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.

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.