The mission of Access Now Grants is to defend and extend the digital rights of users around the world, especially those most at risk. This program works closely with Access Now’s programmatic staff in Policy, Advocacy, and Tech to cultivate partnerships with digital activists and civil society groups working at the intersection of human rights and technology.
The World of Access Now Grantees
Dictating our programmatic decisions is a set of Operational Guiding Principles, a set of criteria that informs all of our choices as we implement and refine the Access Now Grants 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:
- Transparency: Be transparent about criteria, internal processes, and decisions
- Simplicity: Employ clear and simple procedures that can be understood by applicants and the broader community
- Context: Allow local actors and communities to define priorities and successful outcomes
- Flexibility: Grant flexibly to respond to emerging opportunities and external needs
- Limited Bureaucracy: Require limited paperwork, reporting and bureaucracy, wherever possible
- 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 Now Grants program is iterative, and these principles are guiding us through that evolution. We make regular adjustments to structure and processes to ensure that we continue to implement an effective and dynamic initiative that keeps the needs and priorities of at-risk users at the fore.
Access Now Grants focuses on funding in five issue areas: privacy, freedom of expression, net discrimination, digital security, and business and human rights.
Below are more details on the focus of these issue areas.
Privacy is necessary for exercising the rights to free expression and freedom of assembly, yet it’s constantly under attack. Access Now Grants funds programs and organizations that develop and promote international standards for protecting privacy, personal data, and digital due process, and supports local actors on the front line of privacy defense and surveillance reform.
- Freedom of Expression
The right to speak freely is critical for demonstrating dissent, guaranteeing a free press, and defending human rights. We fund organizations and networks that advocate for the rights of all users to access information and express ideas and opinions freely. We support initiatives that teach corporations and communities how to push back against the laws and practices that would enable internet shutdowns and throttling, or undermine free speech.
- Net Discrimination
Access Now believes that access to the internet should be offered to everyone on a nondiscriminatory basis, without favoring certain websites, applications, or services. We fund initiatives that are working towards concrete solutions on international and national levels to enshrine Net Neutrality principles into law, and to prevent technical and/or policy interference on the network.
- Digital Security
Access Now believes in protecting networks, data, and users from unauthorized access and surveillance, and in the need to educate the public about preventing privacy intrusions. We fund initiatives that strive to make online activities more private, safe, and secure, and support programs that promote rights-respecting cybersecurity policies.
- Business and Human Rights
The internet is a largely privately owned and operated sphere that impacts the human rights of countless users. We fund initiatives to make the private sector more transparent, accountable, and rights-respecting, and support programs that further develop and implement norms — like access to remedy — on digital platforms, in policy-making bodies, and through trade relationships.
These guidelines are intentionally broad so that we can explore how partners in the field understand digital rights issues.
Access Now Grants has three different types of funding that address structural issues and nimbly provide pathways for addressing rapidly changing challenges.
Project-based grants are awarded to entities to address specific programmatic ambitions. Generally, these projects have explicit end-goals with clear ultimate objectives. These awards are designed to provide funding for critical policy, advocacy, and technical projects. They are intended to:
- provide seed money to nascent organizations, coalitions, or projects;
- advance user engagement in critical policy issues;
- build support for rights-respecting policies, from the grassroots to the halls of governments;
- deliver secure technologies to protect users at risk; or
- promote convenings that allow for idea exchange and maximizes long-term impact and outcomes.
Project grants can also take the form of capacity building, wherein the funds are leveraged to build infrastructure and administrative scope.
The minimum amount for a project grant is generally $5,000, and budgets must be reasonable and realistic against proposed objectives. Access Now does not typically support more than 15-25% of an organization’s total annual budget amount. Applicants that request over that will be required to provide additional explanations and justifications for costs in relation to the work and activities involved.
Core grants are awarded to organizations whose activities are closely aligned with the mission of Access Now Grants, and who have a demonstrated body of programmatic alignment and activities. Funds can be used for any general operating costs, from support of a specific program to electricity bills.
Access Now does not typically support more than 10-20% of an organization’s total annual budget. Applicants that request over that will likely be required to provide additional explanations and justifications for costs in relation to the work and activities involved.
These grants are designed to provide immediate or short-term funding to organizations within Access Now’s global networks. Discretionary funds respond to an emergency, emerging need, and/or will be opportunistic in nature. The maximum for this grant type is $10,000. Budgets must be reasonable and realistic against proposed objectives.
Digital Safe Spaces Grants
These grants go towards general funding of human rights organizations that are amplifying the voices of marginalized groups online. These grants are small in scale, and are not tied to any specific project or activity except working with our helpline to strengthen their organizational digital security
Access Now has assembled an Advisory Board to provide strategic guidance and oversight for the recipients of grant funds. This board is made up of experts in the regions and fields in which Access Now Grants is giving, and helps us ensure accountability, oversight, and third-party review. We would like to thank the following individuals for donating their time and energy in these inaugural years:
- 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
- Grace L.N Mutung’u, Kenyan ICT lawyer
- Nicolas Sera-Leyva, Tech Activism & Digital Safety Training Community Manager
- Abir Ghattas, Journalist, activist, feminist, coder
As an institution, Access Now has a diverse network of partners across the globe, and a strong staff presence in many of the areas where we grant. To utilize those connections, we created “Regional Allies,” networks that we turn to for referrals for our Project and Core Grants. These Regional Allies strengthen our grantmaking by promoting inclusivity and grassroots outreach.
Access Now sees itself as part of a community of funders. Others are on the front line of empowering those fighting for digital rights, and we work with those institutions to create an overall ecosystem that prioritizes the needs and priorities of at-risk users.
For now, we are not accepting unsolicited applications. Instead, we actively seek out opportunities to partner with grantees by attending topical convenings, conducting consultations, and relying upon our network of Regional Allies for grassroot referrals. As the program matures, we anticipate that there will be additional opportunities for potential grantees to apply.
Once a referral is made, our staff invites organizations to submit a proposal based upon their alignment with Access Now’s granting mission, funding priorities, and overall portfolio. Applicants work with the programmatic staff to tailor their application for submission to the Advisory Board, which makes a final overall recommendation to Access Now.
Based upon dozens of in-depth consultations with individuals from various stakeholder communities on a range of issues, we’ve concluded that grantmaking grounded in international human rights work that supports those working to improve the digital rights of users most at risk or marginalized communities, will have the greatest impact. That’s why we focus advocacy, policy, and tech funding in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and other nations identified by the OECD as needing official development assistance.
Access Now is open to funding organizations, networks, coalitions, technologists, and innovative communities around the globe. We’re excited to provide support to those that have established their presence, and those new actors that are just entering into the digital rights space.
|Organization name||Country||Type of grant||Focus area||Grant amount (USD)||Grant period|
|Association for Progressive Communications||Ethiopia||Discretionary||Freedom of Expression||10,000||9/1/2015-12/31/2015|
|Fundación Acceso||Costa Rica||Discretionary||Privacy||5,000||10/1/2015-12/31/2015|
|Globe International Center||Mongolia||Discretionary||Freedom of Expression||5,000||10/30/2015-4/30/2016|
|Coding Rights||Brazil||Discretionary||Freedom of Expression||5,000||11/1/2015-4/30/2016|
|IBIDEM||Brazil||Discretionary||Business and Human Rights||2,350||11/1/2015-3/31/2016|
|Centre for Communication Governance|
at National Law University, Dehli
|Fundación Acceso||Costa Rica||Core||Privacy||53,440||1/15/2016-12/31/2016|
|Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)||Kenya||Project||Net Discrimination||28,595||1/15/2016-9/30/2016|
|Paradigm Initiative Nigeria||Nigeria||Project||Business and Human Rights||44,000||1/15/2016-12/31/2016|
|Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice||Kenya||Project||Digital Security||38,500||2/15/2016-12/31/2016|
|CSI ENSI||Tunisia||Discretionary||Digital Security||600||4/1/2016-4/30/2016|
|Keyboard Frontline||Hong Kong, China||Discretionary||Digital Security||11,828||6/1/2016-12/31/2016|
|Proud Lebanon||Lebanon||Discretionary||Freedom of Expression||5,000||7/1/2016-12/31/2016|
|Point of View||India||Discretionary||Freedom of Expression||10,000||7/1/2016-12/31/2016|
|Internet Democracy Project||India||Discretionary||Freedom of Expression||10,000||7/1/2016-12/31/2016|
|TurkeyBlocks||Turkey||Project||Freedom of Expression||50,000||7/1/2016-6/30/2017|
|Bahrain Watch||Bahrain||Core||Freedom of Expression||25,000||7/1/2016-6/30/2017|
|i freedom Uganda – Network||Uganda||Discretionary||Freedom of Expression||10,000||8/1/2016-7/31/2017|
|Association for Progressive Communications||South Africa||Project||Business and Human Rights||25,000||7/1/2016-12/31/2016|
|University of Hong Kong Journalism|
& Media Studies Ctr.
|Hong Kong, China||Project||Business and Human Rights||23,000||10/1/2016-3/31/2017|
|Social Media Exchange||Lebanon||Project||Business and Human Rights||50,620||8/1/2016-7/31/2017|
|CIPESA||Uganda||Project||Freedom of Expression||20,000||8/1/2016-7/31/2017|
|Internet Sans Frontières||Senegal, Kenya||Project||Business and Human Rights||21,000||8/1/2016-12/31/2016|
|Centre for Communication Governance|
at National Law University, Dehli
|India||Core||Freedom of Expression||40,000||7/1/2016-6/30/2017|
|Global Voices||The Netherlands||Discretionary||Net Discrimination||5,045||2/1/2017-6/30/2017|
|Visualizing Impact||Lebanon, Canada||Project||Freedom of Expression||30,174||3/1/2017-12/31/2017|
|Media Foundation West Africa||Ghana||Project||Freedom of Expression||25,000||1/1/2017-12/31/2017|
|Centre for Internet & Society||India||Discretionary||Freedom of Expression||10,000||6/1/2017-9/30/2017|
|Bloggers Association of Kenya||Kenya||Discretionary||Freedom of Expression||7,500||7/1/2017-8/31/2017|
Q: How do I apply for an Access Now Grant?
At this time, Access Now does not have an open application process. Instead, we actively seek out opportunities to partner with grantees by attending topical convenings, conducting consultations, and relying upon our network of Regional Allies for grassroot referrals. As the program matures, we anticipate that there will be additional opportunities for potential grantees to apply.
Q: How do you decide who to invite?
We have Regional Allies who make referrals, and the Grants staff can also identify potential grantees through independent research and consultations.
Q: What happens when a referral is made?
When a referral is made, Access Now staff begins the process of checking to see if the organization, individual, or coalition fits our funding priorities, mission, and current portfolio diversity goals. The staff also conducts basic due diligence such as reaching out to community references. If there is a good fit, Access Now will reach out to the nominated organization to see if they are interested in pursuing a granting relationship with Access Now. This may be immediately, or delayed for a further cycle, depending on priorities. It should be noted that a referral is in no way a guarantee of an invitation to apply for a grant.
Q: What types of Grants do you give out?
We distribute three types of grants in five topic areas. All of our grants must fall under our mission of defending and extending the digital rights of users, particularly those most at risk.
Q: Do you only fund organizations?
Our Project Grants may fund individuals, networks, coalitions, etc., as well as organizations.
Q: Who decides who gets your grants?
The Advisory Board is responsible for providing strategic advice, guidance, and recommendations over the portfolio of Core and Project Grant, which is then approved by Access Now. The Advisory Board also conducts an annual review of the Discretionary grants, which are disbursed after consideration of pre-determined criteria by Access Now’s Senior Directors.
Q: I’ve been invited to submit a Proposal. Now what?
Congrats! In your email, you will have been given instructions for how to proceed. Once you fill out the Application, you will receive a confirmation email. If you do not receive this confirmation email, please email us.
Q: I’ve submitted my Proposal. What happens next?
We’ll endeavor to get back to you with an answer as quickly as possible. This may be in a few weeks, or depending on the timing of submission, more than a month.
Q: I have more questions – who can I talk to?
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Globe International Center
Location: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Globe International Center is a Mongolia-based NGO whose mission is to sustain democracy and civil society in Mongolia, and to spread the power of information and knowledge. Globe International works on issues at the intersection of freedom of expression, information and media, and has collaborated with thousands of individuals and civil society groups through workshops, seminars, round tables, festivals, forums, competitions and other public meetings. Globe International also runs campaigns that cooperate with media outlets throughout Mongolia to raise public awareness on human rights and crucial social issues.
Mongolia was the site of the Freedom Online Coalition meeting in 2015. Globe International, wishing to capitalize on the momentum, hosted a Joint International Experts Mission and Multi-stakeholder Consultation roundtable which significantly built internal domestic capacity to implement international standards on freedom of expression and the internet. Attendees drafted a list of recommendations on how the government could improve human rights issues online; created an Action Plan for implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations; educated youth consortium attendees on media techniques; and translated into Mongolian and distributed to attendees the “Universal Implementation Guide for the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance.”
Location: San Jose, Costa Rica
Fundación Acceso’s mission is to help mitigate the ever increasing violations of rights related to the physical, technological and psychosocial safety of vulnerable populations in Central America. Fundación Acceso accomplishes this mission by increasing the capacity of organizations and direct populations to defend their rights in the digital sphere through technical assistance, seminars, and providing access to high quality assistance, awareness processes, knowledge and ICT resources to defend rights including privacy and to prevent surveillance. Since its founding in 1992, Fundación Acceso has provided support to approximately 1400 human rights defenders, journalists and social communicators and women leaders, in addition to 80 human rights organizations and networks in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras.
In 2015, Fundación Acceso conducted a regional study called “Digital privacy for human rights defenders?: A study on how legal frameworks of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua can be used to protect or induce to surveillance, censorship and digital criminalization.” For the promotion and dissemination of the study, Fundación Acceso organized a two day seminar to present the results. The seminar took place at the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (Costa Rica) in December 2015, and the invitees included human rights organizations of the countries where the study was conducted as well as other strategic actors present in South and North America. These organizations will use the inputs of the study in their daily work on human rights, and the study will also be helpful to regional and international actors who are doing advocacy or strategic litigation on digital privacy rights issues.
Location: Brasilia, Brazil
The Beta Institute for Internet and Democracy (IBIDEM) is a Brazilian based nonprofit organization engaged in defending and promoting human rights in the digital environment. IBIDEM creates and implements innovative digital advocacy campaigns within Brazil and on a global scale to promote freedom of expression and equality on the internet and other information and communication technologies.
Access Now provided funding for a digital advocacy campaign to inform the public of a proposed law nicknamed “PLespião” (or “Spy Bill), which would have greatly decreased freedom of expression online by modifying the landmark Marco Civil legislation. Amongst other things, the legislation would have: dramatically increased the ability for authorities to circumvent courts for personal data; instituted an almost limitless (for the right price) “Right to be Forgotten”; and attempted to police behavior through “civility” legislation. With the help of Access Now, IBIDEM, along with independent journalist and writer Breno Castro Alves, was able to quickly design and launch a multimedia campaign just in time for the Internet Governance Forum, which was being held in Brazil, and will again be leveraged when the bill is called for a vote.
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The Association for Progressive Communications’ (APC) mission is to empower and support organizations, social movements and individuals in and through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). APC builds strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to equitable human development, social justice, participatory political processes and environmental sustainability.
Access Now provided support for APC’s third annual African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) in September 2015, hosting 35 participants out of over 700 applications received. The goal of AfriSIG is to give Africans from multiple sectors and stakeholder groups the opportunity to gain knowledge and confidence to enable them to participate effectively in internet governance processes and debates at the national, regional and global levels. AfriSIG also builds the capacity of people with existing expertise in internet governance by including them as faculty and resource persons. AfriSIG increases the diversity, extent, quality and effectiveness of African participation in internet governance at the national, regional and global levels. AfriSIG’s broader goals are to strengthen African perspectives and voices in global internet governance and to achieve more inclusive and transparent internet governance on the continent.
Access Now Grants is supported by the Swedish International Development Agency