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Access Now Grants: how we support the activists who defend our rights during conflict and crisis

In 2021, grassroots, frontline, and feminist digital rights organizations and human rights defenders continued to face mounting challenges — but they also rose to confront, and overcome those challenges. As civil society defended digital rights during multiple crises — from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, to internet shutdowns during military coups and armed conflict, to the Pegasus spyware attacks —the Access Now Grants Program delivered support to bulwark their vital and important work.   

Our grants in 2021 were aimed at helping grantees  respond creatively and nimbly to attacks on our digital rights. That included funding to:

  • Keep people safe and connected during coups in Myanmar and Sudan; 
  • Take principled and courageous stands to confront rising divisiveness and violence in Ethiopia; 
  • Support victims and provide evidence of the systemic rights violations in the surveillance tech industry; 
  • Expose the gendered nature of newly emerging risks stemming from digitization, such as  the rapid shift to remote working during the pandemic, and the use of AI in public welfare systems; 
  • Investigate censorship and disinformation on social media platforms, from Palestine to Venezuela to Honduras; and
  •  Ensure that the experiences of historically marginalized communities are centered within digital identity policymaking.

Following is a look at the organizations we supported in 2021 that are working on these and other fronts. If you have questions about our grant-making process, check out the recently updated Access Now Grants page, and reach out to [email protected] if you can’t find the information you’re looking for. 

In 2021, Access Now awarded $1,410,071 in direct financial support across 51 grants to 46 separate local and grassroots organizations and individuals working in 29 countries.

In 2021, 70% of our support went to groups with yearly budgets of less than $200,000. Twenty-five of the organizations and individuals we supported, or 53%, live and work in countries assessed as “Not Free” by Freedom House’s Freedom in the World reporting. Another 15 grant recipients, or 32%, live and work in countries assessed as “Partly Free.” Such support has been an increasing priority, as grassroots organizations working in challenging contexts typically face significant obstacles in accessing funds. Many donors perceive risk in such contexts, and organizations working on behalf of marginalized communities can face additional barriers as they traditionally have less access to resources. Our goal is to empower such organizations to increase their profile, strengthen their organization and future sustainability, and achieve greater impact.

We also strategically fund larger and more established organizations. We often support such organizations to help them organize large convenings, work regionally or across multiple countries, improve digital security for human rights defenders and at-risk communities, build digital rights capacity within the broader civil society ecosystem, and help channel funds in high-risk and closed environments.

In 2021, 16 grantees, or 34% of recipients, were first-time grantees. There are no set benchmarks for new grantees. Rather, we seek a balance that enables us to provide sustained, multi-year funding toward long-term systemic change, respond to emerging issues, and support the expansion of the digital rights community. In 2021, we awarded funding to new grantees in several countries, such as Tunisia, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Venezuela, where we felt there were opportunities to push back on negative trends, or seize new openings for human rights work. 

Below is a high-level overview of grants awarded in 2021. Some grants are not included for security reasons. Others must be listed anonymously.

2021 Grants