Open Internet for Democracy Leaders Program 2021, USA

Publish Date: Jun 13, 2021

Deadline: Jun 23, 2021


Democracy has always required the free flow of ideas. In the modern age, this means a free, open internet where all citizens can freely voice their opinions, share, and debate. Access to an open internet for all is necessary to strengthen democratic engagement and governance, enable equal participation in the market economy, and promote social accountability. 

The Open Internet for Democracy Leaders Program - a collaboration between the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) - is a nine-month (September - May) non-residential leadership program that empowers emerging leaders from across the globe to build their advocacy and organizing skills to protect internet freedom. 

The Open Internet for Democracy Leaders are a unique cohort of global advocates from civic organizations, media, and the private sector who are passionate about protecting and promoting an open internet.  

The program aims to: 

  1. Empower emerging open internet advocates to advance internet policy discussions and organize for change in their country and/or region.
  2. Strengthen the Open Internet for Democracy Community by connecting emerging open internet advocates with their global peers.


Ensuring that the internet is a trusted digital space governed in a way that protects human rights and fosters inclusive civic and economic participation is essential for democracy to survive in the digital era. Yet, over the past decade, there has been a global decline in internet freedom, and actions by governments and non-state actors to close the space for an open internet have become even more advanced and easier to deploy. Indeed, the rise of digital authoritarianism is a direct threat to open and democratic values everywhere. 

As people around the globe rely more heavily on the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments, particularly across the Global South, have violated digital rights in the name of public health. This included infringing on individual privacy rights through new surveillance technologies, increasing censorship of content, and intentionally disrupting digital connectivity through shutdowns and internet throttling. Moreover, in recent years, governments around the globe have also implemented policies with unintended consequences that curb digital rights. Overall, this negative trend represents a step backward in terms of fostering a democratically-governed, global public sphere.

The Open Internet for Democracy Leaders Program is looking for applicants who pinpoint a particular digital rights issue occurring in their country or region that, if left unaddressed, poses a direct threat to democracy. They will then develop an advocacy/research project to raise awareness about the issue. It may be an emerging issue that few have looked at before, or it may be an existing one, but which the applicant has a novel approach to tackling. In particular, we will be looking for applicants who are interested in building connections with other stakeholders to address the problem. Furthermore, a plan as to how to highlight the issue at regional and global forums is expected as a key element of this program is to help connect and network open internet advocates at the regional and global levels to champion positive change.


  • National or regional advocacy and research 
    • Implement an in-country activity that directly contributes to a local, national or regional conversation on internet freedom. The activity should incorporate coalition-building for effective advocacy against government policies or practices (in place or proposed) that threaten digital rights. Examples of what projects might entail include:
      • Organizing an advocacy campaign to raise awareness aimed at equipping policymakers with information about the pitfalls of policies inspired by digital authoritarianism. 
      • Producing research that examines the impact of digital authoritarianism  on access to news and information.
      • Mapping national and/or regional policies or proposals and their potential consequences.
      • Developing a training module/video that explains the implications of digital authoritarianism for civil society, media, and/or the private sector. 
      • Conducting multi-stakeholder workshops or roundtable discussions to develop a position paper or a social media campaign on a proposed government action that threatens digital rights.
  • Communications and Outreach
    • Produce at least 2 blog posts or articles for  
    • Actively engage in conversations on open internet issues, such as on Twitter with the program’s @OpenNetGlobal account.
    • Identify potential areas for collaboration among local and regional open internet advocates/groups, and develop strategies for engagement and collective action. 
  • Community Collaboration & Thought Leadership
    • Participate at the 2021 Internet Governance Forum (virtually or in-person).
    • Contribute to knowledge and awareness of the Open Internet for Democracy Community about local/regional/national threats to an open internet through participation in relevant events and ongoing information sharing.


  • Demonstrated interest or experience working on open internet issues, with preference given to those focused on media, economic inclusion/digital economy/entrepreneurship or civic/political participation
  • Experience in one or more of the following areas: policy, activism, research, or technical expertise
  • Ability to work independently with minimum supervision in collaboration with colleagues across different time zones 
  • Strong organizational, interpersonal, and communication skills
  • Strong social media skills 
  • Fluency in written and spoken English  
  • Strong presentation skills
  • Ability to travel to one international conference (location TBD; costs covered; In-person participation in such events is contingent on health considerations related to the COVID-19 pandemic)
  • Access to reliable internet connection that will enable participation in video or virtual workshops or conferences. 
  • Ability to actively participate in regular check-in calls with program organizers and in virtual orientation sessions. 
  • Applicants must live and work in an OECD-DAC eligible country.  


The selected applicants will be a part of a larger international network where they can learn from peers and share their work. Open Internet Leaders will receive an honorarium of $1000 USD for completing their required activities, as well as travel and per diem covered for at least one international trip (Note: Travel opportunities may change due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If for any reason travel is not possible, CIPE, NDI, and CIMA, will explore ways for the Open Internet Leaders to participate in international fora through virtual conferencing platforms.)


The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) is a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce. CIPE works with private sector organizations to increase support for and understanding of freedoms/rights essential for market-oriented democracies, including freedom of expression, assembly, and association. 

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) is a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that works with its local partners to establish and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world by building political and civic organizations, safeguarding elections, and promoting citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. 

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) is a media development think tank housed within the NED. CIMA works to improve the effectiveness of existing media development efforts by conducting research and bringing together a broad range of experts to share their experiences. CIMA's mission is based on the conviction that free and independent media play an indispensable role in developing sustainable democracies around the world.

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Opportunity Types


Eligible Countries


Host Countries

United States