Open Call for Funding – Strengthening Civil Society

This call aims to strengthen, support and build the ability of civil society organisations in Europe to effectively shape and influence public and policy debates in Europe around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automated Decision Making (ADM).

We welcome applications from two kinds of organisations: those that have previously worked on AI/ADM and want to build their capacity in advocacy and policy; and organisations whose work is affected by AI/ADM and who want to build capacity in this domain.


Over the next five years the European Commission has ambitions to forge a plan for Europe’s digital transformation, including AI. But without a strong civil society taking part in the debate, Europe—and the world—risk missing opportunities to better society and instead, might choose a path paved with societal harm. This fund aims to strengthen civil society’s capacity to contribute to these tech policy discussions. 

The conditions created by Covid-19 have made this need for civil society to shape the debate more urgent and challenging at the same time. We  recognise that civil society organizations in Europe continue to operate under exceptionally challenging and unpredictable conditions. A small number of dominant tech companies, on the other hand, are poised to emerge stronger than ever before, while many new technologies have been deployed in a state of emergency, without sufficiently addressing the underlying ethical questions and human rights challenges.

This fund aims to strengthen civil society’s ability to take on this crucial role: to be a more visible and more effective voice in public and policy debates about the role, form and shape that Europe’s digital transformation should take. Our goal is two-fold: to strengthen the advocacy and policy capacity of those who already work on AI/ADM, and to bring in new actors to the debate, especially those that are working on issues affected by AI/ADM and who want to build their capacity in this domain.  

Funding goals

With this first open call for funding, we specifically aim to: 

  • Enable civil society organisations with AI expertise to start building up strategic capacity in advocacy and policy to shape Europe’s Digital Future in the mid- and long-term.
  • Help more civil society organisations build expertise on AI issues, particularly those who already have strong advocacy and policy capacity and whose work is affected or transformed by the deployment of AI/ADM.
  • Ensure that civil society partners are more and better connected to learn from each other. 

Application process

This Request for Proposals will make use of a phased application process. In this first round of the call we invite applicants to apply by filling out a short questionnaire.  We will then contact all applicants that have been invited to prepare a full application.

  • 22 September 2020 – Call for funding opens
  • 1 November 2020 – Call for funding closes
  • 1 December 2020 – Invitation to submit detailed proposal opens
  • January 2021 – Deadline to submit detailed proposal
  • February 2021 – Fund announces first round of grantees for open funding + workshop with grantees

Application guide and FAQ

We are continuously updating this section

What could be covered by the grants?

Our primary goal is to strengthen the capacity of civil society organisations to shape and influence the public and policy discourse around governing data, AI, and ADM at the European or the national level, while expanding and growing the pool of experts and organisations in this field. 

The grant provides general operating support and core support for institutional strengthening which can support, but is not limited to, the following: 

  • Funds to help organisations with expertise in a domain that are affected by ADM and AI to build their advocacy and policy capacity on AI and ADM.
  • Funds to help promote and disseminate research findings and reports to policy makers and the wider public.
  • Grants to organise networking and collaborations between different organizations that work on AI and ADM and those whose work is impacted by AI and ADM.
  • Hiring additional policy and advocacy staff and fellows, or staff with expertise in AI.
  • Staff training in effective outreach to policy makers (advocacy), professional communications and agenda setting.
  • Advocacy campaigns designed to influence the policy process on the national or EU level.
  • Travel grants to participate in policy processes in Europe or domestically.
Is this project funding or core funding?

Many applicants have asked us this question. Think about this open call as capacity funding, or targeted core funding: we want to strengthen the capacity of organisations (core funding) to do critical and crucial work around AI and technology in Europe. Specifically, we want our funding to strengthen organisations’ capacity to effectively shape and influence the policy discourse in Europe (capacity building). This could mean different things for different organisations.

Tell us what your strengths are and where exactly you need to develop and grow in order to strengthen your ability to shape and influence the policy and public discourse in Europe around governing AI.

For example: if you are an organisation with experience doing advocacy and policy that works on an issue that is heavily impacted by emerging technologies like AI, but haven’t yet worked on digital rights or tech issues so far, you might want to hire people with technical or tech policy expertise. If you have a strong track record of producing rigorous research that uncovers how technology is used – you might want to get support to help get better at disseminating your research or using your research in advocacy. And If you are already effective at shaping public and policy discussions around AI, tell us how you want to grow. We left it deliberately open, because we don’t know what you need to build capacity.

Who can apply for funding?

We accept applications from civil society organisations registered in the EU, EEA, the UK, Switzerland and Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.

This fund is for two different kinds of organisations: 

  • Those that have previously worked on AI/ADM and want to build their capacity in advocacy and policy.  
  • Organisations who already have strong track record in policy and advocacy, whose work is affected by AI/ADM, and who want to build capacity in this domain. Some examples for organisations that would fall under this definition include, but are by no means limited to: 
    • Organisations that focus on worker’s rights and want to build their capacity to respond to new challenges raised by the gig economy.
    • Health and patient rights organisations who want to build their capacity to join conversations about AI in healthcare.
    • Organisations that represent marginalised communities or specialise on anti-discrimination and want to build their expertise in algorithmic forms of discrimination and exclusion.

We are looking for work that recognises the socio-technical nature of AI/ADM systems.

Our organisation hasn’t worked on tech and digital rights, is this a disadvantage?

Absolutely not. If you work in equity or social justice (for instance), this is a chance to do work that helps shape the direction of technology – not just tidy up after the fact. A structurally biased society makes structurally biased technology – but it doesn’t have to be that way!

We are a digital rights organisation, can we apply?

Yes, you can. While we want to bring in new voices and actors to the debate, we also think it’s important to strengthen the capacity of those who are already doing critical and important work on AI. Tell us what your strengths are, where exactly you want/need to build your capacity, and how you are going to do this.

We are a business, can we apply?

For this particular call, we are only accepting applications from civil society organisations. This does not include businesses or for-profit organisations.

We are a research group/think tank, can we apply?

Yes, you can apply! However, you need to make sure your work ultimately benefits civil society’s ability to do critical and crucial work around AI and technology in Europe. In other words: research must be relevant and useful for advocacyand policy work. If you are a university or research group, it could also make sense to partner with a non-profit (even though this is something we don’t expect). If  the university/think tank is not-for-profit you can apply alone.

Do you prefer joint applications?

Our main goal is to strengthen the AI and society ecosystem in Europe. We want to do this by strengthening organisations’ capacity and by helping them work more closely together. While the latter is very important to us, it does not mean that we are expecting organisations to submit joint applications. Similar to other initiatives that are funded by the Network for European Foundations (NEF), our aim is to offer more than just funding to grantees. This can include meetings, workshops or training for all of our grantees. The main reason why we haven’t hosted such convenings yet is that we felt like there is a collective moment of online event fatigue. If you get funded by the European AI Fund, we will support you in working more closely together with other organisations.

Can we submit a joint application?

You absolutely can, if there is a main applicant (who fills out the application form) and the joint proposal will help both/all applicants to build capacity.

What we are explicitly not looking for are joint applications that are in any way extractive or that primarily benefit one applicant.

Should you be invited to submit a full application, we will ask more detailed questions about each partner organisation. For instance, we could ask for data on the coalition partners and we ask for a joint budget.

What is the size/duration of the grants? 

Grant amounts may vary depending on the size and scope of the plans proposed, as well as the applicant organisation’s annual budget. To maximise the number of recipients, we aim to issue grants ranging from 20,000€ to 150,000€. 

Our total funding budget for this open call is up to 1,000,000 €. 

Grants will be awarded for the duration of up to eighteen months. 

How are funding decisions made

Decisions are made by the Network for European Foundations, which will be advised by a selection committee made up of partner foundations and external experts from diverse backgrounds and geographies. 

Any other advice?

The premise of this fund is that we are standing at a crossroads. Without a strong civil society taking part in the debate around Europe’s digital transformation, Europe—and the world—risks more than missing opportunities to better society. It might choose a path paved with societal harm.

In your application, show us how you are planning to make a difference – and how we can best support you in your work with the limited funds we have available.


How to submit your application

In the first application round we ask all applicants to fill out a short form on our website. You can find the application form here. We will ask you to briefly describe:

  • Yourself and your organisation.
  • A past project, if you have previously worked on AI/ADM.
  • How AI/DM shapes your domain of work, if you have not worked on AI/ADM yet, and an example of advocacy and policy work related to your domain expertise.
  • The proposed project.
  • How funding will help you strengthen your capacity to shape and influence the public and policy discourse around governing data, AI/ADM at the European or national level.

The questionnaire is designed to establish the following without being overly burdensome to the applicant:

  • The applicant meets our eligibility criteria.
  • The proposed project meets our overall funding objectives.
  • The degree to which the goals established by the applicant are ambitious as well as realistic.

Download the application form

If you want to download the application form to prepare or discuss your responses with your team, you can access and download a word document here. Please make sure to submit your application using the application form.

Need more help?

Please review this page carefully – we have updated some sections in response to the questions we have received via email. If you have further questions you can contact us at We will try to get back to you in a timely manner.

If you still have questions (after you read this page carefully and sent us an email), you can book a short conversation with our fund manager here .

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