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.

World Connectivity in numbers

When discussing something as large-scale as global connectivity, using data helps to gain perspective on words like “global” and “most”. To get everyone on the same page about what data and facts we are referencing when working on our mission to facilitate access to unrestricted communication, we wanted to share the most current numbers we found and our thoughts on them. 

The big picture

Over 95% of the world is covered by mobile GSM 2G narrowband services. Even in the world’s poorest countries, labelled by the UN as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), 2G coverage is also around 90%. The spread of 2G has had a great impact on the accessibility of voice communication. It has also stimulated the development of applications such as mobile money and agricultural and health related text message services. 

Virtually every country in the world has launched 3G mobile broadband networks. And about ⅔ of the world’s poorest countries have commercially deployed 4G networks. Impressive right? And in addition to all this mobile internet, an exciting space race for satellite broadband internet is under way with big companies with deep pockets sending more satellites up in space than ever thought possible. Universal internet coverage, be it mobile or satellite broadband and IoT, is within our grasp and will probably be realised in one way or another in the near future. 

Where is the gap?

How is it then, that more than 40% of the world population is still offline? The short answer is: because global connectivity is not the endgame, unrestricted usage is. Don’t get me wrong, the spread of global connectivity is doing a lot of good. That is why the United Nations has universal access as one of their targets for 2020 within the Sustainable Development Goals framework. However, simply getting the connectivity everywhere will not solve the entire problem. Connectivity is a prerequisite for usage, not a guarantee. 

Digital divide

Let’s go back to the numbers;  looking at this data on a global level is misleading because even though 90% of LDCs is covered by 2G, 10% is not. And for this 10% progress is slow. Bringing connectivity to these rural and remote areas is expensive and difficult so most commercial telecom operators, the big driving forces in expanding mobile connectivity in LDCs more urban areas, will not expand their services to these areas. 

High costs + low income of consumers in the region = no commercial incentive

Companies such as Hiber offer very interesting solutions to these areas with a low cost low power IoT satellite connectivity. 

How internet factors in

For broadband internet, the balance is even more askew.  Even though worldwide mobile 3G coverage is around 50%, the divide between developed countries and LDCs is 90% vs 20%. And for 4G networks, coverage is mainly limited to urban areas with more rural areas having no coverage at all. Fixed broadband penetration is extremely low in LDCs, e.g. Sub Saharan Africa has penetration rates of 1% or even lower. So there is a huge digital divide, especially when looking at broadband technology. 

The affordability factor

A large obstacle preventing people from using the internet available to them is affordability, especially when looking at the world’s poorest countries. LDCs have the highest relative mobile broadband prices at about 14% of the average monthly income. In comparison, developed countries have prices at less than 5% of the average monthly income. In addition to the cost of usage of the internet, there are also the costs of adjacent necessities such as devices and electricity that are adding to the affordability problem. 

Why is the internet relatively more expensive in LDCs than developed countries? The answer is a combination of reasons. Often, mobile internet markets are dominated by a small number of commercial operators so there is a lack of competition. Regulatory frameworks are slowing down innovations in spectrum usage that could drive prices down. Tax regulations and import taxes are also adding to the bill. Combine that with the fact that a lot of the telecom operators only offer prepaid data bundles, which are notoriously more expensive, and you have a recipe for a very expensive internet. 

The role of education

A large part of the offline population is uneducated. Research shows that education levels are one of the most important indicators as to whether people use the internet. The reason for this is twofold: a lot of schools nowadays have access to the internet so children attending (secondary) schools are familiarized with using Information and Communication Technologies as well as being taught the necessary skills and knowledge for using the internet. In addition to this, awareness of the benefits of internet usage is more prevalent in people who have secondary school education. Also issues such as privacy, data usage and secure internet usage are more familiar to people having received secondary education.

Always changing

The situation around global connectivity as well as the facts and figures that illustrate the situation are constantly changing. The good news is that the number of internet users worldwide is steadily climbing. When we first started thinking about our foundation in 2018, 48% of the world population was not using the internet. Today, that number is just above 40%. By keeping in mind the issues of affordability and education levels, the available connectivity will continue to grow.  

These rising numbers are further aided by the attention given to the problem by the target set by the UN in their SDG framework. This results in cooperation by a lot of organisations, both commercial and non-profit, and governmental programs working to connect the world. We are eager to see what happens to these numbers in the future.