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Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest: Internet Freedom Programs


April 3, 2013

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Note: The deadline for this Request for Proposals has passed.

Department of State

Public Notice

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest: Internet Freedom Programs

SUMMARY

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) announces a Request for Statements of Interest (SOI) from organizations interested in submitting proposals for projects that support Internet freedom under the “Governing Justly and Democratically” Foreign Assistance program objective. This solicitation does not constitute a formal Request for Proposals: DRL will invite select organizations that submit SOIs to expand on their ideas via full proposal at a later date.

PLEASE NOTE: DRL strongly urges applicants to register with www.grantsolutions.gov 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 http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.

REQUESTED STATEMENT OF INTEREST PROGRAM OBJECTIVES

Background:

In past years, U.S. government-funded Internet freedom programs have contributed to a broad range of activities promoting the exercise of human rights online. Grantees have developed and deployed anti-censorship and secure communications technologies in countries where Internet use is heavily filtered and monitored; conducted digital safety trainings, ranging from tailored sessions for activists, bloggers, and journalists engaged in high-risk activities, to broad awareness and education campaigns reaching many thousands of Internet users; and advanced research and understanding of the nature of threats to Internet freedom around the world, and ways to respond to such threats.

Despite these efforts, the technologies and practices that support Internet repression, monitoring, and control continue to spread. The need to advance Internet freedom remains great. In addition to continued work on fundamental technologies of anti-censorship and secure communications, detailed and basic training offerings, and real-time monitoring and analysis of Internet threats, new needs have arisen that call for new technologies and new programmatic approaches.

This solicitation is focused on aspects of Internet freedom programming which are not related to technology development. Statements of Interest related to the development of technology will not be accepted through this call, but will be through a separate solicitation. Please refer to our Annual Program Statement at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm for more information.

Priority Regions and Countries:

Applications focused globally, or focused on any region or country will be considered.

Internet Freedom Strategic Goals:

To advance greater Internet freedom strategy, statements of interest should clearly address one or both of the following:

a) Support for the free flow of information and for individuals, particularly digital activists and members of civil society organizations, in exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, in acutely hostile Internet environments, or

b) Support for the ecosystem of Internet freedom activities by providing advocacy, evaluation, research, incubation, or auditing services that aid efforts to enhance Internet freedom technology, training, policy and diplomacy.

Internet Freedom Funding Themes:

Statements of interest should address one or more of the following potential program themes which support digital activists or ongoing evaluation and research to enhance global Internet freedom policy and diplomacy:

  • Policy and Advocacy efforts should aim to mitigate negative trends toward Internet repression through policy and advocacy projects to promote Internet freedom as a part of the human rights agenda in the 21st century. Projects should focus on countries or regions where governments or third parties have taken actions that hold the potential of creating acutely hostile Internet environments, and where policy and advocacy interventions have the potential to deliver significant positive impact. Projects should focus on sustainable capacity-building with local civil society and coordination with business communities.
  • Research and Evaluation should emphasize novel, practical research that can deliver, or contribute to activities that deliver, positive benefits for the state of Internet freedom. Research should be focused on dynamic technological and political contexts for Internet freedom in countries around the world. Work may include, but need not be limited to: the effectiveness of anti-censorship and secure communications technologies in the face of threats to Internet freedom; efforts to propagate technologies that promote freedom of expression and those that implement Internet restrictions; the impact of digital safety trainings and policy and advocacy efforts; and/or the effectiveness of U.S. Government-funded Internet freedom programs at responding to, and evolving with, these contexts.
  • Digital Safety should center on delivery of information, training, and support that contributes to greater digital safety for users in Internet repressive societies. Programs may include efforts such as: targeted assistance for high-risk activists through trainings, mentorship, and guided practice approaches; efforts to develop and support a global network of digital security trainers; and/or support for broad, public health style campaigns to raise general awareness of digital threats and encourage basic principles and practices of “digital hygiene,” including increasing the availability of tools to secure communications more effectively. Digital safety activities may also encompass information dissemination and assistance activities in response to sudden challenges to Internet freedom. Emergency support efforts may be global or regional in scope, and should include the ability to make comprehensive interventions in response to particular cases wherever they arise.

Activities that are typically given serious consideration for funding include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Civil society capacity building programs targeted to train non-U.S. based organizations on Internet freedom advocacy, contextually designed in response to individual national or regional political and technological environments;
  • Targeted, contextually relevant digital safety training programs focused on a specific group of Internet users at risk, or broader, “public health” style awareness raising programs geared to a specific but general regional audience; and
  • Research efforts designed to study specific legal, technical, political, or social issues that expand Internet freedom awareness and understanding in tangible and original ways, and have a concrete, defined base of Internet freedom users, implementers, and/or policymakers who would benefit from the specific output of the research.

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

  • Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or without clear evidence of the ability of the applicant to achieve the stated impact;
  • Study tours, scholarships or exchange projects;
  • Projects that focus on expansion of Internet infrastructure, commercial law or economic development;
  • Purely theoretical exploration of technology and/or security issues; and
  • Advocacy or research efforts not sufficiently connected to real-world impact of improving Internet freedom environments in any country or region.

TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS FOR STATEMENTS OF INTEREST

An organization may submit no more than two (2) SOIs of 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) Brief description of the organization, including 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 positive, 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 clearly link to project objectives and include target benchmarks. Please include the program area(s) and element(s) to be addressed. For more information on program design, please see DRL’s Monitoring and Evaluation Primer (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/138430.pdf).

4) Brief statement on the methodology to be used in the project evaluation.

5) An estimated total budget figure. The budget should include intended: 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 (http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/nov_2012/index.htm). 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.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Funding Instrument Type: Grant or Cooperative Agreement

Estimated Total Program Funding: $7,000,000

Estimated Floor of Individual Award Amounts: $500,000

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

We anticipate that approximately $7 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.

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.

APPLICANT/ORGANIZATION CRITERIA

Organizations submitting SOIs must meet the following criteria:

* Be a non-profit organization, including a U.S.-based NGO, PIO, or foreign NGO; or

* Be a non-profit university or research institution; or

* Be a for-profit organization, although there are restrictions on payment of fees and/or profits to the prime recipient under grants and cooperative agreements; 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.

REVIEW 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. A State Department Review Committee will then evaluate proposals submitted under this request. Standard review criteria include:

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 and honoraria, 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) Program Monitoring and Evaluation

Programs should demonstrate the capacity for engaging in impact assessments and providing objectives with measurable outputs and outcomes. Projects that propose an external evaluation with a clear plan will be viewed favorably in this category.

5) 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.

6) 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 consideration for other State Department or USAID 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.

DEADLINE AND SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS

Applicants must submit SOIs using either www.grantsolutions.gov or www.grants.gov by 11:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on May 20, 2013. 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 www.grantsolutions.gov. Organizations using GrantSolutions for the first time should register on the www.grantsolutions.gov site to create a new Applicant account as soon as possible; 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 www.grantsolutions.gov is not able to access the system, please contact Customer Support for help in gaining access.

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 proposals will appear on www.grantsolutions.gov, www.grants.gov and DRL’s website, www.state.gov/j/drl.

CONTACT INFORMATION

GrantSolutions.gov Help Desk:

For assistance with www.grantsolutions.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please contact Customer Support at help@grantsolutions.gov 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.

Grants.gov Helpdesk:

For assistance with Grants.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please call the Contact Center at 1-800-518-4726 or email support@grants.gov. The Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except federal holidays.

See http://www.opm.gov/Operating_Status_Schedules/fedhol/2013.asp for a list of federal holidays.

For programmatic questions related to SOI submissions please contact DRLProgramInfo@state.gov.

Once the SOI deadline has passed, U.S. Government officials – including those in the Bureaus, the Department, and at embassies/missions overseas – are not permitted to discuss this competition with applicants until the entire proposal review process is completed.



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