Episode 232

Susan Kennedy on Open Technology Fund (OTF)


May 10th, 2024

36 mins 48 secs

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Special Guest

About this Episode


Susan Kennedy


Richard Littauer | Eriol Fox

Show Notes

In this episode, hosts Richard Littauer and Eriol Fox chat with Susan Kennedy, a program manager at the Open Technology Fund (OTF), to explore the intricacies of sustaining open source technologies. OTF, a nonprofit organization, plays a vital role in promoting internet freedom in oppressive regimes by supporting the development of anti-censorship and anti-surveillance technologies. Funded by the U.S. Congress but operating independently, OTF aids in navigating the challenges attached to open source project sustainability and maintenance. Susan outlines OTF's fund mechanism, highlighting its commitment to supporting open source projects that are pivotal for internet freedom. Also, the episode shines a light on the newly initiated FOSS Sustainability Fund by OTF, designed to specifically address the financial and logistical hurdles facing open source technologies today. Press download to hear more!

[00:01:41] Susan explains the OTF’s role as a non-profit promoting internet freedom through anti-censorship and anti-surveillance technologies, mainly funded by the U.S. government but operates independently.

[00:02:37] There’s a comparison of OTF to Germany’s Sovereign Tech Fund, emphasizing differences in funding despite both being government funded.

[00:03:51] There’s a discussion on how OTF funds projects like Signal despite potential congressional controversies.

[00:04:15] Susan introduces the FOSS Sustainability Fund aimed at supporting open source technologies for internet freedom.

[00:06:15] Susan gives details on the scale of the FOSS Sustainability Fund, mentioning financial contributions from other private donors alongside U.S. government funds.

[00:07:34] We find out the details of eligibility criteria for FOSS Sustainability Fund applicants, as Susan emphasizes projects with a track record and active community engagement.

[00:09:00] Susan discusses the outcomes from the pilot funding round, focusing on the importance of community meetings and interaction. Also, she talks about exploration of sustainability as a lifecycle, including potential sunsetting of projects, emphasizing that sustainability might look different for each project.

[00:13:17] Susan talks about exploration of sustainability as a lifecycle, including potential sunsetting of projects, emphasizing that sustainability might look different for each project.

[00:15:19] Richard questions the approach of funding projects that are charismatic and grant-savvy, instead of focusing on lesser-known but critical projects, questioning the open application process. Susan defends the open application process of the Internet Freedom Fund, explaining it allows for a broader reach and inclusivity, ensuring opportunities for lesser-known projects to apply.

[00:17:06] Richard asks if a small, unrelated project like ‘right pad’ used by major projects can apply, leading to a broader discussion on the relevance of small projects within significant tools. Susan responds by focusing on the end-users’ needs, emphasizing the importance of even small projects if they are critical to larger tools like Tails.

[00:18:51] Susan highlights the two-phase application process designed to guide applicants efficiently, providing feedback and advice on project fit and impact, and she describes the iterative application process.

[00:19:51] Eriol discusses the advisory aspect of OTF’s application process, noting the interaction and intention of their approach which aids applicants in refining their proposals. They raise concerns about projects using sustainability funds to tackle debt and asks how OTF views the alignment of tech debt resolution with user-centric sustainability.

[00:21:34] Susan elaborates on distinguishing between tech debt and sustainability, advocating for a balanced approach that includes both technical fixes and enhancements in user engagement and governance. She stresses the importance of having user feedback mechanisms and long-term strategic planning as part of sustainable development, derived from consultations with funded projects.

[00:23:36] We learn about OTF’s lab services, which support projects beyond funding, in areas like security, usability, design, and communication, enhancing the holistic support structure for open source sustainability.

[00:26:44] Richard asks if there are expectations for funded projects to help guide their peers toward more sustainable practices. Susan explains that while OTF shares a list of alternate funding sources with applicants, the field remains underfunded, and stresses the importance of sharing learning publicly to help educate other funders and enhance funding efforts.

[00:28:07] Richard questions if there are requirements for projects to support their dependencies or the broader ecosystem. Susan clarifies that while there’s no mandate for projects to fund their dependencies, OTF looks for projects that consider and support their dependencies as part of their roadmap.

[00:28:31] What is Susan’s long-term vision for the fund? She wishes for significantly more funding to support a greater number of projects and hopes for netter coordination among funders and an increased focus on essential aspects of sustainability.

[00:29:32] Find out where you can learn more about Susan and the OTF online.


[00:04:35] “Since OTF started back in 2012, we have only supported open source technologies.”

[00:08:04] “We’re looking to maintain and sustain.”


  • [00:31:56] Richard’s spotlight is Naulakha (Rudyard Kipling House) in Vermont.
  • [00:32:27] Eriol’s spotlight is talking to Code for Japan folks and their podcast called “Chit-Chat Code Civictech Insights.”
  • [00:33:36] Susan’s spotlight is thinking deeply about FOSS Sustainability after reading IDE’s, ‘Roadwork ahead: Evaluating the needs of FOSS communities working on digital infrastructure in the public interest.’



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