Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest
Title: DRL FY18/19 Cuba RSOI
Funding Opportunity Number: SFOP0005583
Due Date: 11:30 PM ET on Friday, March 22, 2019

I. Requested Objectives for Statements of Interest

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces a Request for Statements of Interest (RSOI) from organizations interested in submitting Statements of Interest (SOI) for programs that support the policy objective to foster civil, political, religious, and labor rights in Cuba.

PLEASE NOTE: DRL strongly encourages applicants to immediately access SAMS Domestic or www.grants.gov in order to obtain a username and password. For instructions on how to register with SAMS Domestic for the first time, please refer to the Proposal Submission Instructions for Statements of Interest at: https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/open-solicitations-and-proposal-submission-instructions/open-solicitations-and-proposal-submission-instructions/proposal-submission-instructions-psi-for-statements-of-interest-updated-september-2018/.

The submission of a SOI is the first step in a two-part process. Applicants must first submit a SOI, which is a concise, 3-page concept note designed to clearly communicate a program idea and its objectives before the development of a full proposal application. The purpose of the SOI process is to allow applicants the opportunity to submit program ideas for DRL to evaluate prior to requiring the development of full proposal applications. Upon review of eligible SOIs, DRL will invite selected applicants to expand their ideas into full proposal applications.

Context:

The Cuban government fails to respect and uphold the human rights of the Cuban people. The government stifles genuine political debate and civic participation among its citizens by implementing flawed and undemocratic electoral processes, resulting in a one-party system that prohibits diversity of thought or political pluralism. The government limits civic participation by blocking the registration of independent civic and political organizations; harassing, intimidating, and threatening citizens who engage in independent civic activism; and imprisoning political activists under false or grossly exaggerated charges. Additionally, the government censors independent journalists, bloggers, artists, and other individuals who seek to exercise their freedom of opinion and expression, particularly when their views are deemed critical of government policies. The government prevents communities of faith and independent labor unions from organizing outside of officially-sanctioned structures and subjects many individuals who engage in these activities to unlawful acts of violence, arbitrary detention, sham trials, raids, confiscation of personal property, and restrictions on freedom of movement both domestically and abroad, all with no possibility of legal recourse.

These authoritarian measures inhibit constructive dialogue between citizens and their government regarding solutions to the country’s social, political, and economic problems, resulting in a failed system that leaves little hope for the Cuban people to enjoy true economic prosperity or personal liberty. This failed political system leads most Cubans to experience scarcity of basic food and medicines, crumbling electrical and transportation infrastructures, precarious housing, outbreaks of easily controlled diseases, and limited connectivity to other Cubans on-island or to the international community. Tight control of the nascent private sector and the criminalization of independent civil society organizations prevent most individuals in Cuba from organizing to enact the social, political, and economic solutions to improve their personal circumstances or realize their full potential, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and dependence on the State.

DRL seeks Statements of Interest (SOIs) that support independent civil society organizations and Cuban individuals in their efforts toward the realization of the liberties enshrined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the denial of which has resulted in the above-mentioned systemic failures.

DRL’s programmatic emphasis advances the U.S. government policy to promote human rights in Cuba as stated in the June 16, 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum entitled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.” Specifically, DRL programs in Cuba aim to strengthen the capabilities of on-island, independent civil society to advance the above-mentioned rights and interests of all individuals in Cuba, and to overcome the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on the exercise of these civil, political, labor, and religious rights. DRL strives to ensure its projects also advance principles of non-discrimination with respect to race, religion, gender, disability, and other individual characteristics.

DRL seeks SOIs that inform, educate, and build support among the Cuban people for Cuban-led initiatives on-island that promote the civil and political rights of all Cuban citizens- particularly the freedoms of association, expression, and religion and belief- and strengthen and expand the reach of those initiatives in Cuba by focusing on issues that resonate with Cuban citizens. Competitive SOIs may also support the documentation of human rights abuses, including for use in domestic and international advocacy, and increase the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. SOIs should offer a specific vision for contributing to change while acknowledging obstacles that would have to be overcome. Projects should demonstrate consultative dialogue with local Cuban partners and present sound strategies to develop organizational capacity and foster collaboration among diverse segments of Cuba’s independent civil society. Proposals should also include concrete initiatives that reflect recent developments on the island and have the potential to generate short-term impacts leading to long-term sustainable change.

DRL prefers innovative approaches rather than projects that simply duplicate or add to ongoing efforts by other entities. This does not exclude projects that clearly build off existing successful projects in a new way. DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships with each other and submit a combined SOI in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant. The applicant should also demonstrate experience programming effectively within Cuba and/or within other closed society environments. Most importantly, the applicant should clearly demonstrate that the proposed activities emanate directly from needs expressed by Cuban civil society organizations.

Successful applications in the past have proposed activities reflective of the skills, knowledge, and linguistic capabilities of target beneficiaries. Successful applications have also considered practical limitations of groups and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities and strive to ensure the beneficiary organizations will continue to function while certain members are participating in off-island activities.

To maximize the impact and sustainability of the award(s) that result(s) from this solicitation, 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).

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

  • Organizational assistance to Cuban civil society to improve management, strategic planning, sustainability, and collaboration of local civil society groups such as labor groups, civil and political rights groups, youth groups, and religious freedom advocates, and assistance that encourages the participation of marginalized groups;
  • Assistance to independent Cuban civil society organizations to facilitate community-based, participatory problem solving approaches to generate concrete solutions to specific problems, thereby creating a democratic alternative to dependence on the State;
  • Capacity building on and off the island. Off-island activities sometimes include short-term fellowships;
  • Access to software that would be easily accessible in an open society, or the adaptation of said software for the Cuban technological environment;
  • Assistance mechanisms designed to provide independent Cuban civil society with tools, opportunities, and trainings that civil society counterparts in open societies can access;
  • Incorporation of independent Cuban civil society into initiatives, fora, and coalitions led by their regional and global civil society counterparts; and
  • Activities that increase access to uncensored information within the island.

Activities that typically are NOT considered competitive include:

  • The provision of large amounts of humanitarian assistance;
  • English language instruction;
  • Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware;
  • Purely academic research, exchanges, or fellowships;
  • External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six months;
  • Off-island activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary for security concerns;
  • Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation for publication that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;
  • Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives;
  • Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or fail to provide clear evidence that activities will achieve the stated impact;
  • Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of Cuba;
  • Activities that are a duplication of other ongoing USG-funded projects in Cuba.

Programs that are NOT funded:

  • DRL does not fund programs for Cuba that support the Cuban government, including Cuban government institutions, individuals employed by those institutions, or organizations controlled by government institutions.

II. Eligibility Information

Organizations submitting SOIs must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a U.S.- or foreign-based non-profit/non-governmental organization (NGO), or a public international organization; or
  • Be a private, public, or state institution of higher education; or
  • Be a for-profit organization or business (noting there are restrictions on payment of fees and/or profits under grants and cooperative agreements, including those outlined in 48 CFR 30, “Cost Accounting Standards Administration”, and 48 CFR 31, “Contract Cost Principles and Procedures”); and
  • Have existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders including private sector partner and NGOs; and
  • Have demonstrable experience administering successful and preferably similar programs. DRL reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations that do not have previous experience administering federal awards. These applicants may be subject to limited funding on a pilot basis.

Applicants may form consortia and submit a combined SOI. However, one organization should be designated as the lead applicant with the other members as sub-award partners.

DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited. For-profit entities should be aware that their applications may be subject to additional review following the panel selection process, and that the Department of State generally prohibits profit under its assistance awards to for-profit or commercial organizations. 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. Program income earned by the recipient must be deducted from the program’s total allowable costs in determining the net allowable costs on which the federal share of costs is based.

DRL is committed to an anti-discrimination policy in all of its programs and activities. DRL welcomes SOI submissions irrespective of race, ethnicity, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or other status.

No entity listed on the Excluded Parties List System in the System for Award Management (SAM) is eligible for any assistance or can participate in any activities under an award in accordance with the OMB guidelines at 2 CFR 180 that implement Executive Orders 12549 (3 CFR 1986 Comp., p. 189) and 12689 (3 CFR1989 Comp., p. 235), “Debarment and Suspension.” Additionally, no entity listed on the EPLS can participate in any activities under an award. All applicants are strongly encouraged to review the EPLS in SAM to ensure that no ineligible entity is included.

Organizations are not required to have a valid Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) number—formerly referred to as a DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number—and an active SAM.gov registration to apply for this solicitation through SAMS Domestic. However, if a SOI is approved, these will need to be obtained before an organization is able to submit a full application. Therefore, we recommend starting the process of obtaining a SAM.gov registration as soon as possible. Please note that there is no cost associated with UEI or SAM.gov registration.

III. Application Requirements, Deadlines, and Technical Eligibility

All SOIs must conform to DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in September 2018, available at https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/open-solicitations-and-proposal-submission-instructions/open-solicitations-and-proposal-submission-instructions/proposal-submission-instructions-psi-for-statements-of-interest-updated-september-2018/.

Complete SOI submissions must include the following:

  1. Completed and signed SF-424 and SF424B, as directed on SAMS Domestic or Grants.gov (please refer to DRL’s PSI for SOIs for guidance on completing the SF-424); and,
  2. Program Statement (not to exceed three [3] pages in Microsoft Word) that includes:
    • A table listing:
      • Name of the organization;
      • The target country/countries;
      • The total amount of funding requested from DRL, total amount of cost-share (if any), and total program amount (DRL funds + cost-share); and,
      • Program length;
    • A synopsis of the program, including a brief statement on how the program will have a demonstrated impact and engage relevant stakeholders. The SOI should identify local partners as appropriate;
    • A concise breakdown explicitly identifying the program’s objectives and the activities and expected results that contribute to each objective; and,
    • A brief description of the applicant(s) that demonstrates the applicant(s) expertise and capacity to implement the program and manage a U.S. government award.

An organization may submit no more than two SOIs under this solicitation. SOIs that request less than $500,000 or more than $2,000,000 may be deemed technically ineligible.

Technically eligible SOIs are those which:

  1. Arrive electronically via SAMS Domestic or Grants.gov by 11:30 p.m. ET on Friday, March 22, 2019 under the announcement titled “DRL FY18/19 Cuba RSOI,” funding opportunity number SFOP0005583.
  2. Are in English;
  3. Heed all instructions and do not violate any of the guidelines stated in this solicitation and the PSI for Statements of Interest.

For all SOI documents please ensure:

  1. All pages are numbered;
  2. All documents are formatted to 8 ½ x 11 paper; and,
  3. All documents are single-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins. Captions and footnotes may be 10-point Times New Roman font. Font sizes in charts and tables can be reformatted to fit within one page width.

Grants.gov and SAMS Domestic automatically log the date and time a submission is made, and the Department of State will use this information to determine whether it has been submitted on time. Late submissions are neither reviewed nor considered unless the DRL point of contact listed in section VI is contacted prior to the deadline and is provided with evidence of a system error caused by www.grants.gov or SAMS Domestic (https://mygrants.service-now.com/grants/portal_login.do) that is outside of the applicant’s control and is the sole reason for a late submission. Applicants should not expect a notification upon DRL receiving their SOI. It is the sole responsibility of the applicant to ensure that all material submitted in the SOI package is complete, accurate, and current. DRL will not accept SOIs submitted via email, fax, the postal system, delivery companies, or couriers. DRL strongly encourages all applicants to submit SOIs before Friday, March 22, 2019 to ensure that the SOI has been received and is complete.

IV. Review and Selection Process

The Department’s Office of Acquisitions Management (AQM) will determine technical eligibility for all SOI submissions. All technically eligible SOIs will then be reviewed against the same four criteria by a DRL Review Panel: quality of program idea, inclusivity of marginalized populations, program planning, and ability to achieve objectives/institutional capacity. Additionally, the Panel will evaluate how the SOI meets the solicitation request, U.S. foreign policy goals, and DRL’s overall priority needs. Panelists review each SOI individually against the evaluation criteria, not against competing SOIs. To ensure all SOIs receive a balanced evaluation, the DRL Review Panel will review the first page of the SOI up to the page limit and no further. All Panelists must sign non-disclosure agreements and conflict of interest agreements.

In most cases, the DRL Review Panel includes representatives from DRL policy and program offices. Once a SOI is approved, selected applicants will be invited to submit full proposal applications based on their SOIs. Unless directed otherwise by the organization, DRL may also refer SOIs for possible consideration in other U.S. government related funding opportunities.

The Panel may provide conditions and/or recommendations on SOIs to enhance the proposed program, which must be addressed by the organization in the full proposal application. To ensure effective use of limited DRL funds, conditions and recommendations may include requests to increase, decrease, clarify, and/or justify costs and program activities.

DRL’s Front Office reserves the right to make a final determination regarding all funding matters, pending funding availability.

Review Criteria

Quality of Program Idea

SOIs should be responsive to the program framework and policy objectives identified in the country/regional context, and should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to DRL’s mission of promoting human rights and democracy. Projects should have the potential to have an immediate impact leading to long-term sustainable reforms. DRL prefers new approaches that do not duplicate efforts by other entities. This does not exclude from consideration projects that improve upon or expand existing successful projects in a new and complementary way. In countries where similar activities are already taking place, an explanation should be provided as to how new activities will not duplicate or merely add to existing activities and how these efforts will be coordinated. Proposals that promote creative approaches to recognized ongoing challenges are highly encouraged. DRL prioritizes project proposals with inclusive approaches for advancing these rights.

Addressing Barriers to Equal Participation

DRL strives to ensure its projects advance the rights and uphold the dignity of all persons. As the USG’s lead bureau dedicated to promoting democratic governance, DRL requests a programming approach dedicated to strengthening inclusive societies as a necessary pillar of strong democracies. Violence targeting any members of society undermines collective security and threatens democracy. DRL supports program models that assess and address the barriers to access created by violence and discrimination targeting individuals and groups based on their religion, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Applicants should describe how programming affects all of its beneficiaries, including support that specifically targets communities under threat of violence and discrimination. This approach should be an integral part of both the concept and explicit design of all proposed project activities and objectives. Strong proposals will provide specific analysis, measures, and corresponding targets as appropriate. Stakeholders shall identify the difference between opportunities and barriers to access and design programs that do not perpetuate these inequalities but rather enhance programmatic impact by including all people in society. The goal of this approach is to bring communities and those in power together in support of stable and secure societies.

Program Planning

A strong SOI will include a clear articulation of how the proposed program activities and expected results (both outputs and outcomes) contribute to specific program objectives and the overall program goal. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable, results-focused, and achievable in a reasonable timeframe.

Ability to Achieve Objectives/Institutional Capacity

SOIs should address how the program will engage relevant stakeholders and should identify local partners as appropriate. If local partners are identified, applicants should describe the division of labor among the applicant and any local partners. SOIs should demonstrate the organization’s expertise and previous experience in administering programs, preferably similar programs targeting the requested program area or similarly challenging environments.

For additional guidance, please see DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in September 2018, available at https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/open-solicitations-and-proposal-submission-instructions/open-solicitations-and-proposal-submission-instructions/proposal-submission-instructions-psi-for-statements-of-interest-updated-september-2018/.

V. Additional Information

DRL will not consider SOIs that reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization.

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.

Project activities that directly benefit foreign militaries or paramilitary groups or individuals will not be considered for DRL funding given purpose limitations on funding.

Restrictions may apply to any proposed assistance to police or other law enforcement. Among these, pursuant to section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (FAA), no assistance may be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country when there is credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. In accordance with the requirements of section 620M of the FAA, also known as the Leahy law, program beneficiaries or participants from a foreign government’s security forces may need to be vetted by the Department before the provision of any assistance.

Organizations should be aware that DRL understands that some information contained in SOIs may be considered sensitive or proprietary and will make appropriate efforts to protect such information. However, organizations are advised that DRL cannot guarantee that such information will not be disclosed, including pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or other similar statutes.

Organizations should also be aware that if ultimately selected for an award, the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards set forth in 2 CFR Chapter 200 (Sub-Chapters A through F) shall apply to all non-Federal entities, except for assistance awards to Individuals and Foreign Public Entities. Please note that as of December 26, 2014, 2 CFR 200 (Sub-Chapters A through E) now applies to foreign organizations, and Sub-Chapters A through D shall apply to all for-profit entities. The applicant/recipient of the award and any sub-recipient under the award must comply with all applicable terms and conditions, in addition to the assurance and certifications made part of the Notice of Award. The Department’s Standard Terms and Conditions can be viewed on DRL’s Resources page at: https://www.state.gov/about-us-office-of-the-procurement-executive/.

The information in this solicitation and DRL’s PSI for SOIs, as updated in September 2018, is binding and may not be modified by any DRL representative. Explanatory information provided by DRL that contradicts this language will not be binding. Issuance of the solicitation and negotiation of SOIs or applications does not constitute an award commitment on the part of the U.S. government. DRL reserves the right to reduce, revise, or increase proposal budgets in accordance with the needs of the program evaluation requirements.

This solicitation will appear on www.grants.gov, SAMS Domestic (https://mygrants.service-now.com/grants/portal_login.do) and DRL’s website https://www.state.gov/statements-of-interest-requests-for-proposals-and-notices-of-funding-opportunity/.

Background Information on DRL and DRL Funding

DRL has the mission of promoting democracy and protecting human rights globally. DRL supports programs that uphold democratic principles, support and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, prevent atrocities, combat and prevent violent extremism, and build civil society around the world. DRL typically focuses its work in countries with egregious human rights violations, where democracy and human rights advocates are under pressure, and where governments are undemocratic or in transition.

Additional background information on DRL and the human rights report can be found on https://www.state.gov/bureaus-offices/under-secretary-for-civilian-security-democracy-and-human-rights/bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/ and https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/human-rights/.

VI. Contact Information

SAMS Domestic Help Desk:
For assistance with SAMS Domestic accounts and technical issues related to the system, please contact the ILMS help desk by phone at 1-888-313-4567 (toll charges for international callers) or through the Self Service online portal that can be accessed from https://afsitsm.service-now.com/ilms. Customer Support is available 24/7/365.

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 https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/ for a list of federal holidays.

For technical questions related to this solicitation, please contact DRLCubaGrants@state.gov.

With the exception of technical submission questions, during the solicitation period U.S. Department of State staff in Washington and overseas shall not discuss this competition until the entire review process has been completed and rejection and approval letters have been transmitted.

U.S. Department of State

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