Contributed by Lindsay Beck, Senior Program Manager for Radio Free Asia, Open Technology Fund-
As funders, have you ever found several of your grantees needing assistance beyond financial support of their projects? Have you struggled with ways to best provide that support?
At the Open Technology Fund (OTF), we fund projects that enable access to modern communication channels free of restrictions and allow human rights defenders, activists, and ordinary people to communicate without fear of repressive censorship or surveillance in places under authoritarian rule. In addition to providing direct funding to selected projects, we also provide “labs” that help projects achieve sustainability by supporting areas we believe have presented the most challenges to a large percentage of Internet freedom projects.
Why do we do this? In our early days, OTF and its funded technology projects agreed their developed tools required security audits. These audits ensure that projects build the most secure products possible. Rather than placing the burden on those projects’ limited staff to find security auditors, negotiate pricing, etc., we found a few firms that would be able to work with us and those projects to review their developed code and make recommendations to fix any identified security flaws. These auditors eventually helped form OTF’s Red Team Lab, which continues to provide security auditing services to OTF-supported projects and other Internet freedom technology projects to this day, including Wikimedia and other projects. This approach has saved time and money for both OTF and the project partners.
Since then, OTF has expanded these labs to address additional, specific needs of projects that were often being left unfulfilled. Most recently, we’ve launched the Usability Lab, which pairs developers with usability experts to ensure that their security tools are as user-friendly as possible. What has been critical to the success of these labs has been working with vendors or other service providers that are trusted and have good standing within the Internet freedom community.
Since many risks and sensitivities surround any project designed to assist journalists, activists and human rights defenders, working with trusted service providers ensures buy-in from OTF supported projects, rather than causing resentment at a perceived additional funder requirement. In addition, OTF relies on its projects and other Internet freedom community members to identify other needs that can be met with additional labs. These ideas usually emerge from our annual summit, where OTF brings together all of its funded projects to interact with one another and help inform our strategies for the following year.
Overall, these labs have been met positively by the Internet freedom and broader technology-for-human-rights communities. They provide a very low barrier to entry for groups or individuals who are working on Internet freedom issues to receive assistance on their projects, ultimately contributing to higher-quality products and more mature project development than would have existed otherwise.
Based on the successes that we have seen with the labs, OTF is happy to advise other IHRFG members on exploring ways to provide in-kind services or other similar mechanisms for their grantees. Want to learn more? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.