Our progress in 2020

For 48percent.org, 2020 was a year of growth and exploration. It was our first full year as a foundation. Because of the pandemic, it was also a year that showed the whole world just how important connectivity is. The global focus on connectivity and moving towards a more digital society gave us ample opportunities to support projects working on connectivity solutions that fit the needs of their community. It also gave us opportunities to partner with other organizations and learn from them. Below is a summary of the projects we contributed to, and how we developed as a foundation in the year 2020.

Refining our mission and vision 

The mission of 48percent.org is to facilitate equality through equitable access to connectivity. We do this by supporting and setting up projects within three program lines that give us direction but are not meant to restrict us. The program lines are:

1. To facilitate access to affordable connectivity. 

2. To facilitate higher education levels and digital literacy

3. To facilitate privacy awareness and safe internet usage

Program line 1 refers to physical access. Does the project provide wifi, or build a better infrastructure for internet capabilities? Then it falls in the first program line. Program line 2 is all about giving people the tools to learn more, either for digital literacy, or to provide themselves more opportunities. Program line 3 is meant to be for projects that promote internet privacy awareness and safe internet usage.

We have the advantage of being a foundation with a guaranteed budget which allows us to make financial contributions to a number of grassroots projects throughout the year. We also have access to a wealth of knowledge, and the ability to donate our time to projects. This is shown, for example, through our cooperation with Edumais this year, where we designed and wrote a lesson plan teaching students about internet safety and privacy. We have also had some success with being involved in pilot programs, and plan to explore that avenue more in 2021.

Establishing our board of directors

As an officially recognized foundation, we are required to have a board of directors and that board needs to have an official board meeting at least once a year. The board of 48percent.org is made up by Mark Vletter, Ben Hoetmer, and Pollien van Keulen.

This year we held our first official board meeting. During the meeting, we talked about the projects from 2020, the plans for 2021, the makeup of the 48percent.org team, and the possibilities for scaling up our financial contributions in the future.

Organizations we collaborated with

This year was the year of exploration and diversification. The aim was to build a portfolio of different types of projects and methods of contribution.

We made a financial contribution to BlinkNow to fund their wifi for a year and pay for additional laptops for the staff and kids at the school in Nepal. Even though the internet connection is available in Nepal, it’s expensive and by funding this we make sure they can spend their money on different ways to support the children in Kopila Valley.

We worked on a lesson plan about privacy awareness for Edumais  that could be implemented in their regular curriculum. Unfortunately the pandemic has forced EduMais to close their school and also delayed this project. But the first version of the lesson plan is finished and will be implemented as soon as lessons resume again.

We got in touch with the Association for Progressive Communications through Rhizomatica, a community network organization in Mexico. The APC is an international network of organizations aimed at facilitating the strategic use of ICTs in promoting peace, human rights and the protection of the environment. In cooperation with them we created a COVID-related grant program and offered 5 of their partners the opportunity to apply for a grant of $4000. While working in this, Rhizomatica contacted us with an emergency funding need for communities in the Amazon. Due to the fact that the pandemic was now reaching these remote places, there was increased need to get health and safety information out there to help people stay safe. We supported this project with a financial contribution of $5000.

To get more understanding of what our financial contributions are worth within the scheme of connectivity, we started a ‘what can we do with 10.000 euros’ project with Inveneo. These guys have been working on realizing connectivity in the most difficult places on the planet for years and have a lot of experience. Together with them we started a pilot project around digital literacy for kids in Haiti. It has been so insightful to see how they work, how they set up projects, and what money can buy in this project. Due to the pandemic, setting up the project has been delayed but we are confident that the project will start somewhere in the beginning of 2021.

While talking to the different organizations that work in this world of connectivity, you come across a lot of great ideas. One of these ideas was the ‘internet bank’, a food bank but for the internet. Why does this not exist, we wondered. Especially now that we are in this pandemic, nobody can imagine their lives without internet access. So, we wanted to see if we could realize this. That led to a lot of talking to a lot of different people and organizations and we learned so much. The preliminary conclusion: a lot of people and organizations also feel that this should exist, the challenge is getting it funded. Because using the internet, in other words the data, costs money, it’s as simple as that. We are at the point now that we can start drafting very specific funding applications and we also saved some of our own funds this year to use next year. Our ambition is to realize one, and hopefully even two, pilots in 2021 that will provide internet to families living in poverty for at least a year. During that year we will try our hardest to find structural funding.

We were also able to participate in a panel discussion together with the Norwegian Refugee Council at the at the Nethope Summit regarding a project for connectivity within refugee settings. This project centers around testing a business model for facilitating connectivity within the humanitarian framework. For this project we are working together with Chris Hoffman from HumanityLink. This project has evolved in two parts: facilitating a connectivity collective to keep the conversation about the importance of connectivity in humanitarian settings going and also setting up a pilot in 2021. 

How we grew as a team

We are now a core team of 7 people. Our team is multidisciplinary and we have found that it helps greatly in terms of partnering with other organizations. Because of the pandemic, most of this year has been remote for the whole team. The focus has been on internal communication so everyone in the founding organizations knows what is going on, and how we are moving forward in our mission. We use slack to communicate with each other and with our other colleagues from Voys and Devhouse Spindle.

For our external communication, we worked on creating a strategy that involves the different kinds of content we have to post as well as where we will post it. For communication especially, 2020 was a year to organize and prepare, and 2021 is a year to hit the ground running.

Our financial contributions in 2020

We deliberately chose to distribute our money in incremental contributions in order to keep in pace with learning about what a dollar/euro ‘buys’ in this sector. We also created a guideline for our budget allocation. Our budget is not one big pile of money, but rather we divided it into categories to be spread out during the year. We have a 70/30 division between allocated and unrestricted funds. That means that we have 30% of our budget available for ad hoc contributions that come along during the year.

We started designing our own fundraising and sponsorship model. This is aimed at laying the groundwork for the long-term picture of our partnerships and how we can work towards a more diversified funding model for ourselves. Right now 48percent.org is fully dependent on the funding from Voys and Spindle, which is fine for now. But in the future, we would really like to attract more funds in order to really scale our efforts.

Determining and measuring our impact

Our motto is “everyone contributes their grain of sand” and while we believe that doing something small is as good as doing something big, we still want to measure the impact of the project, no matter the size. Measuring social impact is not an easy feat and we are still in the early stages of determining how best to do this. The ideal way of determining our impact is to measure the direct and indirect effect of our activities to determine whether we are creating or facilitating positive change in the world of your beneficiaries. Because that is our ultimate goal. It’s not the amount of money you spend, or the number of people you reach, it’s the lasting positive change you are able to create for people in need.

Obviously, measuring this accurately is not something you get right on the first try. It is a process of trying, failing, learning, and refining. The more comprehensive our understanding of the actual need of the beneficiaries is, the bigger our ability to instigate sustainable positive change will be. And as we are looking at needs in a wide variety of circumstances, the ‘solution’ will probably come in different shapes and sizes.

So what are we doing in the meantime? We are using the data and metrics we currently have to guide us. Currently, we look at the amount of people we reach through our projects so we can steadily increase this number and increase our potential for impact. For 2020 we directly reached around 4700 people and we financially supported our partners with a total amount around 39.000 EURO.

In 2020 we gradually worked towards becoming a fully functional foundation. Financial contributions were still paid directly through our founding partners. The financial statement for 48percent.org will therefore be integrated into the financial statements of our founding partners.

Continuing on in 2021

While we are proud of all that we accomplished and contributed to in 2020, we know that there is a lot of work to be done. The amount of people not connected to the internet is shrinking, but finding equitable and sustainable solutions is still a challenge. We look forward to working with our partners, forming new relationships with similar organizations, and continuing to mature as a foundation in 2021 and the years ahead.

Connectivity at Kopila Valley School in Nepal

We started a partnership with BlinkNow after meeting co-founder Maggie Doyne in early 2020 to provide an internet connection at the Kopila Valley school in Nepal. At the time we started this partnership, none of us knew just how important connectivity would become.

Q&A with Maggie

To help us paint a picture of the effect having connectivity made on the students and teachers there, and what challenges still exist in Nepal and other countries where connectivity is not always a given, we asked Maggie to answer some questions. Her answers discuss topics such as how connectivity is used at the Kopila Valley school, the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the digital divide, and what the future looks like for a more digital Kopila Valley school.

What was your plan for using the internet at Kopila Valley before COVID-19 changed priorities? 

Our goal before covid hit was to leverage online learning platforms and make them more accessible to our students at different grade levels. It has also been to increase wifi accessibility across the campus (from the early childhood area, to the science lab, to the admin building and vocational site) as well as continuing to train and capacity build computer and internet skills amongst our educational team and leadership.

Across campus, WiFi was available for all staff, teachers and leadership. Our team used connectivity to create lesson plans, conduct research, participate in online training sessions, and communicate with each other via email on a lesser basis. Our students have access to wifi and the internet during their computer classes in our computer lab.

In classrooms campus-wide, the internet was primarily used to show videos or project online content for students. This varied for more advanced subjects where students were expected to conduct online research for various projects, such as their +2 Management capstone project.

What are some examples of how the internet was used?

One area where the internet and technology equipment made a life-changing difference on our students is our Futures Center. Here the internet was used to help students research opportunities for their futures. From college and university programs to career exploration, the digital connectivity of our Futures Center allowed our students to be better prepared for what lies ahead.

Some sustainability projects on campus also depend on internet connectivity. A new project – Cultivating Pathway to Sustainability – brings together international schools to share their green ideas. The learning group connects students from schools in the United States, from countries across Europe, and includes ten Kopila Valley students. They hold meetings online, select the best “green” proposals from students, and support its implementations. Having quality technology and the internet allows these students to build international relationships and stay current on global sustainability efforts.

How has the access to the internet changed what the kids are able to learn?

Access to the internet on our campus has virtually opened up the world to our students. Our teachers can incorporate diverse and interactive learning materials for our younger students, while our older students can access wider opportunities because of their access to the internet. Simply put, it opens up the world to our students. For younger students, it influences their learning. For our older students, it allows them to dream bigger, and access better resources for their futures. It also allows them to pursue various different interests they may have like learning guitar on youtube or how to code, or an art technique, a new recipe to try out when they are on dinner duty at our children’s home.

What new challenges are there now due to the increase in digital device usage?

Like all schools and families, we’re aware of the need to balance types of learning. We understand the power that digital learning has, and how much it can expand a child’s ability to learn. At the same time, we have to strike the right balance between digital and non-digital learning. We need to keep our kids safe while making sure they’re also prepared for a successful future in an increasingly digital world.

Safety is a major concern for our organization. In our community, the internet is a primary medium that leads to early marriage or eloped students. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty when these students do not complete their 10th-grade examinations. It also leads to various physical and emotional traumas. When we open up access to the internet and devices to our students, their online safety needs to be taken into utmost consideration. We address this through awareness training classes and group discussions with targeted demographics.

One of our other issues is that kids don’t have internet at their homes or access to devices. This was really hard during covid when the rest of the world had to pivot to online learning.

What do your kids use the internet for?

Students at Kopila Valley School use the internet for a variety of academic and extracurricular activities.

Many of our grade-12 students are required to complete a capstone project, which requires them to pick a topic and perform detailed research. The students used the internet to develop questionnaires, perform surveys in their community, analyze survey data and information, and present the findings using academic journals to back up their research. In our middle grade speaking class, students do internet research for their chosen speaking topics. They then deliver class presentations based on their research topics.

One of our older students, R, shares what access to the Futures Center meant for him. “For the past few months, I’ve been using the program’s resources to do research for colleges and apply online. Resources here, such as computers, printers, and the internet, have been life-changing for me and many others before me.”

Students also enjoy using the technology resources available to them to expand their interests outside of the classroom as well. “My brothers and I sat down together in front of a computer with a guitar on hand. We browsed through lots of Youtube videos on guitar lessons, and we managed to learn basic guitar in just three months,” said S, a grade 10 student. While an 8th grade student, Y, shared, “My friends and I wanted to learn gymnastics, and we went online and learned it.”

Kopila Valley students using a computer during class
Photo by BlinkNow

What challenges do your kids and others in similar situations face because of school closings during 2020?

When we decided to close our campus because of COVID-19, our entire team understood the importance of keeping our students safe. Unfortunately, we were also all aware of the strain this would put on our students. Unlike schools in more resource-rich areas of the world, we couldn’t transition to online learning, as our students don’t have access to the internet or digital devices at home. So we had to get creative, making physical copies of workbooks and calling students each week on their family phones, or making in-person socially distanced visits, to make sure they were understanding the materials as best as they could.

Has the huge pivot to being digital influenced these challenges?

Our students are lucky to attend a school that is on the cutting edge of education in Nepal. In recent years we’ve been increasing the use of digital resources in our classrooms and campus-wide, with the goal of one-day reaching levels of access for our students that is equal to their peers around the world. Our students had adapted to this type of learning and were flourishing with digital access. So when this access suddenly had to stop, it made quite an impact on our students. Many of our older students faced the additional challenge of college applications—which are primarily online—and were faced with missed deadlines, struggling to get information, and feeling uncertain about their futures.

How do you see the digital divide changing because of the COVID pandemic?

The digital divide has only grown stronger for our students in Surkhet due to the COVID pandemic. Our students had to transition from spending time on campus with robust digital access, with classes and labs that allowed them to “have the world at their fingertips”, to learning at home with no access to the internet or online programs during the strictly enforced lockdowns that our community faced. In more resource-rich and connected schools in Kathmandu and internationally, students were forced to ramp up their computer skills at a younger age to utilize the new systems and processes including daily class conference calls, online assignments and grades, and other online learning resources. We believe that while our distance learning program had a lot of positive benefits, specifically compared to schools in our community, working under a distance model set our students’ digital literacy back a year across the board. It’s difficult to measure the full impacts that this will have on our students, however, we realize we have work to do to ramp up our digital literacy on campus.

Where do we go from here?

As we’re beginning to slowly re-open our campus, we’re so excited that connectivity on our campus is allowing us to serve more students. We recently implemented our 5-phase plan for bringing students back to campus. Like many schools around the world, part of this plan includes smaller classroom sizes and alternating days on-campus for our students. Thankfully, our campus has numerous physical spaces, and because our spaces are so digitally connected, we’ve found ways to allow students to come to school each day and learn via live streaming content from a teacher across multiple rooms. This means our students have access to some of the very important supplemental services our campus provides, including meals, social work wellness checks, and our medical clinic, while still allowing for small classroom sizes and socially-distanced learning.

While working and learning remotely, we encountered an increase in social impacts within our community. A major focus for 2021 will be to increase access to services such as counseling and home visit social work to support specific family needs.  We are using technology to enable this process by implementing a new digital case management system. This will enable us to log and track all case details, monitor progress, and improve our follow-up on high-priority cases. 

Additionally, as our technology needs grow, we envision hiring key staff members to lead out technology initiatives. This would include a technology manager, systems administrator, and support technician to oversee all technology-related functions at our school. We also want to improve our computer studies course to focus on applied learning over computer theory. This starts by hiring a computer studies teacher.

Photo by BlinkNow

How does connectivity play a role in the future of the kids at Kopila valley?

We see the need to expand access to technology on campus. This will help us be able to quickly adapt our approach to promoting the continuation of learning. Moving forward we hope to increase the number of computers on our campus. We also hope to continue to train our students and staff to integrate digital technology into the classroom. This started with computer procurement for our older students to ensure access is readily available and will eventually work its way down to lower grades. We are working with our teaching staff to increase digital literacy and its use in the classroom. This will include hiring a technology education trainer to teach us best practices.

Our goal is to make sure our students leave the Kopila Valley School prepared to enter the world with the right experiences to be successful in our increasingly more digital world, prepared just as their global peers are to tackle the challenges they face and have robust, fulfilling careers and lives.

About BlinkNow: BlinkNow is changing the world by empowering Nepal’s children. We help some of the most impoverished kids in one of the world’s most remote regions build the extraordinary lives they deserve. We understand that children can thrive when all their needs are met. Kids need a safe home, nutritious food, an excellent education, quality healthcare, a strong community, and lots of love! BlinkNow is providing all of that and more, so that every child has a chance to unleash their potential on the world!

About Maggie Doyne: Maggie is originally from New Jersey and has dedicated the last 10+ years of her life to educating children and empowering women. She was the recipient of the 2015 CNN Hero of the Year award and her work has been recognized by the Dalai Lama, Elizabeth Gilbert, Nick Kristof, Katie Couric, and Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex. While Maggie’s work as CEO is focused on Nepal, she speaks all over the world in the hope of inspiring others to start projects of their own that will generate positive change.
All photos for this blog post were taken and provided by BlinkNow