USAID seeks applications for a cooperative agreement from qualified entities to implement the Greater Internet Freedom (GIF) program.
This funding opportunity is authorized under the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of 1961, as amended.
Since 2011, USAID has supported programming that advances Internet freedom in the countries where it works, including support to regional experts to build the online resilience, security, and digital hygiene of select partners working in civil society activism, human rights defense, and independent media. USAID supports civil society groups that advocate for transparent and accountable governance that protects citizens’ freedom of expression online.
In the years since USAID began its engagement on Internet freedom programming, it has seen citizen groups and independent media innovating in their use of the online space to advance their goals, achieving breakthroughs in enhancing civil society capacity and building a digital society, and advancing freedom of expression and association online.
The future of the Internet is now contested globally with competing models for governance of the Internet. These models include that advanced by the U.S. of an “open, interoperable, secure and reliable” internet and what Freedom House calls “Digital Authoritarianism,” a model of Internet governance promoted by Russia and China that enables governments to control their citizens through technology, inverting the concept of the internet as an engine of human liberation.
USAID will support programming to expand and diversify networks of local actors engaged in providing digital hygiene and digital security training, consultation, and awareness to civil society and media. USAID aims to increase the knowledge and skills of civil society and media so that they can mitigate risks to their data and communications; understand and have a voice in the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern the internet; adapt to new and emerging threats in the dynamically changing digital landscape; as well as meet the need for rapid response to cyber breaches in volatile environments to ensure continuity of operations.
Given differences in the experience of access and use of the internet among different parts of the population (such as women, LGBTI individuals, and persons with disabilities), USAID seeks programming that works towards a more inclusive vision of the internet that allows all groups the ability to exercise their human rights online.
- U.S. National Cyber Strategy: “Promote an Open, Interoperable, Reliable, and Secure Internet,” under Pillar IV priority actions to: protect and promote internet freedom; work with like-minded countries, industry, academia and civil society; promote a multistakeholder model of internet governance; and promote interoperable and reliable communications infrastructure and internet connectivity.
- U.S. Engagement Strategy for
International Cooperation in Cybersecurity: to “uphold an open and interoperable Internet where
human rights are protected and freely exercised and where cross-border
data flows are preserved by:
- Defending access to an open and interoperable Internet in multilateral and international fora where it is challenged;
- Leveraging the existing coalition of like-minded countries that Works to advance Internet freedom through diplomatic coordination;
- Supporting global Internet freedom programs that fund civil society organizations on technology development, digital safety training, policy advocacy, and applied research.”
- U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy: to support cybersecurity and Internet freedom in the face of Chinese efforts to create an alternative Internet infrastructure and export a closed, authoritarian system of political and social control enhanced by Internet technology.
- Journey to Self Reliance: USAID aspires to enable and support local or regional actors and resources to take charge of their own development and resilience in the face of digital threats. These threats have expanded over time from basic online vulnerabilities to more aggressive advanced surveillance technologies and closed digital infrastructures, and which will continue to dynamically change in the coming years.
- USAID’s Private Sector Engagement (PSE) Policy: calls for USAID to increase, deepen, and diversify its partnerships with the private sector to improve development outcomes and partner country self-reliance. To operationalize PSE, the strategy notes the important role of implementing partners, who can “build relationships with private-sector partners; conduct due diligence and bring in commercial partners that offer unique value; emphasize different forms of PSE, including non-financial collaboration; expand and pilot PSE.
- USAID Youth in Development Policy: prioritizes integrating and engaging young people in Agency programs. Throughout the world, youth are often at the forefront of the development and use of new digital technologies. USAID anticipates that youth therefore may be an important resource for GIF.
- USAID’s Digital Strategy: charts an Agency-wide vision for development and humanitarian assistance in the world’s rapidly evolving digital landscape. The Digital Strategy seeks to advance the growth of self-reliant countries through efficient, effective, and responsible digital initiatives that enhance national security and economic prosperity, consistent with American values of respect for individual rights, open and competitive markets, freedom of expression, and the promotion of democratic norms and practices.
The Activity seeks to increase capacity of civil society and independent media, in countries where USAID works (as specified in the Management Focus and Methodologies / Geographic Focus), on internet freedom issues relevant to country contexts. The Activity will link local actors to regional and global expertise and dialogues in the internet freedom community, broadening that community to include voices and concerns from local civil societies and to bring global expertise and best practices to the local level. USAID, through this activity, seeks to advance internet freedom in the countries where it works by ensuring that digital security capacities; data awareness; and activism on behalf of an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet are available, adaptive, and integrated into the operation of independent media and civil society.
The Activity’s two primary objectives are: improving the digital security practices of civil society, human rights defenders, and media; and increasing the long-term and wide-ranging engagement of civil society on issues of internet governance, with corresponding intermediate results, are as follows:
Greater Internet Freedom
- Enhanced Digital Security for
Civil Society and Media
- Increased Capacity
- Increased capacity of CSOs, media outlets, and individuals in both preventative and responsive digital security approaches
- Increased number of local digital security experts able to advance digital security capabilities of civil society and media organizations and individuals
- Increased Accessibility
- Increased adoption of digital security strategies by civil society and media, with an emphasis on vulnerable groups
- Increased accessibility of digital security approaches to nontechnical individuals
- Increased Capacity
- Increased Citizen Engagement in
- Expanded Internet Freedom
- Expanded internet freedom community that includes nontraditional partners at local, regional and global levels
- Multi-stakeholder networks are involved in internet governance
- Improved Enabling Environment
- Strengthened advocacy efforts to improve legal and regulatory environment
- Increased integration of internet freedom into national level advocacy efforts and public discussion
- Expanded Internet Freedom Community
- Enhanced Digital Security for
Civil Society and Media
- The focus of the digital security objective is on strengthening the capacity and capability of targeted local civil society, independent media, human rights defenders, marginalized populations, and activists at the individual, organizational, and community levels to operate effectively and safely online for the exercise of human rights; and bolster the resilience of these groups operating in the digital space, based on principles of trust and sustainability.
- Increased Citizen Engagement in
- The focus of this objective is to build on the trust and norms of the internet freedom community to include and amplify the voice and diversity of local and regional stakeholders at regional and country level forums. The Activity seeks to engage relevant stakeholders, such as civil society, policy advocates, technologists, academia, media, and the private sector, to address key human rights concerns in internet governance and advance the notion of the internet as open, secure, reliable, and interoperable. This objective strives to build the capacity of existing local communities advocating for human rights to advance their integration of digital rights into the overall human rights agenda and increase their ability to network with regional and global internet freedom stakeholders.
This activity should extensively leverage partnerships with other actors in the internet freedom space, and link them to country-based or regional-based partners and ensure that efforts are not duplicated; these partnerships should encompass:
- Coordination with other internet freedom efforts funded by the U.S. Government (including U.S. Department of State’s Department for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the Open Technology Fund, and the U.S. Agency for Global Media) as well as efforts supported by non-USG donors that are part of the Freedom Online Coalition18
- Coordination with other international or local actors working on deployment methodologies for individual and organizational digital security training
- Networks of global and regional advocates and legal expertise specializing in Internet freedom
- Regional or international convening events on internet freedom and human rights online
- Rorums or platforms for shared learning around best practices and responses to evolving threats to internet freedom. Information sharing and collective learning is critical for this activity as both a programmatic intervention and in monitoring, evaluation, and learning; and is also addressed in this RFA under the sections Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning.
- USAID intends to provide $15,500,000.00 in total USAID funding over a three (3) year period.
- Award Floor: $0
Flexibility and Adaptability
Flexible approaches that address new needs and emerging threats may include, but are not limited to:
- Introducing Internet freedom programming in countries where USAID has not previously engaged on this issue;
- Adapting existing internet freedom programming to address new threats to internet freedom in a dynamically changing landscape;
- Emergency response for country programs and missions that are experiencing attacks, potentially as part of a group of responding actors.
Management Focus and Methodologies / Geographic Focus
This activity is expected to be implemented worldwide in each of the continents where USAID works (Asia, Africa, Europe/Eurasia, Latin America and Carribean, and Middle East/North Africa), and USAID expects that implementation will occur in no fewer than 40 countries in any given year, and that the countries that the recipient will work in may vary from year-to-year over the life of the award.
Target countries for implementation will be selected in coordination with USAID/DRG and USAID Missions. The recipient should expect to coordinate and, as appropriate, collaborate with relevant current and new USAID civil society and media activities (including with local partners, as well as with INGO implementing partners) to embed relevant internet freedom capacities to existing DRG programming when appropriate.
- Eligibility for this NOFO is not restricted.
- U.S. and non-U.S. non-governmental organizations are eligible to apply.
- Public International Organizations (PIOs) may not apply for funding under this opportunity.
- USAID welcomes applications from organizations that have not previously received financial assistance from USAID.
- Master’s degree in social sciences, community development, media and communications, cybersecurity, business, international development, or other related field.
- Five (5) years of related work experience in managing donor-supported programming in social sciences, community development, media and communications, business, international development, or related fields, including experience in internet freedom programming in an international context.
- Demonstrated experience working with marginalized groups.
- English proficiency is required. Strong oral and written communication skills.
How to Apply
Both the Technical and Business (Cost) Applications must include a cover page containing the following information:
- Name of the organization(s) submitting the application;
- Identification and signature of the primary contact person (by name, title, organization, mailing address, telephone number and email address) and the identification of an alternate contact person, if any (by name, title, organization, mailing address, telephone number and email address);
- Program name
- Notice of Funding Opportunity number
- Name of any proposed sub-recipients or partnerships (identify if any of the organizations are local organizations, per USAID’s definition of ‘local entity’ under ADS 303).
Applications must be submitted electronically by email at the address given on the website.
For more information, visit Internet Freedom Program.