48percent.org: From idea to reality

‘This foundation is the ultimate fulfillment of our purpose’…..imagine hearing that on your first day at a new job. Facilitating equality by enabling access to unrestricted communication is your focus, you have 1% of the revenue and 5% of the worked hours, and 48% of the world does not have access to the internet yet, GO!

I felt excited, scared, humbled, nervous, and a whole bunch of other emotions, all at the same time. To avoid succumbing to ‘deer in the headlights’ mode, I turned to what I was trained to do as a historian: research and creating order in chaos. History is beautiful chaos and historians love researching it in order to understand it. That is my default mode, so that is what I did.

The three pillars of the 48percent.org mission

Why was 48% of the world not using the internet? This question led to very interesting findings that started to shape the basis of a foundation strategy. Access, although still a serious issue, is definitely not the end of the story. Digital skills play a huge role in internet usage. Awareness about how to be safe online has a great impact on how people use the internet, as well as the benefits they receive from using the internet. Because what it boils down to is, internet connectivity is a means to an end, or rather a lot of different ends. For us, one of the ends is increasing access to opportunities and a more equal world. With these ideals in mind, I was able to create the three pillars of our mission: access, skills, and awareness.

Finding where we fit

With those three pillars to guide and sharpen our focus, I looked at what we had to offer. We have funding, time, drive, a tech-savvy mindset, and the power of two successful businesses supporting us. Our starting position was luxurious in the sense that we did not have to go looking for funding, but instead find a way to make sure that our resources reached the right places. As we are not the ones on the ground, working with grassroots organizations makes a lot of sense. By working with these organizations, we learn a lot about the problems and possible solutions in different situations and communities. That was our first step, finding wonderful organizations doing work that fit with our pillars and asking them how we could support them and their mission.

While talking to these organizations we often heard about wonderful and inspiring ideas they had that would really help their beneficiary communities. But, as it often goes, there are lots of good ideas but too little time to work on them. And that got me thinking, in addition to funds, the other thing we had plenty of was time. Time to nurture a great idea and see if we can bring it further. Time to find out what is needed, to write the project plan, get all the different pieces of the puzzle on board, to find additional funding, etc. Time to do all the things that are needed to make sure the separate pieces can focus on what they do best. Essentially, time to be the convener for all the parts that need to be put together in order to create something bigger.

Putting what we have learned to use

As a result of distilling our purpose into goals and talking to other organizations, I came to have the following: pillars to guide our journey and the ways in which we can help. With this knowledge in mind, we have begun to move from being a purpose-driven idea into a functioning foundation actively working to facilitate access to communication. We count each partnership with another organization, whether it be to contribute financially or through time, as both a chance to support those in need and a learning opportunity for ourselves to help us grow.

So far, this has led us to supporting 10 (grassroots) organizations in 10 countries. Additionally, we are in the process of nurturing three inspiring ideas into pilots. And last but not least, we have a multidisciplinary team of 7 driven colleagues dedicated to the 48percent mission and operating as a smooth remote team for over 6 months now. And we are only getting started. If the journey I mentioned raises questions in your head, if you have an idea that we might be able to help with, or you want to share your (similar) experiences, feel free to send us an email or message us on LinkedIn or Twitter.


Pollien van Keulen is the spearhead of the foundation. She contributes her non-profit knowledge and genuine belief in our mission to make sure that the foundation moves forward both in the strategic and administrative sense.
When she isn’t busy with 48percent or coordinating the education and sponsorship efforts of Devhouse Spindle and Voys, she loves reading, crafting, and working on her tiny house.