Internet Freedom Fund

OTF's flagship funding mechanism

The Internet Freedom Fund (IFF) is OTF’s primary way to support projects advancing Internet freedom for users in repressive environments. Through the Internet Freedom Fund, we support development, research, and implementation projects creating or promoting the use of tools that allow users - including journalists, human rights defenders, activists, and regular people - to circumvent Internet censorship, communicate safely, or otherwise access Information that is blocked. Applied research efforts supported through the IFF may track how, why, or where censorship is happening, study specific Internet freedom tools and ways to improve them, advance understanding around what types of content censors target, or concentrate on assessing threats to Internet freedom in a specific geographic context.

Key Questions

Beyond determining whether a proposed effort fits within our remit, there are a few questions we always ask ourselves when reviewing an Internet Freedom Fund concept note. These are some of the most important:

Does the proposed effort fit within OTF’s remit?

This is the first and last question we ask; review our mission and focus areas for more information about OTF’s remit.

Does the proposed effort solve an existing problem (or pre-empt a rising problem)?

What is the real world applicability of the proposed effort? Projects supported by OTF should not be overly theoretical in nature. If the proposed effort stands to directly benefit a specific user group, tell us about them, and why existing solutions (if they exist) have failed. A clearly stated problem statement is beneficial.

Is the proposed effort cost effective?

Due to rising demand, we are forced to turn away hundreds of applicants each year, many of whom present ideas which hold promise or potential. In an ideal world we’d support many more, but with demand far outstripping our budget, competition for OTF funding has grown increasingly competitive. Therefore, projects that aim to achieve cost-effective, collaborative solutions are most welcome, with any overhead or administrative components either eliminated or kept as low as possible. All line items should be necessary, appropriate, and directly relevant to the proposed effort. Whenever possible, cost sharing is strongly encouraged and is viewed favorably by OTF.

Is the proposed effort sustainable?

Will the project survive beyond the life of OTF’s support? Applicants should address the long-term sustainability of their proposed effort.

Does the project exist in a vacuum or with an ecosystem in mind?

Ideal projects bring with them a community-based, collaborative approach from the ground up, incorporating partners and outreach from an early stage. Awareness of similar or complementary efforts is also important. If your tool fills a gap where existing solutions fail, tell us about that. If you’ve worked on other projects in the net freedom community, we’d love to know that too.

Is the proposed effort novel while still grounded in reality?

The best ideas are novel and ambitious while maintaining a realistic game plan. We want to know the dream end state, but need to see the road map showing how you plan to get there.

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 $10,000 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 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.

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 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.

  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 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.

  8. 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.