World Wide Web Foundation
2018 Annual Report

In the three decades since Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web, we have seen its power to transform our lives and shape the course of history. While the web of today certainly faces myriad challenges — inequalities in access, attacks on privacy and online abuse chief among them — there is no doubt that the web we know and love still holds the potential to serve humanity and empower individuals across the globe.

The dedicated efforts of The Web Foundation and its partners, continually guided by Sir Tim’s vision and input, will help the web realise this full potential as a public good and a basic right. From promoting an ambitious affordability target to advancing efforts to protect women’s rights online, the Web Foundation’s work remains critical. The work to build a free and open web for everyone, everywhere continues. We hope you will join us.    

Tom Jenkins
Chair of the Board of Trustees

The Web Foundation’s mission to defend the web as a positive, public good that connects everyone continues to grow. The events of 2018 continue to force us to think hard about how we want to tackle the many challenges facing the web today. 

I’ve been incredibly proud of the work we have been doing, from our continued research into improving internet access to the launch of the Contract for the Web. These are just a few of the important steps we are taking towards the web we want. But we can’t do it alone. I hope you will join us in the movement to keep the web open and free for everyone.

Adrian Lovett
President & CEO

Our Mission, Our Model

The web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available so that everyone has the same rights and opportunities to improve their lives. With half the world still not connected and the other half facing threats to their privacy, security and fundamental rights, the vision of the web we want is far from the reality we face today.

As a policy advocacy organisation, the Web Foundation works to influence government and corporate policies that shape our web to make sure everyone has the right to access the internet freely and fully.

Our Impact in 2018

1. Secured adoption of a more ambitious affordability target by the UN.

UN Broadband Commission adopted the ‘1 for 2’ target as its threshold for affordable internet. This target — which calls for 1GB of mobile broadband data to be available for 2% or less of average monthly income — was first proposed by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) in 2016 as a benchmark at which people at all income levels would be able to afford a basic connection. This follows official endorsement of the target by Nigeria, Ghana and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). By the end of 2018, only 10 of the 99 low- and middle-income countries we studied had achieved this target — though we hope increased adoption of this target will help more countries attain affordable access.

2. Launched a new Contract #ForTheWeb.

We launched a global campaign to unite individuals and organisations as one voice urging governments, companies and the public to stand up for a free, open and safe web that benefits everyone. The Contract #ForTheWeb — announced by our founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the Web Summit in Lisbon and garnering media coverage in everything from The Financial Times to Wired to CNN — aims to build a roadmap for a web that serves humanity and is a public good for everyone, everywhere. Since its launch, over 8,000 people have signed on as supporters, along with the governments of France and Germany and over 100 organisations including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter. In addition, as part of the campaign we published The Case for the Web report, which reflects on what the web has allowed humanity to accomplish over the past 30 years.

3. Focused attention on how to overcome some of the web’s greatest challenges on its 29th birthday.

On March 12, 2018, we published a letter written by Sir Tim Berners-Lee to celebrate the 29th anniversary of his invention of the World Wide Web. In his letter, Sir Tim urges us to focus on three areas critical to the fight for the web’s future — closing the digital divide, making the web work for people and bringing more voices to the debate. Sir Tim encouraged us to see the problems facing the web as issues that have been created by people and that can be fixed by people working collaboratively and constructively. The letter was shared in over 1,550 news stories across 80 countries, including coverage in major outlets such as The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and the BBC, and reached over 2.6 million people on Facebook and Twitter.  

Today, I want to challenge us all to have greater ambitions for the web. I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

4. Published first-of-its-kind data on the quality of internet access and broadband affordability

We furthered our ongoing efforts to measure progress toward affordable internet and drive evidence-based policymaking with the publication of the fifth annual Affordability Report. Featuring one-of-a-kind data on the cost to connect users across various geographies, the Affordability Report considers the policy frameworks in place across 61 low- and middle-income countries to determine what changes must be made to enable affordable connectivity for all.

For the first time, we also published data on median broadband download and upload speeds across 54 low- and middle-income countries — the first set of publicly available data on this topic. The resulting report on quality of service serves as part of ongoing efforts to understand the factors at play in achieving meaningful access for everyone. 

5. Investigated our evolving relationship with data

How do we make sure our data benefits society? What data should be public, and what data should be private and under our control? Our research on data, privacy and human rights gathered insights from around the world on these emerging questions.

To reach the full potential of open data, it must be truly open: Available and used by all. We published the Open Data Barometer — Leaders Edition, a look at the performance of 30 governments that have made concrete commitments to champion open data. While these governments are improving at a faster clip than the rest of the world, not a single government has adopted all the changes necessary to make open data in government the norm, rather than the exception. Our report on the state of open data for women across Africa shows that despite great potential, we have a long way to go to deliver real benefits for African women.

As data is increasingly utilised by those developing and implementing artificial intelligence systems, transparency and accountability must remain at the forefront, as recommended in our report on the use of AI in Latin America and Africa. Likewise, accountability for users’ privacy on social media platforms must be prioritised by both individuals and tech companies, as evidenced by our interviews with young people in the Philippines, Indonesia and Kenya. 

6. Expanded women’s access to and rights online.

In 2018, we worked to expand women’s access to and rights online. We partnered with women’s digital rights organisations in four new countries (Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay and Senegal) to produce Digital Gender Gap Audit scorecards, which included expanding our research and advocacy partnerships in Latin America, in particular Mexico. This project also resulted in the development of the Toolkit for researching women’s access/use in partnership with the GSM Association and the Association for Progressive Communications. The toolkit offers guidance on conducting research involving women, providing qualitative and quantitative example questions across a range of research topics. We also launched a new digital skills fund with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the EQUALS Global Partnership. The fund is designed to expand digital skills training opportunities for women and girls around the world through the provision of small grants to organisations providing gender-sensitive skills training across countries in the Global South. The fund will provide crucial support and mentorship for 10 organisations.

7. Convened women technology leaders in Africa

Women tech innovators at the Africa Summit for Girls and Women in Tech

In September, we brought together 250 digital equality advocates from across Africa for the second Africa Summit on Women and Girls in Technology in Accra, Ghana. The Summit participants debated the policy steps needed to close Africa’s growing digital gender gap and enable millions of African women and girls to benefit from access to technology. This inspiring group of Africa’s leading voices in tech shared their experiences, insights and ideas over two days of high-level panels, lightning talks and workshops. The participants worked to explore how technology policy can further the rights and interests of women in Africa. The Summit is one of very few tech events that brings together women and girls on such a large scale and highlighted the importance in nurturing spaces where mentorship and networking of this sort can freely take place. 

8. Uncovered millions in unspent government funds that could help close the digital divide.

The Alliance for Affordable Internet and UN Women called for governments to invest at least 50% of funds collected for expanding connectivity in projects targeting women’s internet access and use. The report, Universal Service and Access Funds: An Untapped Resource to Close the Gender Digital Divide, examined the existence and use of Universal Service and Access Funds (USAFs) across Africa, and the extent to which these funds are being put to use to improve internet access and use among women. The research found that an estimated US$408 million collected to expand internet access is sitting unused in public coffers throughout Africa. Failure to use these funds — enough to bring 6 million women online, or to provide digital skills training to 16 million women and girls — risks widening global inequality and undermining global development. Analysis in the report showed that in order to reduce the growing global gender gap in internet use — a gap which is widest in Africa — USAFs should boost investment in programmes that tackle the obstacles women face in using the internet.

9. Celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Alliance for Affordable Internet. 

In October 2018, the Alliance for Affordable Internet celebrated its fifth anniversary. A4AI has come a long way from its launch as a coalition of 30 organisations. It now stands at over 80+ members strong with national coalitions working actively across seven countries to advance affordable internet policy. To date, A4AI’s work has helped drive policy changes that have brought affordable internet access closer for 628 million people. However, the important work still continues. That’s why A4AI has remained one of the loudest voices alerting the world to the slowdown in people coming online as we approached the moment when 50% of the world’s population would be connected for the first time. Working with media organisations including The Economist, The Guardian and The Financial Times to mark the milestone, we highlighted the urgent, practical steps that need to be taken to reach universal internet access. 

10. Improved data literacy for girls in Indonesia.

Our Open Data Lab in Jakarta, Indonesia, continued to use data to empower communities and solve local challenges. In 2018, the Lab directed its focus on tackling digital gender divides in the access and use of technology. We launched Starting them Young — a project designed to build data literacy among girls at an early age. The project offers a model to be developed and scaled to help train women and girls with digital skills that can help them flourish in an increasingly data-driven society. The project was designed based on previous research from the Lab looking at the gender-gap in data literacy. 

Organisational Development

In 2018, we brought together our whole staff team for a retreat to build on our successes, reflect on ways we can strengthen the organisation, and plan for the future. We made decisions on key changes necessary to refocus our work within the quick-moving digital space and to make sure we’re best prepared to deliver our mission of defending the web as a public good and human right for everyone.

Recognising the breadth and ambition of that mission, we refined our programmatic focus to three areas: affordable and meaningful access, women’s rights online and personal data rights. At the same time, we updated the organisation’s structure, moving away from a thematic distinction between Digital Inclusion and Digital Citizenship and instead adopting a single-minded focus on our work through Research, Policy, Campaigns and Communications teams.

In 2018, our co-founders Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith joined us in welcoming three new members to our board. In 2018, technology pioneer Tom Jenkins was appointed as Board Chair, with previous Chair Afsaneh Beschloss stepping down after three years at the helm. Tom was joined by former Nigeria ICT Minister Dr. Omobola Johnson and retail executive Marty Wikstrom who will help guide our strategic direction.

Financials and How to Give

Full details of Web Foundation finances are available in our audited financial statements. Past financial statements and a current list of funders are always available.

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 2018.