As the Internet Society Foundation (Foundation) enters its third full calendar year of operation in 2022, we will continue to advance our vision and mission by providing funding for initiatives that respond to the global challenges of this time. While we are of course unable to predict all that we will face in 2022, we do know that accessing the Internet and equipping people with the digital skills needed to use the Internet in a productive way will remain critical to positive global change.
This need was proven in 2020 and again in 2021 with the Internet remaining the one constant in many people’s lives during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. It has been an unwavering connection to the world around us: enduring, reliable, and resilient – a lifeline for so many. And yet, there are still countless that are unconnected or are not yet able to experience tangible lifechanging benefits from being connected to the Internet.
The Foundation was launched by the Internet Society (ISOC) in 2019 to extend the reach of its vision and mission through philanthropy. Specifically, the Foundation was established as a supporting organization to ISOC to invest in non-profit organizations and individuals, as well as the Internet Society Chapters and Special Interest Groups, that are dedicated to providing meaningful access to an open, globally connected, secure and trustworthy Internet for everyone.
The Foundation strives to live our values each and every day:
- We are bold. We are unafraid to take on new challenges, seek unique solutions, and blaze our own trail.
- We act with integrity. We do what is right even when it is not easy, hold ourselves and others to a high standard, and choose honesty above all else.
- We are committed. We prioritize our grantees’ success and sustainability, our team members’ well-being, and growth, and making a true difference for people and the planet.
- We are inclusive. We seek out worldwide opportunities to advance ideas and we foster strength in diversity.
Our Commitment to Transparency
The Foundation is committed to ensuring transparency and accountability in our grantmaking process. To that end, we work with independent experts to review, score, and provide recommendations on applications submitted for funding. These experts serve on our Independent Program Review Committees (IPRCs) and Selection Committee and are leading practitioners from across a range of Internet-related fields. Learn more about our eligibility requirements and grant selection process.
Our values form a backdrop against which we challenge our thinking across all our work, including program delivery, operational excellence, and engagement with our stakeholder communities. To that end, as we build on the foundation we have set in place, we ask ourselves:
- How do we clearly define the beneficiaries of Foundation funding?
- How do we best analyze the characteristics of those with whom we are working now and those we want to fund in 2022 and beyond?
- How can we better serve our stakeholder communities, including those who are underserved and unserved?
- What needs to change?
- How can we impart greater impact in the world by fostering change in our internal practices?
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) lies at the intersection of these questions and our mission to champion ideas and unlock the Internet’s potential in communities around the world.
By applying a critical lens to our practices and strategies, and also learning from the DEI- related research and insights available in the philanthropic community and beyond, we will begin to answer these questions. We commit to employing an inclusive, collaborative, and participatory approach to our operational and programmatic strategy. In 2022, this will include:
- Listening to, learning from, and adapting our practices in response to grantee voices. We will continue to provide opportunities for grantees to have their voices heard in both formal and informal fora and narrow the power gap between funder and grantee.
- Adapting our processes to be more inclusive, to better understand our grantee community, and positively shape every grantee’s Foundation experience from the very beginning of the relationship.
- Updating our application and reporting practices to better align with our goals of reducing burden on grantees and creating more equitable experiences for all.
- Working with locally and globally underserved and unserved populations, making a difference among vulnerable populations while also diversifying the voices within our grantee community. This includes better understanding the attributes and needs of the underserved and unserved.
The methods by which we will approach these commitments will be far-reaching and involve all Foundation operational areas. Success in these areas will rely greatly on feedback from our stakeholder communities and staff experience. We anticipate that we will be able to see near- term positive results from these efforts in many areas, while recognizing that this will be an iterative, enduring commitment.
Our 2021 Successes
2021 was a year that saw many important achievements for the Foundation, including:
- Launched two brand new programs: Resiliency and BOLT (Building Opportunities & Leveraging Technology)
- Launched a successful second round of our Strengthening Communities, Improving Lives and Livelihoods (SCILLS) program, and a third round of our Research program
- Completed the first cohort of our Emergency Response: COVID-19 program and launched – and awarded funding for – a second cohort
- Furthered our Beyond the Net programming by hosting grantee information sessions and learning exchange webinars
- Introduced new partnership opportunities for Internet Society Chapters through our Resiliency and Research programs
- Enhanced our training curriculum that serves applicants and grantees making it publicly accessible
- Raised the Foundation’s brand profile by participating in speaking engagements, publishing articles about our work, launching a podcast, and maintaining an aggressive social media campaign
- Provided regular opportunities for grantees to collaborate and learn from each other including quarterly reflection calls and peer to peer webinars
- Operationalized the Foundation’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning strategy
Our Test / Learn / Adapt Model
As we experienced these successes, we also learned from them all. The Foundation approached the year with a Test / Learn / Adapt model to rapidly test answers to questions encountered by “start-ups” and more quickly inform decisions. We launched programs and continued programs, refining as we went along. We tested elements and we learned.
In 2022, we will continue to adapt, grow, and change in response to our 2021 learnings to implement our strategy in support of our objectives for 2022.
Our 2022 Action Plan Objectives
- Commit at least US$11M in new funding awards in 2022
- Channel a greater percentage of our grant funding to individuals/ organizations located in the same underserved and unserved communities in which they will implement their projects
- Test our evaluation framework through at least one project assessment exercise for each funding area
- Evolve our technology ecosystem to streamline and create efficiencies in our work processes, benefiting staff and grantees alike
- Increase awareness of the Foundation and its opportunities among key target audiences.
Our 2022 Funding Areas Overview
The Foundation is now operating five different funding areas, providing grants to Internet Society Chapters and Special Interest Groups, and organizations and individuals around the world. At the time of this writing, in 2021 we have funded projects in thirty-seven countries worldwide as well as sixteen regionally focused projects covering six different regions. There were also an additional ten projects awarded in 2021 with a global scope. We anticipate this list of project countries to grow with the next cohort of Research program grantees, the newly introduced Resiliency program and the inaugural Building Opportunities Leveraging Technology (BOLT) grants rounding out the final awards for the 2021 calendar year.
The funding areas that ensure success of the Foundation’s vision and mission include:
1. Beyond the Net Funding Programme: Small Grants for Internet Society Chapters that would like to implement small-scale projects and Large Grants for those Chapters that are interested in implementing larger, possibly longer-term projects
2. Strengthening Communities and Improving Lives & Livelihoods (SCILLS): for organizations that aim to expand economic growth and increase educational opportunities by supporting individuals and communities to use the Internet more knowledgeably and skillfully
3. Resiliency and Responding to Emergencies (RARE) which has two parts:
- Emergency Response Program COVID-19: for organizations working on projects that utilize the Internet to improve lives during or in response to an emergency situation, such as the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic
- Resiliency: for projects that increase network resiliency in communities prone to natural and climate-related disasters, so that these communities will be better able to prepare for and withstand the effects of natural and climate-related disasters on Internet connectivity
4. Research: to promote novel methodologies that generate solutions to Internet-related challenges and support global research collaborations that advance understanding of the Internet and its value for all
5. Building Opportunities & Leveraging Technology (BOLT): to support teams of innovators working to expand the possibility of Internet connectivity and access globally, through the development of technological prototypes and pilots.
We also fund national, regional and the global Internet Governance Forums (IGF) as well as Schools of Internet Governance. The Foundation also provides funding to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) LLC.
The Foundation also provides funding to the Global, Regional & National IGFs as well as Schools of Internet Governance. Additionally, the IETF LLC receives funding each year from the Foundation.
Our 2022 Funding Areas Plan Highlights
Beyond the Net
After nearly a year of working closely with ISOC Chapters, in September of 2021, the Beyond the Net team distributed a survey to ISOC Chapters to gain an even better understanding of their needs as well as the needs of the communities they serve. The team also held webinars and regular check-in calls to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how the program could be improved and become more responsive to ISOC Chapters, considering their varying capacities and variable needs of the communities they serve. Based on these interactions, in 2022 Beyond the Net is adjusting the program in response to feedback from ISOC Chapters around the world.
We are, for example, increasing the size of Small Grants from US$3,500 to up to US$5,000 and Large Grants from US$30,000 to up to US$50,000 for those that have demonstrated the capacity to manage a grant of this size. Select Chapters with whom we have worked have demonstrated the ability to manage greater amounts of funding and, in fact, one Chapter in 2021 received a substantial grant for a research project as part of the Foundation’s Research Program.
Also in 2022, the Beyond the Net team will work on capturing the social return/impact of the program by building and contributing to a stronger operational and monitoring and evaluation framework for projects.
Finally, the Beyond the Net team will continue to partner with ISOC’s Community Engagement Managers to maintain proper information concerning the Chapter community in different regions. They will work with the Operations Team within the Foundation to establish processes, the Monitoring and Evaluation Manager to measure impact and the Communications team to amplify ISOC Chapter grantee voices.
SCILLS – Strengthening Communities and Improving Lives & Livelihoods
When the Foundation launched the SCILLS Program in 2020, we began in three countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, and Senegal. In each of these countries, the Foundation is currently funding three grantees (for a total of nine) who are – at the time of writing this Action Plan – in various stages of completing their projects. We also awarded a second cohort of grants in these same three countries in 2021 for a total of eight new SCILLS grantees. There is therefore a total of 17 grantees between the two SCILLS cohorts, most of whom will continue working into 2022.
In 2022, the Foundation will continue to work closely with these three grantee countries but will also expand the SCILLS Program to include three additional countries in each of the selected regions: Latin America/Caribbean, Africa, and Asia Pacific. We have had great success thus far in Bangladesh, Colombia and Senegal and have learned that other countries in these regions face similar digital transformation issues that can be addressed through the SCILLS Program.
Research will determine the specific countries into which we will expand SCILLS in the three regions, ensuring that the countries selected have the following attributes:
- Lower-to-middle income as identified by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
- Medium-to-high Internet penetration rate: Applicants must demonstrate there are pockets of connectivity where they can ensure success among the target audiences
- Established organizations with a footprint in the country in which they are working
- Strategically placed in the region for expansion in future years
- Provide a balance of need and relative ease in operating environment (i.e., ability to send funds into the country, relative peace/stability, areas where the Internet is not yet being accessed to benefit communities).
In addition to expanding the Foundation’s SCILLS footprint in these regions, we will also increase the size of the available grants from up to US$150,000 to up to US$250,000. We are making this change in 2022 because we are committed to increasing funding across programs and the regions in which we have been working. The plan is to fund three projects each in the new countries (for a total of nine) as well as three in the current SCILLS countries resulting in a total of 12 new grantees for 2022 added to our existing SCILLS portfolio.
Since September 2020, the Research Grant Program has awarded over US$1.6M to independent researchers and research institutions around the world in support of expanding our applied knowledge of the Internet. By the end of 2021, another US$1M will be awarded in support of these efforts. Because of the success and growth of this program in 2021, we plan to again increase funding in 2022 over 2021, committing up to US$3M. We anticipate increased interest and requests for support under the existing four thematic areas (which will remain the same in 2022.):
- Greening the Internet: promotes an awareness of these and other issues concerning the Internet’s environmental footprint and the sustainability measures needed for it and the planet to thrive
- The Internet Economy: presents an analysis of past or present ecosystems that yields insight into the future of the Internet and its dependent market(s)
- A Trustworthy Internet: attempts to explain how the Internet does or does not meet user expectations and what should or shouldn’t be done about it
- Decolonizing the Internet: explores these practices and other methods toward an Internet for everyone.
To accommodate this increase in designated funding, we will offer two delineated funding streams: 1) for independent researchers with award amounts up to US$200K for specific research projects and 2) for organizations with award amounts up to US$500K.
Further, we hope to target researchers with an emphasis on those from underserved and unserved communities to create more localized and contextualized grantee communities of practice.
In 2022, we will also consider awarding additional funds to existing grantee partners should their projects or organizations continue to align with programmatic objectives and remain relevant to thematic areas currently in place.
RARE: Resiliency and Responding to Emergencies
The RARE program includes two components:
June 2021 marked the end of the projects from the 2020 cohort of Emergency Response: COVID-19 grants. Totaling nearly US$1.5M in grant funds, a summary of the first cohort can be found in this lookback report. Throughout the cohort’s grant lifecycle there were many lessons learned which were used to adapt our approach in awarding new grants to our second cohort in 2021, which remained focused on COVID-19. Highest among these adaptations was our decision to narrow the scope in the call for proposals to focus solely on Internet connectivity in response to an emergency as opposed to supporting various Internet-based applications or platforms. This approach allowed us to objectively explore niche funding more aligned to the Foundation’s vison and mission.
Due to the ongoing pandemic and the serious threats it continues to present around the world, we anticipate another year of funding tied to COVID-19 response in 2022, increasing the level of funding. The total amount of funding to be committed for the Emergency Response Program in 2022 is US$2M.
The Resiliency Program provided an opportunity to test a theory of change involving our ISOC Chapter Community: If we facilitate a partnership between our grantees and ISOC Chapters to deliver resilient Internet projects in areas most at-risk for natural and climate-related disasters, then we will greatly increase the efficiency of our funding by improving the capacity of local Internet actors to be prepared in the event of natural and climate-related disasters.
By the end of 2021 we will have committed US$1.5M in support of testing this theory. The lessons learned from this inaugural cohort will provide a basis on which to make further programmatic decisions about involvement of the ISOC Chapter community in some future grant program areas outside of Beyond the Net. We will use anecdotal data from those awarded grants in 2021 to inform and improve the program in 2022. We also plan to use this data to understand how we might integrate and collaborate across grant programs. We intend to maintain this level of committed funding (US$1.5M) for this program in 2022.
BOLT: Building Opportunities/Leveraging Technologies
Funding will increase to US$1.2M in 2022 in an effort to build a diverse portfolio from which we hope to glean insight and know-how that will help shape this continually evolving program. The Foundation’s intent is to provide an additional grant to an organization that will support cohort management and development that can inform strategic planning moving forward.
IGF – Internet Governance Forums
The Foundation will continue to provide funding to those who are eligible to manage and successfully implement a national or regional IGF or School of Governance and we will continue our funding of the global IGF.
For national and regional IGFs, the Foundation will continue to fund only those events that are officially recognized by the United Nations (UN) Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Secretariat or verified by the UN IGF Secretariat to be eligible for official recognition
Internet Engineering Task Force
In addition to the work described above, the Foundation also provides support to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) by providing funds to IETF Administration LLC. The IETF is the leading Internet standards body. It develops open standards through open processes with one goal in mind: to make the Internet work better. The LLC was formed within the umbrella of the ISOC legal structure, to help bring structure and accountability to the administrative, financial, and legal aspects of operating the IETF. The amount of funds to be provided to the IETF in 2022 is US$6.5M.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The Foundation is committed to a robust Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) framework in order to be clear on the results of the areas we are funding and to ensure accountability with the funds that are entrusted to the Foundation. We ask for regular financial and narrative reporting from our grantees and each report is not only reviewed by the Program team but so too by our M&E Manager.
We also conduct regular check-in meetings and provide one-on-one support to grantees to develop monitoring tools and review project measurement metrics. Our objectives and results logic and measurement metrics have been sharpened at the three levels at which we will evaluate our work: Foundation – Program – Project. Creating clarity on what success looks like at each of these levels has given us a framework to properly evaluate the impact of our giving and to ladder up results towards our goal of strengthening the Internet in function and reach.
In 2022, we continue this commitment to M&E by not only reviewing what projects are producing but also looking at the projects as they relate to our program-level objectives and Foundation learning questions through strategic reflection sessions. We will conduct assessments on a sample of our projects for each program in order to collate data on project results and provide program teams with evidence of what works and how. Data gathered across all programs will be used to strengthen existing M&E methodologies and inform development and adoption of impact assessment tools.
Increasing visibility and awareness of the Foundation’s brand among key stakeholders (i.e., potential applicants, applicants, grantees, and future partners) is critical to the success and growth of the Foundation. In 2022, we will drive growth in the key areas below to be well positioned to attract a qualified, diverse applicant pool for all our funding areas as well as potential partnerships.
The specific Communications objectives in 2022 include:
- Website traffic – have a 25% increase in website traffic, to reach 12.5K visitors a month by end of 2022
- Social media reach – reach 18,000 followers by the end of 2022
- Newsletter subscriptions – grow subscription list by 25% by end of 2022
- Number of earned media opportunities – secure three earned media opportunities
The Communications Team will develop and implement a digital marketing plan that includes paid social media and online advertising, and continue to enhance our website, ensuring it remains a vibrant, easy-to-use, and accessible platform for all users. We will conduct targeted media outreach/pitching about our work to relevant journalists/publications and implement a targeted communications plan to promote our funding areas in underserved and unserved communities.
The Foundation’s Operations Team is responsible for a variety of areas including all aspects of maintaining and growing our technical capabilities and, in close collaboration with the Executive Director, managing our financial future and developing policies and procedures.
In 2021, the Operations Team conducted a five-year-forecast exercise to provide the Foundation team an opportunity to look ahead at where the Foundation will be in 2025. Ultimately, we determined to increase our grant making substantially in the next five years yet, at the same time, remain a lean organization. We recognize that, to do so, we need to: have our systems and tools identify and implement efficiencies, streamline our processes, and live our values in our work, every day.
Operational Excellence is our goal. To begin the process of moving the organization to its future state envisioned in the five-year-forecast exercise, in 2022 the Operations team will prioritize implementing a two-year technology ecosystem project, streamlining existing processes for staff and grantees alike, and refining our processes to demonstrate our commitment to equitable practices.
This includes but is not limited to:
- Refining grantee reporting and making it as flexible as possible in order to not overburden our grantees
- Refining and enhancing data collection and analysis by creating a grant classification schema for use in a data visualization tool
- Enhancing staff efficiencies by implementing available automations between our grants management system and other existing tools, such as our compliance screening tool and accounting tools
- Moving toward a more equitable application process, more inclusive registration form, refining and standardizing our forms and processes to minimize grantee effort
- Elevating our website visitors’ experience with an integration between our grants management system and our website to automate how our grantmaking and impact data is updated and published to our site
- Providing an immersive multi-lingual experience for our applicants and grantees that prefer Spanish or French over the default English in our grants management system
As a two-year ecosystem project, the sequencing and timing of implementing some of the above technical pieces are not yet known at the time of this writing.
An additional outcome of the five-year-forecast exercise was discussions with the Board of Trustees as well as looking at how the Foundation might move forward into 2030. It was determined that we should incorporate a quasi-endowment into the Foundation’s financial portfolio which, it was agreed, would be a corpus (principal) of US$50M.
As a quasi-endowment, the Foundation would ensure a predetermined amount of funds are available in the unfortunate case of a dire financial shock and, unlike a true endowment, the funds are directed by the Board of Trustees, thus providing greater flexibility for their future use, if such a shock were to occur.
Continuing to Build a Grantee Community
The Foundation is committed to ensuring our grantees feel inspired about their work but so too feel connected to one another as well as to the Foundation. We are dedicated to building and maintaining a community that can learn from us and learn from each other. We are loyal to listening to, learning from, and adapting our practices in response to grantee voices.
It is for this reason that we regularly check in with all cohorts to see how they are doing and how we can help, a practice that proved to be very valuable in 2021:
“I have really come to appreciate this platform [quarterly calls] that is really open and allows us to speak about challenges, opportunities, for that I say kudos to the team.” – Diana (Amref)
“I think the diversity of fields, continents [among ER grantees] creates different insights. That insight piece of co-learning together was really valuable – for me the word is accompaniment, I felt really accompanied on this journey. I appreciate the flexibility, the trust, the willingness to check in and engage on what the challenges are.” – Tim (OneSky)
“The reflection calls are a great opportunity to test our ideas and gain insight. We have a chance to meet with a very knowledgeable group of researchers with connections to many other networks. I think you are really achieving your community building objective with this type of activity." – Wolfgang (World Data Lab)
As you can see from the table below, this will continue in 2022 with regular reflection, check in and orientation calls as well as webinars. And we utilize program-specific listservs to ensure that all grantees can network, collaborate, and learn from one another. Additionally, if travel is safe and permissible in 2022, we hope to gather grantees in person for additional dialogue opportunities. The Foundation has set aside a travel pool from which these funds would be pulled should this be feasible in 2022.
Measuring Our Success for 2022
The following are the measurements against which we will determine our success in 2022:
- Increased committed funding by at least 40% across our portfolio
- Increased percentage of grants to individuals/organizations located in the same underserved/unserved communities in which they will implement their projects
- Applied evidence-based approach for project funding decisions
- Tangibly improved staff and grantees’ experiences with our technology systems and automations to improve efficiencies
- Increased awareness of the Foundation and its opportunities among key target audiences
The Foundation’s organizational chart is shown below. In 2022, we will increase the number of staff by five as this will be necessary to support the growth in the amount of funds the Foundation will be committing throughout the world and the number of grantees with which we will be working. As seen in the organizational chart, we aspire to be a staff of fifteen full time employees by the end of 2022.
Our team will be supported by the Internet Society’s Legal, Human Resources, Information Technology and Finance teams as has been the case in previous years. The Foundation’s Executive Director will maintain the reporting relationship to the Foundation’s CEO.
The Foundation 2022 operating budget includes the annual contribution from Public Interest Registry (PIR) of $26 million; other personnel and operating costs; as well as Board Designated Funds to support our program awards.
All costs in the budget support the growth, reach and impact of the Foundation.