Nat Kretchun, 2022 winner
In response to the growing, global demand for OTF-supported circumvention tools, in 2021, Nat spearheaded OTF’s efforts to expand and diversify OTF’s support for circumvention technologies. In tandem, Nat led OTF’s efforts to build partnerships with USAGM news networks to improve the promotion and dissemination of OTF circumvention tools to ensure that all USAGM audiences have the information and tools they need to safely access USAGM content despite authoritarian censorship.
As a result of these efforts, OTF more than doubled the number of circumvention tools it supports and increased funding to leading circumvention tools in order to serve as many users as possible in priority USAGM markets. In addition, Nat worked closely with USAGM networks to promote these tools, particularly during times of crisis, to ensure that USAGM journalists and audiences were aware of and had access to these critical tools. These efforts were particularly significant in Myanmar, Cuba, and Belarus, where use of OTF-supported circumvention tools played a critical role in enabling access to USAGM content during political crises.
For example, In February 2021, use of OTF-supported circumvention tools increased rapidly in Myanmar after the coup—from several thousand to millions of users in just a matter of weeks. At the peak, OTF-supported circumvention tools were being used by over 6 million monthly users—over 10 percent of the country’s population. These tools were not only critical in enabling citizens to access and share information, they also enabled VOA and RFA to continue reporting and reaching their audiences. In fact, despite being blocked by the military, VOA’s Burmese website broke its record of website visits in a single day, with just under 1.3 million visits, via OTF circumvention tools. Similarly, in July 2021, the Cuban government blocked several popular social media sites and messaging applications in response to civilian protests. As a result, the use of OTF-supported circumvention tools skyrocketed from several thousand users to roughly 1.5 million users in a matter of days—the highest number of circumvention tools users ever recorded in Cuba.
As a result of Nat’s efforts to expand and diversify support for circumvention tools and deepen partnerships with USAGM networks, OTF was able to ensure that USAGM audiences had the information and tools they needed to stay connected to USAGM content during crises and critical censorship events.