World Wide Web Foundation

2019 Annual Report

Photo of Tom Jenkins, Chair of the Board of Trustees

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has turned to the web like never before — to work and learn, to connect with loved ones, and to access critical health information. The crisis has underlined what we’ve long known: the web is not a luxury. It is a lifeline.

To be without connectivity is unimaginable for many, but it’s the reality for nearly half the world which has no connection at a time they could most benefit from internet access. The Web Foundation, guided by Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of a web that serves all humanity, is working to urgently connect more people to a web that is safe and empowering. At a time of global emergency, this work has never been more important.

Tom Jenkins
Chair of the Board of Trustees

Photo of Adrian Lovett, President and CEO

Ten years ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith founded the Web Foundation to advance their vision of the open web as a public good and a basic right. At that time, fewer than one in four people were online. Today 54% of the world is connected. But as 3.5 billion people navigate the Covid-19 crisis without access to the web, it’s clear our work is nowhere near done. 

That’s why we’re working to make universal internet access a reality — so that everyone, everywhere can benefit from all the web has to offer. It’s why gender is at the heart of our work — so that a digital divide that disproportionately affects women does not undermine global progress on gender equality. And it’s why, in 2019, we launched the Contract for the Web — so that governments, companies and civil society have a platform to collaborate, debate and act together to secure a web that is safe, empowering and truly for everyone.

That’s the web we want. And the Contract for the Web — the first global plan of action of its kind — gives us the roadmap we need to get there. We can’t do it alone. We hope you’ll join us to build a web that works for all humanity. 

Adrian Lovett
President & CEO

Our Mission, Our Model

The web is one of the most powerful tools we’ve ever had to transform our lives for the better. But today, nearly half of the world does not have access — with women, people in poorer regions and those living in rural and remote areas most likely to be excluded. And for those who are online, the web’s benefits often come with too many risks to our privacy, our democracy, our health and our security.  

For the web to live up to its promise, we need urgent action.

At the Web Web Foundation, we work globally with the inventor of the World Wide Web to generate evidence, build alliances and catalyse action to realise the founding vision of the web as a public good and a basic right, for everyone.

Our Impact in 2019

1. We brought the world together to celebrate the web’s 30th birthday

Photo of Sir Tim Berners-Lee reading the Financial Times with Web Foundation advertisement

On March 12, 2019, the World Wide Web turned 30. To mark the occasion, we embarked on a 30-hour journey to commemorate the web’s past and look ahead to its future. We started at CERN in Switzerland where a young Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989, then continued on to a celebration at the Science Museum in London, before finishing in Lagos, Nigeria where we met young women building the future of the web.

Alongside this physical journey, we brought famous faces, leading brands, pioneering engineers and internet enthusiasts together to co-create a virtual history of the web on Twitter, capturing the milestones and moments that brought us to #Web30 — featuring messages from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, former US President Bill Clinton, Bill and Melinda Gates, Major League Baseball, Amnesty International, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the Nobel Women’s Initiative and many, many more.

People across the globe joined in. The #Web30 hashtag trended worldwide on Twitter as 80,000 people shared over 110,000 tweets to reach up to 1 billion people. The campaign brought the world together to recognise the many ways that the web has changed the world for the better — and reminding everyone that we need to fight for the web to ensure that the next 30 years are even greater.

2. Our founder sent out a call to the world to stand up for the web

In his annual letter to commemorate the web’s birthday, web-inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee reflected on how the web has changed our world, outlined the three major sources of dysfunction and called on us all to join together to fight for the web’s future.

The letter was shared in over 4,700 news stories across 100 countries, including over 350 stories in leading national and international news organisations. To make the 30th birthday of the web a global celebration, we published Sir Tim’s letter in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish, with volunteers translating it into German, Italian, Chinese and Korean.

Given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.

3. We launched the Contract for the Web

Photo of Web Foundation staff and Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the Internet Governance Forum in Berlin
The Web Foundation team at the Internet Governance Forum in Berlin

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, together with leaders from government, business, civic groups and citizens from around the globe, launched the Contract for the Web in November 2019 — the world’s first-ever global action plan of action to make our online world safe and empowering for everyone.

We saw overwhelming support for the contract, with over 1,100 organisations and over 9,000 individuals endorsing the Contract by the end of the year, from global tech companies like Google, Facebook and Reddit to organisations fighting for digital rights, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Access Now. The launch was a global news story, covered in 1,700+ articles across 55+ countries and in 26 languages.

Building on the founding principles established in 2018, the Contract for the Web defines a shared vision for the web we want and sets out concrete actions that governments, companies and individual citizens must take to get there. Now, we’re working to make sure these commitments turn into lasting change, as we develop the Contract for the Web into a platform for action and accountability.

The Contract for the Web is a first step towards changing the way we work together to ensure that the web remains a force for good.

Thirty years ago, the course of history changed when the barrier that divided this city was pulled to the ground. In another thirty years we will be judged by what we do today.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, IGF Berlin

4. We championed policies to close the gender gap in internet access

Photo of participants and Web Foundation staff at the eSkills4Policymakers workshop in Ghana

The digital gender gap starts with access. Men remain 21% more likely to access the internet than women — rising to 52% in the world’s least developed countries. To close this gap we need policy change.

To achieve substantial progress on gender equity in technology, governments need to make sure that ICT policies have bold gender equality targets backed by the strategies and budget to deliver on them. To help those working in government understand how to make this a reality, we ran an #eSkills4Policymakers series. The first two workshops, held in Maputo, Mozambique and Accra, Ghana, equipped policymakers with strategies to work within their agencies to create policies that respond to the specific needs of women.

One of the things I’ve learned is the act of making policy and going through that process – it has been key since I’m developing our national ICT strategy. I will take it back to the table and make meaningful effort. Coming here, I wasn’t looking at the gender lens but this has given me the opportunity to see the metrics and statistics to see how we can make inclusive policy.

Policymaker from Ghana workshop

Policymakers are often enthusiastic about tackling gender inequalities, but need guidance and support to do so. Following our workshop in Mozambique, we kicked off a partnership with the Uganda Communications Commission to help them mainstream gender in their ICT policies. The country has been included in our Women’s Rights Online (WRO) 2020 survey research to help the government understand and tackle its digital gender divide. And our WRO partner in Uganda, WOUGNET, will continue to train policymakers on digital gender issues and is forming a coalition to advocate for more inclusive ICT policies in the country. 

Affordability remains one of the biggest barriers to internet access, and for women and girls with less control of economic resources, the financial barrier can be particularly high. Watching the spread of digital taxes across Africa with great concern, we conducted research on how social media taxation in East and Southern Africa affected women’s ability to connect and called on all governments to pay close attention to how their policies impact women and other traditionally excluded groups.

5. We launched a fund to train the next generation of women and girls in tech

Photo of Web Foundation staff and partners at the launch of the EQUALS Digital Skills Fund

The stubborn digital gender gap that prevents women and girls from fully harnessing the benefits of digital technology extends all the way to those building the technologies we use. If tech is left to men only, our digital world won’t meet the needs of women and girls.

That’s why, in partnership with the EQUALS Global Partnership and the German Development Cooperation, we launched the EQUALS Digital Skills Fund to support digital skills initiatives for women and girls across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The fund’s first ten grantees — from the Ghana Code Club to the Lebanese League for Women in Business — ran a host of programs teaching skills from basic digital literacy to advanced programming, connecting women and girls with successful startups, and mentoring participants in entrepreneurship. 

Reaching thousands of participants, the Digital Skills Fund is helping women and girls across the world to build the skills they need to benefit from all the web has to offer and to shape the future of digital technology.

6. Our research showed how to bring down the cost of connectivity

Through its advocacy, research and technical assistance, our Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has brought down the cost to connect for hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Illustration of people using laptops, smartphones and tablets

A4AI’s Affordability Report this year found that consolidation in broadband markets is keeping prices artificially high for 900 million people. The research found that 1GB data in a single operator mobile market could be as much as $7.33 more expensive than a two-operator market. The report was cited in over 150 pieces of media in 30 countries, including from the BBC, CNBC Africa, Financial Times and Quartz. It sent a clear message to governments that they must play an active role in shaping competitive broadband markets — or risk putting life-changing internet access out of reach for hundreds of millions of people. Following the report, we saw encouraging moves in South Africa where the Competition Commission called on the two dominant networks to cut data costs for consumers. The announcement came after years of pressure over excessive data prices in the country, including from the #DataMustFall movement.

We also analysed specific country policies, including in Benin where we examined how a tax on over-the-top services would impact the cost of access and estimated the move would decrease the number of active mobile broadband subscriptions by 20%. This research, along with direct engagement with the Digital Ministry, backed by public pressure, helped persuade the government to drop plans to implement the tax. A4AI has since been working with the government in Benin to develop a Universal Service Policy and implementation plan. 

Our analysis of mobile broadband data costs across 100 countries shows that we still have a long way to go before internet access is widely affordable for everyone

7. We worked to make internet access affordable and connect the next billion

As part of our efforts to accelerate progress towards affordable, universal internet access, the Alliance for Affordable Internet established a new national coalition in Benin. The coalition will work with the government, companies and civil society to drive down the cost to connect for millions in the country.   

Group photo of the Benin coalition launch

We also worked with the World Bank to better understand the financial investment required to achieve universal access across Africa. Our research informed the United Nations Broadband Commission Digital Moonshot for Africa report — a first step toward doubling connectivity by 2021 and reaching universal access by 2030 in Africa. 

Across Africa, where less than a third of the population has access to broadband connectivity, achieving universal, affordable, and good quality internet access by 2030 will require an investment of US $100 billion. This will require exceptional and coordinated efforts from governments, the private sector, development partners, and civil society, the report says, but the investment is worth it.

World Bank

To unlock the full power of internet access for all, we introduced a draft for “meaningful connectivity” — a new target that measures not only if someone has access to the internet, but the quality of connection they have. This will help policymakers set more ambitious targets on the elements people need to experience the internet’s full benefits.

8. Our advocacy helped Indonesian citizens win access to government data

Open Data Labs Jakarta logo

Following years of sustained advocacy from our Open Data Lab in Jakarta, President Joko Widodo ushered in Indonesia’s One Data policy to improve data governance practices in the country.

The One Data policy originated from an open data campaign pioneered by the Open Data Lab over six years ago. Through a series of activities, including research, meetings with government officials and participation in public consultations, the team worked to educate the government on the benefits of adopting open data best practices. The policy provides a legal framework for better governance of public sector data — a crucial step in building an open data culture.

In a country where information has not historically been accessible and freedom of information processes are cumbersome, open data can make a big difference in people’s lives. Citizens and activists can use data to hold the government accountable. Governments with better data can create more effective laws and policies and better respond to citizens’ needs. And technologists and entrepreneurs can use public data to create valuable new products and services. We will be watching carefully to see how, when put into practice, the policy enables Indonesians to put public data to work.

9. We called for tech companies to protect democracy and human rights

The companies building our technologies have a major impact on our lives — including our safety and fundamental rights. In 2019 we pushed for tech companies to consider their impact on human rights and democracy before releasing any products or services.

Our President and CEO Adrian Lovett called on legislators to require companies to publish regular human rights impact assessments and transparency reports at the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News in Dublin, Ireland. The more we learn about how companies make decisions, the more informed and empowered governments will be to regulate effectively and the more we can ensure the web serves humanity. Our call for human rights impact assessments has been taken up by numerous actors, including the United Nations Secretary-General, whose Roadmap for Digital Cooperation report instructs the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop system-wide guidance on human rights due diligence and impact assessments in the use of new technologies.

For the health of democracy, we also called on Facebook to suspend micro-targeted political ads globally. To uphold the integrity of democratic elections, all social media platforms must ensure their tools are designed to support free and fair political processes. Since our call to suspend micro-targeted ads, Facebook has announced steps as part of its voter information efforts ahead of the US November 2020 election, including encouraging users to vote, transparency around who pays for political ads, and an option for users to turn off political advertising on Facebook products. But Facebook hasn’t gone far enough to tackle the issue at the heart of supporting accurate voter information: micro-targeted political ads. We’ll continue to hold Facebook and other platforms accountable, pushing them to take meaningful action to help ensure the US presidential election and other elections around the world are free and fair.

10. We worked with Sir Tim Berners-Lee to shape debate about the web’s future

Our fight for a web that is safe, empowering and truly for everyone is inspired by Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the web. In 2019, Sir Tim’s voice played an important role in furthering global debate on the future of his invention. In November’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture on the BBC, Sir Tim Berners-Lee explained what we all must do to make a mid-course correction for the web and encouraged us to take action so the web is the open space for collaboration, creativity and innovation he first imagined.

Tim Berners-Lee is fascinating. Inspirational, visionary and provocative with hopes and fears.

Jonathan Dimbleby

During the lecture, Sir Tim pointed to the Contract for the Web as a critical roadmap to a safe and empowering digital world for everyone. Later that week, Sir Tim wrote in The New York Times that the Contract will help the web live up to its potential as a global force for good ahead of the official launch at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin. 

Organisational Development

Photo of Web Foundation management team in Oxfordshire

In 2019, we focused on building our team and strengthening our systems. 

Our co-founders Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith and Board Chair Tom Jenkins welcomed former Chief Information Officer of Canada, Alex Benay, to our board. We also bid farewell to Ana Lopes with our thanks for her contribution.  

Emily Sharpe joined the team as Director of Policy in September 2019 to develop our policy positions and lead our advocacy engagement as we work to ensure that everyone, everywhere can access the free and open web. In her first few months, Emily focused on launching the Contract for the Web and building its longer term strategy. Nnenna Nwakanma, who had been acting Director of Policy, stepped into the leadership role of Chief Web Advocate.

In 2019, we completed our first full year with our ‘Big Wins’ reporting tool. This management and decision making tool has enabled the organisation to have more clarity about our goals, and stronger resource prioritisation and reporting processes. 

We also strengthened our financial systems, partnering with an external supplier to improve our financial reporting and management. 

Financials and How to Give

2019 saw a great strengthening of the Web Foundation’s financial position.

We increased our revenue to over $5.15m and with $4.56 million in expenses, growing our net assets by $0.58 million. This was a result of concerted efforts in expense management, better balancing unrestricted and restricted funding contributions and building long-term government, corporate and foundation relationships. 

Full details of Web Foundation finances are available in our audited financial statements, along with past financial statements and a current list of funders.

Our founder gave the web to the world for free — but fighting for its future comes at a cost. The Web Foundation relies on donations to fund our fight for a web that serves humanity. Please consider donating to help us tackle the substantial challenges at the frontier of technology and society — and to make sure the future of the web benefits everyone.

We are deeply grateful to the individuals, foundations, governments and companies whose support allows us to fulfil our mission and maintain fiscal responsibility. A special thank you to all those who supported our work in 2019.