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Open calls: New standards in grant making

Author: Olga Komarova | 3. December 2020

Over the past few years, funders in the open source tech sector have been hosting open calls for projects, providing innovators with opportunities to bring projects to the funders, rather than dictating the needs on the ground.

Luminate and the Sandler Foundation have recently launched the Reset initiative which provides grants to projects that strive to combat digital threats to democracy. They have based their model on those developed by the Open Technology FundData & SocietyShuttleworth FoundationMozilla FoundationNew Media VenturesIndela, and various others committed to conducting Open Calls.

Open calls are not a free-for-all. There are clear eligibility criteria, procedures, and evaluation processes just as with other granting organisations. But the goal, structure, execution and implementation of the project are open, as long as it aligns with the overall aims of the fund itself. There is a clear acknowledgement of the fact that there are many ways in which this work can be carried out and it is up to the imagination and creativity of the applicant to decide how best to address the problem.

The above-mentioned funding organisations are also committed to providing as much information as possible on the funding application process itself. Reset, for example, has created an open source guide on Gitbook to ensure transparency in their decision-making operations and ultimately to help applicants navigate the application process and submit their most competitive application possible. Comments and suggestions for improving the guide are welcome and are added as the call progresses. The language used throughout the process, from the call for proposals to the application form itself, is positive and encouraging, aiming to build confidence in the applicant. If a project is not chosen, the foundations aim to give thorough and comprehensive feedback, encouraging applicants to resubmit a stronger proposal in the next round of open calls.

Many of the topics of these open calls are in alignment with the policy agenda that the GFMD-led Dynamic Coalition for the Sustainability of News and Media (DC-Sustainability) has been advocating for within the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and similar spaces focusing on digital policy. Check out the following open calls:

  • Reset: Open call with bi-monthly deadline to address the damage inflicted by surveillance capitalism on human rights, democracy, and open societies. Reset support efforts that, amongst others, strive to “improve the integrity of democracy in our digital age – by intervening directly with governments, press, and other institutions responsible for the trust and health of current democracies.”
  • New Media Venture: This US-based seed fund has been investing in media and tech startups that disrupt politics and catalyze progressive change since 2010. It announced a $1,2 m investment in 2018 and has previously funded Daily Kos, Vote.org, and Pantsuit Nation. Their open call for proposals for 2020 is already closed but sign up to be notified when the next open call is announced in early 2021. The fund is exclusively for US-based organisations or projects with an significant US focus.

We will continue to update this blog with open calls relevant to the GFMD membership, so be sure to keep an eye on this space.


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