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

This is the announcement of funding opportunity number, DRLA-DRLAQM-17-027.

Application Deadline: November 18, 2016

I. Requested Statements of Interest 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) for programs that support the policy objective to foster civil, political, and labor rights in Cuba.

PLEASE NOTE: DRL strongly encourages applicants to immediately access or in order to obtain a username and password. is highly recommended for all submissions and is DRL’s preferred system for receiving applications. To register with for the first time, Please refer to the Proposal Submission Instructions for Statements of Interest at:

The submission of a SOI is the first step in a two-part process. Applicants must first submit a SOI, which is a concise, three-page concept note designed to clearly communicate a program idea and its objectives before the development of a full proposal application. The purpose of the SOI process is to allow applicants the opportunity to submit program ideas to promote internationally-recognized, civil, political, and labor rights in Cuba as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments for DRL to evaluate prior to requiring the development of full proposal applications. Upon review of eligible SOIs, DRL will invite selected applicants to expand their ideas into full proposal applications. These full proposals will be subject to a full panel review and the results of that review will be provided to the Assistant Secretary who determines which proposals will be funded, subject to procurement approval and availability of funds.

Programs should support the realization in Cuba of the rights and principles enshrined within the following Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, among others:

  • Article 5, the prohibition of torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • Article 9, freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile;
  • Article 10, the right to a free and fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal;
  • Article 12, the right to privacy;
  • Article 13, the freedom of movement within one’s country;
  • Article 18, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
  • Article 19, the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
  • Article 20, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, as well as the prohibition of compelling an individual to belong to an association against his or her will;
  • Article 21, the right to participate in the government of one’s country, which gains its authority only from the will of the people; and
  • Article 23; the right to work in conditions of dignity with fair remuneration and the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of the workers’ interests.

The Cuban government fails to respect the above universal rights, in particular the freedom of speech, by limiting independent journalists and media, censoring and limiting access to the internet, maintaining a monopoly on political power and media outlets, circumscribing academic freedom, and limiting religious freedom. 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 dismisses or otherwise limits economic opportunities for workers who exercise any of their rights in contradiction of government policy. Common human rights abuses in Cuba include a lack of periodic and genuine elections-thereby denying citizens the right to participate in their government -selective prosecution and denial of fair trial, as well as the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, organized mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly. Authorities lack transparency and pervasively monitor private communications.

DRL’s programmatic emphasis aligns with the U.S. government policy to promote human rights in Cuba. Specifically, DRL programs in Cuba aim to strengthen the capacity of on-island, independent civil society to further the rights and interests of Cuban citizens, and to overcome the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on citizens’ civil, political, labor, and religious rights. DRL strives to ensure its projects inter alia advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most vulnerable, marginalized or at-risk populations.

Proposals should offer a specific vision for contributing to change while acknowledging obstacles that would have to be overcome. Projects should include concrete initiatives that reflect recent developments on the island and consultative dialogue between the applicant and Cuban civil society. Activities should have potential for short-term impact leading to long-term sustainable reforms.

DRL prefers creative approaches rather than projects that simply duplicate or add to efforts by other entities. This does not exclude projects that clearly build off existing successful projects in a new way. DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships with each other and submit a combined SOI in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant. The applicant should also demonstrate experience programming effectively within Cuba and/or within other closed society environments.

Successful applications in the past have reflected the linguistic needs and capabilities of target beneficiaries in the development of off-island activities. Successful applications have also considered practical limitations of groups and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities and strive to ensure the beneficiary organizations will continue to function while certain of its members are participating in off-island activities.

All programs must comply with federal financial regulations and emphasize approaches to monitoring and evaluation that measure impact on the island as stated in the PSI.

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 such as labor groups, civil and political rights groups, youth groups, and religious freedom advocates, and that encourage the participation of marginalized populations;
  • Capacity building on and off the island. Off-island activities sometimes include short-term fellowships;
  • Access to software that would be easily accessible in an open society, or the adaption of said software for the Cuban technological environment;
  • Assistance mechanisms designed to provide independent Cuban civil society with tools, opportunities, and trainings that civil society counterparts in open societies can access;
  • Incorporation of independent Cuban civil society into initiatives, fora, and coalitions led by their regional and global civil society counterparts; and
  • Increase access to uncensored information within the island.

Activities that typically are NOT considered competitive include:

  • The provision of large amounts of humanitarian assistance;
  • English language instruction;
  • Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware;
  • Purely academic exchanges or fellowships;
  • External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six months;
  • Off-island activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary for security concerns;
  • Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;
  • Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives;
  • Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or fail to provide clear evidence that activities will achieve the stated impact;
  • Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of Cuba.

Programs that are NOT funded:

  • DRL does not fund programs for Cuba that are directed towards supporting Cuban government institutions, individuals employed by those institutions, or organizations controlled by government institutions.

DRL anticipates supporting $5.6 million in programming for Cuba, subject to the availability of funds.

II. Eligibility Information:

Organizations submitting SOIs must meet the following criteria:

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

Applicants may form consortia and submit a combined SOI. If applicants seek to do so, one organization must be designated as the lead applicant with the other members as sub-award partners.

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, and that the Department of State generally prohibits profit under its assistance awards to for-profit or commercial organizations. Profit is defined as any amount in excess of allowable direct and indirect costs. The allowability of costs incurred by commercial organizations is determined in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) at 48 CFR 30, Cost Accounting Standards Administration, and 48 CFR 31 Contract Cost Principles and Procedures. Program income earned by the recipient must be deducted from the program’s total allowable costs in determining the net allowable costs on which the federal share of costs is based.

DRL is committed to an anti-discrimination policy in all of its programs and activities. DRL welcomes SOI submissions irrespective of an applicant’s race, ethnicity, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or other status. DRL strongly encourages applications from organizations working with the most at risk and vulnerable communities, including women, youths, persons with disabilities, members of ethnic or religious minority groups, and LGBTI persons.

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 1986 Comp., p. 189) and 12689 (3 CFR1989 Comp., p. 235), “Debarment and Suspension.” Additionally, no entity listed on the EPLS can participate in any activities under an award. All applicants are strongly encouraged to review the EPLS in SAM to ensure that no ineligible entity is included.

Organizations are not required to have a valid Unique Entity Identified (UEI) number, formerly referred to as a DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number, and an active registration to apply for this solicitation through However, if a SOI is approved, these will need to be obtained before an organization is able to submit a full application.

III. Application Requirements, Deadline, and Technical Eligibility

All SOIs must conform to DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in August 2016, available at

Complete SOI submissions must include the following:

  1. Completed and signed SF-424 and SF424B, as directed on or (please refer to DRL’s PSI for SOIs for guidance on completing the SF-424); and,
  2. Program Statement (not to exceed three [3] pages in Microsoft Word) that includes: a) A table listing: the target country/countries; the total amount of funding requested from DRL, total amount of cost-share (if any), and total program amount (DRL funds + cost-share); and, program length; b) A synopsis of the program, including a brief statement on how the program will have a demonstrated impact and engage relevant stakeholders. The SOI should identify local partners as appropriate; c) A concise breakdown explicitly identifying the program’s objectives and the activities and expected results that contribute to each objective; and, d) A brief description of the applicant(s) that demonstrates the applicant(s) expertise and capacity to implement the program and manage a U.S. government award.

An organization may submit no more than two SOIs . SOIs that request less than $500,000 or more than $1,500,000 may be deemed technically ineligible.

Technically eligible SOIs are those which:

  1. Arrive electronically via or by 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, November 18, 2016 under the announcement title “Programs Fostering Civil, Political, and Labor Rights in Cuba” funding opportunity number DRLA-DRLAQM-17-027;
  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.

For all SOI documents please ensure:

  1. All pages are numbered;
  2. All documents are formatted to 8 ½ x 11 paper; and,
  3. All documents are single-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins. Captions and footnotes may be 10-point Times New Roman font. Font sizes in charts and tables can be reformatted to fit within one page width. and automatically logs the date and time a submission is made, and the Department of State will use this information to determine whether it has been submitted on time. Late submissions are neither reviewed nor considered unless the DRL point of contact listed in section VI is contacted prior to the deadline and is provided with evidence of system errors caused by or that is outside of the prospective applicants’ control and is the sole reason for a late submission. Prospective applicants should not expect a notification upon DRL receiving their SOI. It is the sole responsibility of the prospective applicant to ensure that all of the material submitted in the SOI submission package is complete, accurate, and current. DRL will not accept SOIs submitted via email, fax, the postal system, or delivery companies or couriers. DRL strongly encourages all prospective applicants to submit SOIs before Friday, November 18, 2016 to ensure that the SOI has been received and is complete.

IV. Review and Selection Process

The Department’s Office of Acquisitions Management (AQM) will determine technical eligibility for all SOI submissions. All technically eligible SOIs will then be reviewed against the same three criteria by a DRL Review Panel, which includes quality of program idea/inclusivity of marginalized populations, program planning, and ability to achieve objectives/institutional capacity. Additionally, the Panel will evaluate how the SOI meets the solicitation request, U.S. foreign policy goals, and the priority needs of DRL overall. Panelists review each SOI individually against the evaluation criteria, not against competing SOIs. To ensure all SOIs receive a balanced evaluation, the DRL Review Panel will review the first page of the SOI up to the page limit and no further. The Grants Officer Representative (GOR) for the eventual award does not vote on the panel. All Panelists must sign non-disclosure agreements and conflict of interest agreements.

In most cases, the DRL Review Panel includes representatives from DRL and the appropriate Department of State regional bureau, which may request feedback on SOIs 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, representatives from partner governments, or representatives from entities that are in a public-private partnership with DRL. Selected applicants will be invited to submit full proposal applications based on their SOIs. Unless directed otherwise by the organization, DRL may also refer SOIs for possible consideration in other U.S. government related funding opportunities.

The Panel may provide conditions and/or recommendations on SOIs to enhance the proposed program, which must be addressed by the organization in the full proposal application. To ensure effective use of limited DRL funds, conditions and recommendations may include requests to increase, decrease, clarify, and/or justify costs and program activities.

Review Criteria

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 prefers creative approaches that do not duplicate efforts by other entities. This does not exclude from consideration programs that improve upon or expand existing successful programs in a new and complementary way. 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, members of racial and ethnic or religious minority groups, and LGBTI persons. To the extent possible and appropriate, applicants should identify and address considerations to support and/or include these populations in all proposed program activities and objectives. Strong justification should be provided if the most at-risk and vulnerable populations will not be included in the proposed activities and objectives. Otherwise, SOIs that do not address the above will not be considered highly competitive in this category.

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.

Ability to Achieve Objectives/Institutional Capacity

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 applicant and any local partners. SOIs should demonstrate the organization’s expertise and previous experience in administering programs, preferably similar programs targeting the requested program area or similarly challenging environments.

For additional guidance, please see DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in August 2016, available at

V. Additional Information

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

Project activities whose direct beneficiaries are foreign militaries or paramilitary groups or individuals will not be considered for DRL funding given purpose limitations on funding.

Restrictions may apply to any proposed assistance to police or other law enforcement. Among these, pursuant to section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (FAA), no assistance provided may be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country when there is credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. In accordance with the requirements of section 620M of the FAA, also known as the Leahy law, program beneficiaries or participants from a foreign government’s security forces may need to be vetted by the Department before the provision of any assistance.

Organizations should be aware that DRL understands that some information contained in SOIs may be considered sensitive or proprietary and will make appropriate efforts to protect such information. However, organizations are advised that DRL cannot guarantee that such information will not be disclosed, including pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or other similar statutes.

Organizations should also be aware that if ultimately selected for an award, the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards set forth in 2 CFR Chapter 200 (Sub-Chapters A through F) shall apply to all non-Federal entities, except for assistance awards to Individuals and Foreign Public Entities. Please note that as of December 26, 2014, 2 CFR 200 (Sub-Chapters A through E) now applies to foreign organizations, and Sub-Chapters A through D shall apply to all for-profit entities. The applicant/recipient of the award and any sub-recipient under the award must comply with all applicable terms and conditions, in addition to the assurance and certifications made part of the Notice of Award. The Department’s Standard Terms and Conditions can be viewed on DRL’s Resources page at:

The information in this solicitation and DRL’s PSI for SOIs, as updated in August 2016, 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 SOIs or applications does not constitute an award commitment on the part of the U.S. government. DRL reserves the right to reduce, revise, or increase proposal budgets in accordance with the needs of the program evaluation requirements.

This solicitation will appear on,, and DRL’s website

Background Information on DRL and general DRL funding

DRL is the foreign policy lead within the U.S. government on promoting democracy and protecting human rights globally. DRL supports programs that uphold democratic principles, support and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, prevent atrocities, combat and prevent violent extremism, and build civil society around the world. DRL typically focuses its work in countries with egregious human rights violations, where democracy and human rights advocates are under pressure, and where governments are undemocratic or in transition.

Additional background information on DRL and the human rights report can be found on and

VI. Contact Information Help Desk:

For assistance with accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please contact Customer Support at or call 1-866-577-0771 (toll charges for international callers) or 1-202-401-5282. Customer Support is available

8:00 AM – 5:00 PM ET, Monday – Friday, except federal holidays. Helpdesk: For assistance with accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please call the Contact Center at 1-800-518-4726 or email The Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except federal holidays.

See for a list of federal holidays.

For technical questions related to this solicitation, please contact

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 until the entire review process has been completed and rejection and approval letters have been transmitted.

Distribution channels: Human Rights