Fireplace Chat with Funders in the Internet Freedom Space

From TCU Wiki

Date: Tuesday, April 28

Time: 10:00am EST / 2:00pm UTC+0

What: Hear from funders in the Internet Freedom space on how they are supporting projects and organizations to better handle the changes and challenges caused by COVID-19, as well as the trends they are seeing that will impact the community in the future. In addition, hear about the current state of the Internet Freedom funding ecosystem, and what they are working on to improve the sustainability of the space in the long term.

>> Check notes out notes from other sessions here


Q: Who are you and how is your fund/foundation addressing COVID-19? How are being flexible to change of needs?

Ford Foundation |
Michael Brennan, Program Officer in Technology and Society team

  • Ford is a private foundation, meaning we have an endowment (investments) to spend on grantmaking 
  • funding focus on addressing inequalities around the world (wide-range of issues that Ford covers: arts, journalism, internet freedom, criminal justice,  just cities and regions, climate change)
  • during Covid:
    • continuing to pay employees even if they are not able to work (example: caferteria workers)
    • grant making: making sure to have core and operational support flexible and adaptable during the covid
    • overall, organization will not adapt the theory of change in the time of covid. Ford will not make large changes, for instance, all of a suddent focus on a health response
    • Ford is participating in covid-relief fund for low-wage workers
    • comprehensive overview of covid response:

Open Technology Fund |
Nat Kretchun, Deputy Director

  • OTF is a US-funded funding mechanism with earmarked money from government
  • Currently, OTF is spinning out from Radio Free Asia into it's own nonprofit and working on managing the shift/changes between the two organizations
  • Impact of covid:
    • shifting budget allocations, acknowledging difficultities at this time.
    • in the past, we look to strong community (in-person) initiatives but acknowledge the need for activities to move online during this time
    • will be prioritizing Rapid Response Fund for covid response which do not have a deadline. Will continue to make this available as much as possible
    • link to covid response:

Urgent Action Fund |
Elsa Saade, Program Officer

  • UAF has always focused on emergency or rapid grants, giving out smaller grants that are faster and more flexible. UAF supports and prioritizes supports for feminist activists or feminist organizations
  • Based in the US, funded by institutions, governments, and independent donors: The regions we cover are the Middle East, Europe, Russia, the United States of America and Canada. We're a part of a global Consortium of Sister Funds covering the whole world.
  • Covid response:
    • have launched covid-specific funds for feminist activists to cover wellness, covid awareness for communities without internet access; that allow for flexibility

Astraea Foundation |
Brenda Salas Neves, Senior Program Officer

  • A feminist fund based in the US that support LGBTQ activities from around the world; a public foundation. funded by other institutions, governments, independent donors
  • funding grounded in feminist action; does not provide emergency funds but works with UAF an other funds to support urgent/rapid response. Does not have an open call but open to being contacted by those in the community
  • does a lot of advocacy to and with other funders to make deep organizational change for flexible, intersectional work 
  • a big portion of Astraea's work is within the grantmaking community, educating non IF-funders about the impact and intersectionality of data/privacy/internet freedom issues on other issue areas
  • covid-impact:
    • making changes internally to be flexible to covid ​​​​​​ impact and raising more money for our partners ​ 

US Department of State (DRL)
Ciprian Iancu, Team Lead for Internet Freedom Program

  • US government money; grants given are larger and more subtantial (in scope of work) than other funders. Projects tend to be last longer in duration

does not offer rapid response, cannot mobilize rapid funding efforts

  • Covid impact:
    • there should be no delays in making funding available, as money is stable
    • with newer solicitations, DRL is open to and more cognizant of the need to slow down surveillance, censorship in areas/regions where this is increasing due to covid
    • have met with all grantees to give assurances on project support and funding stability during this time; establishing newer work plans that need to adapt due to covid
    • the goal is to "keep the faucet open" -- making sure that money that goes to IF continues, even during this time
    • remains to be seen if this specific department will provide support for anything related to covid-related humanitarian responses 

Q&A Portion

Q: Will the spread of the coronavirus have an economic impact on internet freedom funding? Also, will the support of internet freedom projects become more or less important in the wake of the coronavirus?

Ford: We don't know (huge caveat). We don't know what the world will look like in 6 months, 5 years. In terms of funding, for Ford, we don't expect changes to funding in the medium term. Ford will be effected by the economy (because of the endowment investments). There may be a small downturn which would result in (small) budget cuts but overall, Ford will have stability through 2021. 

IF funding will remain stable or grow because of the importance of internet freedom in the face of covid (mis/disinformation)

OTF: Echoes a lot of what Ford says. For the next two years, funding is secure due to government earmark. In the long-term: US policymakers and those who support US funding for IF will have a continued, if not increased interest in this area and we expect to see that.

Astraea: this moment is providing an opportunity for other funders (traditionally non-IF) to support intersectional work that includes addresses data/internet/privacy issues

  • this foundation focuses on helping other funders to move the needle to invest in more IF issues. It does require a lot of work on all of us push on this; there will be more long-term work in this area so there will may not be immediate changes you will all see

UAF: In the case of UAF, in the long-term, there is room for more flexibility because grants are in much lesser amounts and the fund can move faster and reach many more grantees and partners

Q: What does the community need to know to navigate this hard moment?

  • We defer to community's wisedom in a lot of areas as they are the drivers for how funders can be responsive to needs
  • In this time, we should not neglect pyschosocial care and support as an element of holistic security
  • For those working while in quarantining, there should be more opportunities in this community for care 

Q: COVID19 is impacting access. Would funders be more open to funding Internet service hardware?

  • UAF is better set up to offer rapid response, especially around access.
  • Given recent situation and varying contexts globally, UAF is nimble to provide support for access (subscriptions for tech, hardware, etc) in the time of covid   
  • In general, there is a greater need for access than ever before. OTF is not going to be able to shift strategy to be provide hardware, but they are trying to help remove barriers to access barriers
  • Funders have different strategies, requirements, and remit -- it is important to understand that . UAF funds hardware, software, etc.  

Q: We hear that funders are open to supporting mental health support. Can greater mental health support be baked into each grant?

  • Find creative ways to reinforce mental health that can be indirect or direct. Urgent Action Fund works to support both.
  • Seek or use psychological support tools online, build solidarity between groups, create community health, cross-movement solidarity. 
  • OTF is trying to  bake it into their support, but it is still difficult for them to bake it in because of the source of their funding. They are very open to discussing to applicants, but  still  trying to figure out how to do it.
  • The way to get funders to care more about this is through their grantees. Have them share with their program manager why this is important. Funders also influence each other. 

​​​​ Q: What do funders mean when they ask for sustainability? Provide examples. How do funders help organizations with this?

  • It's very hard to create sustainability. For Astrea, sustainability is decided/defined by the organizations we support. We use a healing justice approach, so healing, for us, is sustainability. Ensuring that political education is taking place within program is sustainability.
  • Sustainability also needs to have a long term vision. For Ford, they are thinking the long-term financial well-being of the organizations they suport. When organizations are too reliant on specific funders, this can be detrimental. Fork works with grantees to find ways to get diverse funding.
  • For OTF, projects support through rapid response do not require sustainability markers. But in a broader sense, projects that have strong relationships in their community, do better and is an indicator we use.