DRL will undertake reasonable and programmatically necessary substantial involvement. Examples of substantial involvement can include, but are not limited to:

1) Active participation or collaboration with the recipient in the implementation of the award.

2) Review and approval of one stage of work before another can begin.

3) Review and approval of substantive provisions of proposed subawards or contracts.

4) Approval of the recipient’s budget or plan of work prior to the award.

The authority for this funding opportunity is found in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (FAA).


C. Eligibility Information

DRL welcomes applications from U.S.-based and foreign-based non-profit organizations/nongovernment organizations (NGO) and public international organizations; private, public, or state institutions of higher education; and for-profit organizations or businesses. DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be some occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited.

Applications submitted by for-profit entities may be subject to additional review following the panel selection process. Additionally, the Department of State generally prohibits profit to for-profit or commercial organizations under its assistance awards. Profit is defined as any amount in excess of allowable direct and indirect costs. The allowability of costs incurred by commercial organizations is determined in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) at 48 CFR 30, Cost Accounting Standards Administration, and 48 CFR 31 Contract Cost Principles and Procedures.

Deadline for application is 9 November, 2018.

For more information and to apply, click here.

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