Core Infrastructure Fund

Supporting the development and maintenance of essential 'building block' Internet freedom technologies

The Core Infrastructure Fund (CIF) supports the development, maintenance, and improvement of fundamental, building block technologies upon which internet freedom-enhancing free and open source software tools depend, or which contribute to a more secure broader internet ecosystem. The technologies and/or processes supported through CIF should be relied upon by internet freedom tools which are in turn relied upon by users directly, and whose existing weaknesses or vulnerabilities are exploited by repressive actors to violate users’ privacy and security.

Key Questions

Beyond fitting within OTF’s remit and adhering to CIF’s purpose, there are a few fundamental questions we always ask ourselves while reviewing a CIF concept note. Some of the most important to keep in mind:

Is the proposed effort relevant to a foundational, far-reaching technology or process?

Just how ‘foundational’ is the proposed effort? In general, the further ‘upstream’ the technology or process in question is, the more likely it’s a good candidate for CIF support. For example, CIF has previously supported efforts aiming to further implement essential, security-enhancing efforts like the HTTPS encryption protocol and encrypting DNS traffic. The more widespread, adopted, and relevant to a multitude of platforms and tools, the better.

Does the proposed effort have relevance to users in repressive environments?

This gets back to adhering to OTF’s mission: will the proposed effort impact users living under conditions of repressive censorship? At its heart, the project should focus on improving conditions or tools relevant to those experiencing internet freedom violations.

Does the proposed effort benefit a crucial effort in need of additional support?

What is the need? Specifically, what community of contributors, staff, or organization(s) exists at present? What (potential) exploitations or vulnerabilities exist at present because the project is understaffed?

Is the proposed effort better suited for the Internet Freedom Fund?

If your idea doesn’t adhere to the criteria laid out here, but is otherwise focused on combating censorship or advancing internet freedom, it might be better suited for our Internet Freedom Fund. If you’ve reviewed the guidance for both the CIF and the IFF and still can’t decide which fund is best for your idea, contact us ([email protected]) and we’ll help you figure it out. Our Labs also offer different avenues of support, such as for security audits and pen testing (Red Team Lab) and computing and testing infrastructure or services (Engineering Lab).

Important Considerations

Ideal applicants seek funding for between $50,000 and $200,000 for efforts between 6 and 12 months.

Our target support ceiling is set at $300,000. However, candidates may apply for up to $900,000 and no less than $5,000 for up to 24 months.

Preference is given to organizations and individuals without a history of prior support, and who bring with them a deep understanding of the censorship, surveillance, and security issues affecting communities from the Global South living in repressive environments.

Keep in mind that the concept note is the first step in the process, and if your idea seems like a good fit, you’ll have the chance to expand upon it during the proposal stage.

When to Apply

Concept notes for the Core Infrastructure 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.

Review Process

  1. 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.

  2. 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 inform you 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Advisory Council Review: 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. 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.

  5. Proposal Determination: Upon successful review by the OTF team and Advisory Council, we will inform you whether your proposal has been accepted or declined.

  6. 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.

  7. Contract Issued: Once the 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.