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The communication of people in more than 60 countries around the world are regularly censored, surveilled, and blocked. These restrictions and failures to protect fundamental human rights deny millions of people access to a democratic way of life and positive social change. This daily suppression of free expression and information limits everyones ability to take full advantage of the powerful communications platform that the internet has become. OTF strives to support technology-centric solutions for anyone affected by these challenges.

Our Mission

We support open technologies and communities that increase free expression, circumvent censorship, and obstruct repressive surveillance as a way to promote human rights and open societies.

Our primary focus

We support research, development, and implementation programs focused on increasing:

  • Access to the internet, including tools to circumvent website blocks, connection blackouts, and widespread censorship;
  • Awareness of access, privacy, or security threats and protective measures, including how-to guides, instructional apps, data collection platforms, and other efforts that increase the efficacy of internet freedom tools;
  • Privacy enhancement, including the ability to be free from repressive observation and the option to be anonymous when accessing the internet; and
  • Security from danger or threat when accessing the internet, including encryption tools.

Our values & principles

Every moment presents us with new challenges and opportunities. We have no perfect formula, set of processes, or workflows to accomplish our work. To guide us, we have embedded a set of values and principles derived from listening to the network of communities supporting us. They shape our vision and intimately affect all aspects of our work.

We believe …

… in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion, expression, and the press; including the right to seek, receive and impart information without interference through any media, regardless of frontiers.

… the best way to protect these freedoms is to passionately support a free and open internet.

… in the doctrine of open philanthropy and governance, to share openly with the public and other stakeholders, in a non-competitive fashion, all possible aspects of our work, including what we have learned.

… the greatest ideas are iterative innovations: supported by healthy ecosystems that share, use, and build openly and collaboratively; built by embracing change through experimentation, reflection, and adaptation without fear of failure.

… to sustain long-standing positive change, we must be more than just makers of technology. We must also shift social norms, improve laws, and affect market forces. We strive to identify the root of a challenge, it’s interconnectedness, so that we can be apart of holistic solutions.

… in prioritizing sustainable and holistic strategies over resolving issues efficiently. To do so, we empower existing networks addressing challenges, and focus on strategies that work in situations where scarce resources or intersecting systems of oppression may exist.

… the actual impact of any effort we support should be measured by evaluating the experience of those who are at the receiving end of the engagement.

… cultivating a diverse and collaborative network of communities is at the core of what we do; that our power originates from our depth and relevance in those communities and the individual efforts within our organization.

… our strongest moments are when we listen, are changed by what we hear, and follow those diverse voices while solving the most pressing challenges collectively. We emphasize a community’s power, not its powerlessness.

A commitment to creating an inclusive, diverse community

The Open Technology Fund is part of a global community working against repressive censorship and surveillance that is made up of individuals from all walks of life who are found in all corners of the world. Our own Team, Advisory Council and Fellows speak 10+ languages and represent diverse collectives that face their own unique challenges. It is through these unique experiences that these same people offer a set of skills and knowledge that are valuable to the ecosystems we are apart of. However, our global communities, not unlike others, face issues of inequality that must be tackled head on, collaboratively together.

We recognize the importance and challenge of creating an environment where all voices feel valued, included, and empowered to bring their perspectives to the table. Not only are we committed to taking on that challenge, but will strive to better support underrepresented voices in the communities we support through a variety of means.

We hold our team, projects and Advisory Council to the following principles:

  1. We believe all people, regardless of background, should be treated with dignity and respect. We will not tolerate discrimination or exclusion based on individual characteristics and circumstances, such as: age; disability; caring or dependency responsibilities; gender or gender identity; marriage and civil partnership status; political opinion; pregnancy and maternity; race, colour, caste, nationality, ethnic or national origin; religion or belief; sexual orientation; socio-economic background; trade union membership status or other distinctions. Inequities perpetuated by these distinctions degrade human dignity, represent a waste of talent, a denial of opportunity for self-fulfilment, and contradict our goals.

  2. We value creating safe spaces where people can share their perspectives, ideas, knowledge and culture without fear of retaliation, retribution or violence, or feeling belittled.

  3. We are committed to empowering underrepresented groups in all the communities we support, and will work diligently to remove barriers, inequalities, patterns of underrepresentation, discrimination, and harassment so their voices are truly present in the decision making process.

While we strive to build a fair, open and just society, we expect and anticipate challenges to these principles. We are committed to responding constructively and positively, respecting different needs and circumstances, so everyone can achieve their potential.

What makes us unique

OTF can support any internet freedom project (or individual work) that falls within our mission and gets us excited – regardless of size, location, or organizational type. This allows us to empower a new pool of technology and development talent often left unsupported. Reinforcing this cornerstone is our passion because it allow us to give voice to the voiceless and diversity in the internet freedom community, which we believe is crucial to sustainability.

OTF acts as an incubator for forward-thinking ideas and innovation as a means to embrace diverse thought necessary for experimentation and progress. This nimble approach, along with its embrace of open philanthropy as a model, makes OTF unique among technology-centric funding programs. This includes using alternative methodologies, new technologies, and collaborative ways of working to ensure every initiative receives the best exposure and resources needed to succeed.

To complement this, OTF prioritizes innovation and transparency in its organizational structure and decision-making processes which translates to a strong feedback loop between OTF, applicants, and other stakeholders in the field. The result is an efficient new project discovery process with the ability to leverage expertise from a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives. Check out our funding model to understand how this works.

History of OTF

Our foundation

The United States Congress recognized Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors as an appropriate engine to empower world citizenry to support the internet as a safe and secure platform for free speech. To do so, the Open Technology Fund (OTF) was created in 2012 as a program of Radio Free Asia and is sustained by annual grants from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which originate from yearly U.S. Congressional appropriations for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

The BBG selected RFA as the entity within which to create OTF due to its responsive and agile profile and nonprofit nature, among other factors. OTF works closely with other publicly funded internet freedom programs to fulfill the US Congressional mandate to sustain and increase global internet freedom with public funds.

OTF reports to RFA’s President who in turn reports to the BBG’s Board of Governors. The BBG Board is made up of nine members, eight of whom are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and ultimately serve as RFA’s board of directors. A bipartisan board, by law no more than four members shall be from the same political party. The ninth member ex officio is the U.S. Secretary of State.

Today, this same U.S. Congressional appropriation to the BBG and grant to RFA continues to be the bedrock of all OTF’s work.

Evolving forward

In 2017, the U.S. Congress updated the internet freedom appropriations language for the BBG. FY2017’s BBG internet freedom funds were given the following scope:

(A) made available only for tools and techniques to securely develop and distribute BBG digital content; facilitate audience access to such content on Web sites that are censored; coordinate the distribution of BBG digital content to targeted regional audiences; and to promote and distribute such tools and techniques, including digital security techniques; [emphasis added]

(B) coordinated with programs funded by this Act under the heading ‘‘International Broadcasting Operations’’, and shall be incorporated into country broadcasting strategies, as appropriate;

(C) coordinated by the BBG CEO to provide Internet circumvention tools and techniques for audiences in countries that are strategic priorities for the BBG and in a manner consistent with the BBG Internet freedom strategy;

(D) made available for the research and development of new tools or techniques authorized in paragraph (A) only after the BBG CEO, in consultation with the Secretary of State and other relevant United States Government departments and agencies, evaluates the risks and benefits of such new tools or techniques, and establishes safeguards to minimize the use of such new tools or techniques for illicit purposes.

More about the updated internet freedom language found in the FY2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill can be found in this blog post.

In 2014, Congress modified the internet freedom appropriation language to include:

That funds made available pursuant to this section shall be matched, to the maximum extent practicable, by sources other than the United States Government, including from the private sector.

In response, OTF increased the sharing and exporting of our program’s best practices, procedures, systems, and determinations to facilitate easier matching of public funds with other sources of funding. For many public and private donors, OTF is a learning platform, a front-line vehicle they can look inside of for supporting technology-centric internet freedom and human rights efforts. Other donors have decided that OTF’s model is the right one for them and have chosen to partner more closely, share our mission, values & principles, and make use of the same application system. With OTF as an open and available resource, the risk for established donors to engage into a new area of support is reduced, increasing their entry, and increasing the available pool of funds to match public funds against. Most importantly, the field of internet freedom defenders gains access to greater resources.