The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) announces an open competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for long-term development, core support, outreach, and implementation of censorship-defeating peer-to-peer communications technologies.

In support of the U.S. government’s policy to “promote an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet that fosters efficiency, innovation, communication, and economic prosperity, while respecting privacy and guarding against disruption, fraud, and theft,” as described in the 2018 US National Cyber Strategy, DRL supports the development of anti-censorship technologies, including tools to permit peer-to-peer communications that can be useful during a network shutdowns or severe disruptions.

Program proposals must include the following components:

  • Development and maintenance of a free, open-source, peer-to-peer communications platform, with the features described above, and with an end user-facing client interface, or the ability to easily integrate into an existing client. Technologies proposed should reflect technical components that are beyond the proof-of-concept stage, and preference will be given to systems that have demonstrated feasibility, and even an existing use base.
  • A development strategy that emphasizes human-centered design and usability, including testing with end-user groups, in order to ensure adoption and ease of use.
  • A comprehensive outreach program to encourage the adoption of the platform by new users in contexts vulnerable to network disruption; and, if needed, integration into other clients in order to reach more users.
  • A strong emphasis on end-user security, including the deployment of encryption, as needed, to defeat network surveillance.

Program proposals may include the following additional components or features:

  • Platforms that integrate or merge more than one existing protocol or codebase, in order to leverage existing technology for the purposes of enabling effective decentralized communications.

Funding Information

  • Award Ceiling: $2,000,000;
  • Award Floor: $2,000,000;
  • Period of Performance: 24-36 months.

Key Program Considerations

This list of considerations is provided as a guide to help applicants develop responsive, robust program strategies.

  • Preference will be given to open source technologies with practical deployment and sustainability plans. These technologies are inherently more transparent and re-usable.
  • Consistent with DRL’s venture-capital style approach to Internet freedom, projects should have a model for long-term sustainability beyond the life of the grant.
  • DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships, especially with organizations that can best implement key elements of the program plan. Where appropriate, applicants are invited to form consortia for submitting a combined proposal, but the primary organization that will conduct and implement the small grants program must be the lead (“prime”) applicant.
  • DRL strives to ensure its programs advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most at-risk and vulnerable populations.

All programs should aim to have impact that leads to reforms and should have the potential for sustainability beyond DRL resources.  DRL’s preference is to avoid duplicating past efforts by supporting new and creative approaches. This does not exclude from consideration projects that improve upon or expand existing successful projects in a new and complementary way.


Activities that are not typically allowed include, but are not limited to:

  • The provision of humanitarian assistance;
  • English language instruction;
  • Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware;
  • Purely academic exchanges or fellowships;
  • External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six months;
  • Off-shore activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary per security concerns;
  • Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;
  • Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives;
  • Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of targeted countries.

Priority Regions

Global, with a focus on the most Internet repressive environments.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Primary organizations can submit one application in response to the NOFO.
  • DRL welcomes applications from U.S.-based and foreign-based non-profit organizations/nongovernment organizations (NGO) and public international organizations; private, public, or state institutions of higher education; and for-profit organizations or businesses. DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be some occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited.
  • Applications submitted by for-profit entities may be subject to additional review following the panel selection process.  Additionally, the Department of State prohibits profit to for-profit or commercial organizations under its assistance awards.  Profit is defined as any amount in excess of allowable direct and indirect costs.  The allowability of costs incurred by commercial organizations is determined in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) at 48 CFR 30, Cost Accounting Standards Administration, and 48 CFR 31 Contract Cost Principles and Procedures.

How to Apply

Applicants can find application forms, kits, or other materials needed to apply on the given website.

For more information, visit

Name of the Organisation
The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor (DRL)
Grant Amount
USD 2 Million
Closing date of Proposal
Friday, 10 April, 2020
RFP Email
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