Western Hemisphere: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest: Fostering Civil, Political, and Labor Rights in Cuba

Department of State

Public Notice

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest: Programs Fostering Civil, Political, and Labor Rights in Cuba

I. Requested Proposal Program Objectives

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces a Request for Statements of Interest (RSOI) from organizations interested in submitting Statements of Interest (SOI) outlining programs that will foster civil, political, and labor rights in Cuba.

PLEASE NOTE: DRL strongly encourages applicants to access immediately www.grantsolutions.gov or www.grants.gov in order to obtain a username and password. GrantSolutions.gov is highly recommended for all submissions and is DRL’s preferred choice of receiving applications. For more information, please see DRL’s Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in October 2014, available at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.

DRL invites organizations to submit SOIs for programs that promote internationally-recognized individual, civil, political, and labor rights – as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements – in Cuba.

The Cuban government fails to respect freedom of speech and the press, restricts internet access, maintains a monopoly on political power and media outlets, circumscribes academic freedom, and maintains some restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refuses to recognize non-governmental human rights groups or permit them to function legally. The government continues to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights. Common human rights abuses on the island include those involving the abridgement of the right of citizens to participate in their government, including through periodic and genuine elections, as well as the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, organized mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly. In addition, the government continues to engage in or permit the following abuses: short-term, arbitrary unlawful detentions and arrests, harsh prison conditions, selective prosecution, and denial of fair trial. Authorities also interfere with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications without legal authority and with impunity.

DRL programs in Cuba aim to strengthen on-island, independent civil society capacity to further the rights and interests of Cuban citizens, and to overcome the limitations that have been imposed by the Cuban government on citizens’ civil, political, and labor rights. In particular, programs should support the realization in Cuba of rights enshrined within Articles 5, 9, 10, 12, 13, 19, 20, 21, and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among others.

A highly competitive statement of interest would generally:

  • Propose concrete initiatives that reflect ongoing dialogue between the applicant and Cuban civil society, as well as recent developments on the island;
  • Demonstrate the applicant’s experience programming effectively within Cuba, or within other closed society environments;
  • Prioritize South-South exchange, or reflect the linguistic needs and capabilities of target beneficiaries, in the development of any off-island activities;
  • Reflect an effective, multi-dimensional strategy for confronting longstanding challenges;
  • Offer a specific vision for achieving change, while acknowledging obstacles that would have to be overcome in order to achieve that change;
  • Emphasize the role of Cuban partners in developing and achieving programmatic objectives.

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

  • Organizational assistance to Cuban civil society to improve management, strategic planning, sustainability, and collaboration of local civil society groups;
  • Off-island trainings, short-term fellowships, or engagement;
  • Distribution of software that would be easily accessible in an open society, or the localization of said software for the Cuban technological environment;
  • Baseline surveys or analyses for the purpose of facilitating implementation and improving monitoring and evaluation;
  • Assistance mechanisms designed to provide independent Cuban civil society with tools, opportunities, and trainings that civil society counterparts in open societies can access.

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

  • The provision of large amounts of humanitarian assistance;
  • English language instruction;
  • Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware specific to Cuba;
  • Purely academic exchanges or fellowships;
  • External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six months;
  • Off-island activities for Cubans that are not clearly linked to on-island initiatives and impact;
  • Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues in Cuba, including programs aimed primarily at research and evaluation;
  • Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives;
  • Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or fail to provide clear evidence of the ability of the applicant to achieve the stated impact;
  • Initiatives directed towards the Cuban diaspora rather than current residents of Cuba.

DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships; applicants are invited to form consortia which submit a combined SOI, in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant. DRL also strives to ensure its programs advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most vulnerable or at-risk populations.

Approximately $11 million in programming will be supported, pending availability of funds.

II. Background Information on general DRL funding and Statements of Interest

Globally, DRL supports programs that uphold democratic principles, support and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, and build civil society around the world. Funds are available to support projects that have the potential to have an immediate impact leading to long-term sustainable engagement. Projects should have potential for continued funding beyond DRL resources. DRL prefers innovative and creative approaches rather than programs which simply duplicate or add to efforts by other entities.

The submission of a SOI is the first step in a two-part process. After reviewing SOIs, selected organization will be invited to expand their ideas into full proposals at a later date. The intention of requesting SOIs first is to provide organizations with additional time to focus on submitting creative and new ideas to foster democracy and human rights in Cuba.

DRL will not consider SOIs that reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization, whether or not elected members of government.

The information in this solicitation and DRL’s PSI for Statements of Interest, as updated in October 2014, is binding and may not be modified by any DRL representative. Explanatory information provided by DRL that contradicts this language will not be binding. Issuance of the solicitation and negotiation of submission does not constitute an award commitment on the part of the Government. DRL reserves the right to reduce, revise, or increase proposal budgets in accordance with the needs of the program evaluation requirements.

This request for proposals will appear on www.grants.gov, www.grantsolutions.gov, and DRL’s website http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.

III. Eligibility Information:

Organizations submitting SOIs must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a U.S.-based or foreign-based non-profit organization/non-government organization (NGO), or a public international organization; or
  • Be a private, public, or state institutions of higher education; or
  • Have existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic partners or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders including industry and NGOs; and
  • Have demonstrable experience administering successful and preferably similar projects. DRL reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations that do not have previous experience administering federal grant awards. These applicants may be subject to limited funding on a pilot basis.

Organizations may form consortia and submit a combined SOI. However, one organization should be designated as the lead applicant.

DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however there may be occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited. For-profit entities should be aware that its application may be subject to additional review following the panel selection process.

No entity listed on the Excluded Parties List System in the System for Award Management (SAM) is eligible for any assistance or can participate in any activities under an award in accordance with the OMB guidelines at 2 CFR 180 that implement Executive Orders 12549 (3 CFR Part 1986 Comp., p. 189) and 12689 (3 CFR Part 1989 Comp., p. 235), “Debarment and Suspension.”

Organizations are not required to have a DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number and an active SAM.gov registration to apply for this solicitation through GrantSolutions.gov. If a project is selected for further funding stages, these will need to be obtained.

IV. Application Requirements, Deadline, and Technical Eligibility

Applications must conform to DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in October 2014, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.

Complete SOI applications must include the following:

  1. Completed and signed SF-424 and SF424B, as directed on GrantSolutions.gov or Grants.gov; and,
  2. Executive Summary (not to exceed three [3] pages in Microsoft Word) that includes:

a) A table listing:

i. The target country/countries;

ii. The total amount of funding requested from DRL, total amount of cost-share (if any), and total program amount (DRL funds + cost-share); and,

iii. Program length;

b) A statement of work or synopsis of the program, including a brief statement on how the project will have a demonstrated impact;

c) A concise breakdown explicitly identifying the project’s objectives and the activities and expected results that contribute to each objective; and,

d) A brief description of the applicant(s) that demonstrates applicant(s) expertise and capacity to implement the program and manage a U.S. government award.

An organization may submit no more than two applications. Applications that request less than the award floor ($500,000) or more than the award ceiling ($2,000,000) may be deemed technically ineligible.

Technically eligible applications are those which:

1) Arrive electronically via GrantSolutions.gov or Grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. EST on February 5, 2014.

2) Are in English;

3) Heed all instructions and do not violate any of the guidelines stated in this solicitation and the PSI for Statements of Interest.

Applicants should be aware that all awards made on or after 12/26/2014 will be made with terms and conditions subject to the OMB Uniform Guidance: Cost Principles, Audit, and Administrative Requirements for Federal Awards (2 CFR Chapter I, Chapter II, Part 200, et al.). Applications that are submitted before 12/26/2014 for Federal awards to be made on or after 12/26/2014 should be developed in accordance with the Uniform Guidance.

It is the sole responsibility of the applicant to ensure that all of the material submitted in the grant application package is complete, accurate, and current. DRL will not accept proposals submitted via email, fax, the postal system, or delivery companies or couriers. DRL strongly encourages all applicants, especially foreign or first-time applicants, to submit applications before February 5, 2014 to ensure that the application has been received and is complete.

V. Review and Selection Process

AQM will determine technical eligibility for all applications. All technically eligible applications will then be reviewed against the same three criteria by a Department of State Review Panel. Additionally, the Panel will evaluate how the application meets the solicitation request, U.S. foreign policy goals, and the priority needs of DRL overall. Panelists review each application individually against the evaluation criteria, not against competing proposals. To ensure all applications receive a balanced evaluation, the Department of State Review Panel will review the first page of the SOI up to the page limit and no further. DRL encourages organizations to use the given space effectively.

In most cases, the Department of State Review Panel includes representatives from DRL and the appropriate Department of State regional bureau, which may request feedback on applications from the appropriate U.S. embassies. In some cases, additional panelists may participate, including from other Department of State bureaus or offices, U.S. government departments, agencies, or boards. At the end of discussion on an application, the panel votes on recommending the application for approval by the DRL Assistant Secretary. Once approved by the DRL Assistant Secretary, applicants of successful SOIs will be invited to submit a full proposal based on their SOI. Unless directed otherwise by the applicant, DRL may also refer SOIs for possible consideration in other U.S. government related funding opportunities. The Grants Officer Representative (GOR) for the eventual award does not vote on the panel.

Department of State Review Panels may provide conditions and recommendations on applications to enhance the proposed program, which must be addressed by the applicant before further consideration of the award. To ensure effective use of limited DRL funds, conditions or recommendations may include requests to increase, decrease, clarify, and/or justify costs and program activities.

Review Criteria

1) Quality of Program Idea/Inclusivity of Marginalized Populations

SOIs should be responsive to the solicitation, appropriate in the country/regional context, and should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to DRL’s mission of promoting human rights and democracy. DRL typically does not fund programs that continue an organization’s ongoing work (funded by DRL or other sources), but prioritizes innovative, stand-alone programs. In countries where similar activities are already taking place, an explanation should be provided as to how new activities will not duplicate or merely add to existing activities and how these efforts will be coordinated. Projects that have a strong academic, research, conference, or dialogue focus may not be deemed competitive. DRL strongly discourages health or science related projects unless they have an explicit component related to the requested program objectives in the solicitation.

DRL strives to ensure its programs advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most at risk and vulnerable populations, including women, youth, people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. To the extent possible, applicants should identify and address considerations to support these populations in all proposed program activities and objectives as appropriate. Applicants should provide a strong justification if it determines it is not feasible or appropriate to incorporate the most at risk and vulnerable populations within proposed program activities and objectives. Applications that do incorporate the most at risk and vulnerable populations will be viewed favorably in this category.

2) Program Planning

A strong SOI will include a clear articulation of how the proposed program activities and expected results (both outputs and outcomes) contribute to specific program objectives and the overall program goal. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable, results-focused, and achievable in a reasonable time frame.

3) Ability to Achieve Objectives

SOIs should address how the program will engage relevant stakeholders and should identify local partners as appropriate. If local partners are identified, applicants should describe the division of labor among the direct applicant and any local partners. SOIs should demonstrate the organizations’ expertise and previous experience in administering successful projects, preferably similar projects targeting the requested program area or similarly challenging program environments.

For additional guidance, please see DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in October 2014, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.

VI. Contact Information

GrantSolutions.gov Help Desk:

For assistance with GrantSolutions.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please contact Customer Support at help@grantsolutions.gov or call 1-866-577-0771 (toll charges for international callers) or 1-202-401-5282. Customer Support is available 8 AM – 6 PM EST, Monday – Friday, except federal holidays.

Grants.gov Helpdesk:

For assistance with Grants.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please call the Contact Center at 1-800-518-4726 or email support@grants.gov. The Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except federal holidays.

See http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/#url=2014 for a list of federal holidays.

For technical questions related to this solicitation please contact DRLCubaGrants@state.gov.

With the exception of technical submission questions, during the solicitation period U.S. Department of State staff in Washington and overseas shall not discuss this competition with applicants until the entire proposal review process has been completed and rejection and approval letters have been transmitted.