Access Grants: putting the needs and priorities of at-risk users first

Several weeks back, Access announced the launch of the Access Grants program, highlighting the foundational work we’ve done over the last several months. We’ve been working hard to get ready to launch, and wanted to update the community on some exciting new developments.

Guiding principles

One of the first programmatic decisions we made was to establish a set of Guiding Principles. We wanted a set of criteria to inform all the choices we make as we develop and implement this program — from the type of grants we distribute, to the internal controls we put into place, to the grantmaking timelines we envision.

In this program, we strive for:

  1. Transparency: Be transparent about criteria, internal processes, and decisions
  2. Simplicity: Employ clear and simple procedures that can be understood by applicants and the broader community
  3. Context: Allow local actors and communities to define priorities and successful outcomes
  4. Flexibility: Grant flexibly to respond to emerging opportunities and external needs
  5. Limited bureaucracy: Require limited paperwork, reporting, and bureaucracy, wherever possible
  6. Engagement: Continuously self-evaluate and engage within the sector to identify how Access can most effectively operate, fund, and contribute

We understand that the development of the Access Grants program is iterative, and we hope these principles will guide us through that evolution. As this program matures, we will make adjustments to structure and processes to ensure that we implement an effective and dynamic initiative that keeps the needs and priorities of at-risk users at the fore.

Establishing a granting framework

As we mentioned in our first blog post, we kicked off the development of the Access Grants program with a round of an in-depth consultations. We talked with dozens of individuals from various stakeholder communities on a range of issues including process, structure, types of support, and more. These learnings have guided our understanding of the community’s greatest needs, and what opportunities exist for our grantmaking to have the greatest impact. This includes grounding our granting efforts in international human rights work and supporting those working to improve the digital rights of users most at risk, or marginalized communities. That’s why we’ll focus advocacy, policy, and tech funding to regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and other nations identified by the U.N. as needing official development assistance.

To begin, we will distribute three different types of grants: program, core, and discretionary. Program grants must have a predetermined end goal and explicit objectives. Core grants can fund either general operating expenses, and/or be used for capacity development. We believe that program and core grants, which will likely be given out quarterly, coupled with the discretionary grants, which will be distributed according to emergent and emergency needs, are diverse enough to address different types of structural issues and provide numerous pathways for addressing the many different challenges that digital rights organizations face today.

Regional allies

Our goal with Access Grants is to fund innovative and important programming at the very grassroots — and we know the people best positioned to identify that work are groups and individuals working in the field.  That’s why we’re creating Regional Allies, diverse networks of trusted partners with specific expertise and focus areas who are positioned to refer potential grantees to the program. In our inaugural granting year, these referrals will help to identify possible partners. We believe that the Regional Ally system will strengthen our grantmaking by promoting inclusivity and grassroots outreach.

Advisory board

To provide strategic guidance, Access is assembling an Advisory Board that will review potential  recipients of grant funds. This board will be made up of experts in the regions and fields in which Access Grants is giving, and will help us ensure accountability, oversight, and third-party review. Committed so far are the following:

Carolina Rossini, Vice President for International Policy, Public Knowledge

Esra’a Al Shafei, Founder, Mideast Youth

Gayathry Venkiteswaran, former Executive Director, Southeast Asian Press Alliance

Harlo Holmes, Digital Security Trainer, Freedom of the Press Foundation

Arzu Geybullyeva, Regional Analyst & Blogger, Global Voices

We would like to thank those who have committed so far for donating their time and energy in these inaugural years, and we look forward finalizing the board composition in the next few weeks.


We’re still working on implementing some of the more technical elements, but that doesn’t mean we’re not gearing up for the public launch.

In October 2015 we will publish a webpage which will set out more details of the program. This will coincide with the launch of the new Access website.

We’ve “soft launched” the Discretionary grant program, and intend to distribute the first round of Core and Program grants in January 2016. To accomplish this, we will begin the process of soliciting referrals and vetting applications this fall, with the goal of full system operability at the end of this year.

First grant given

We’re pleased to have piloted the Access Grants program with the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG). AfriSIG provides opportunities for Africans from all stakeholder groups to gain the knowledge and confidence needed to actively participate in internet governance debates and to bring African perspectives to internet governance issues, both regionally and globally. Access believes that participation by civil society in internet governance debates is essential to ensure that decisions made about the internet are truly representative of the public interest, and this is why we are delighted to support this important initiative, which focuses on building capacity for effective and meaningful participation in the space.  AfriSIG occurred in Addis Ababa the first week of September, and we congratulate the Association for Progressive Communicationsand the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency for their successful endeavor, and look forward to hearing about the positive ways the alumni engage in various internet governance spaces.

Next steps

In the next few weeks we’ll be busy finalizing the structures which will make the Access Grants program workable, but we know the work of the next four years has really just begun. We look forward to working with our Advisory Board and the community as we refine each process to be responsive to the needs of the space.

As always, if you have any questions about the program, please feel free to reach out to us!