World Wide Web Foundation
2015 Annual Report
2015 was a year in which I am happy to see the Web Foundation, with its growing community of friends and peers, achieved some important things. Through our research, advocacy and innovation, we took strides to bridge digital divides of all types: narrowing the online gender gap, empowering new and more diverse voices on digital rights issues, defending net neutrality and increasing access to critical open government data online.
We’d like to thank all of our partner organisations, supporters, donors and friends who have helped make this progress possible, and who stand side-by-side with us as we fight to make the web free and open for everyone.
Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web and Founder of the Web Foundation.
Our year at a glance
We helped to bridge digital divides of all types by partnering with 165 organisations across 57 countries to improve affordability, knowledge and openness across gender and geographic boundaries.
In 2015, the Web Foundation worked to bridge the digital divide — in access, gender, diversity of voices and open government data online. We did this by helping to connect more of the 60% of people who are not yet online - particularly women and the poor, by supporting organisations across the global South to make their voices heard on digital rights issues and by opening up more government data to bridge the information gap through our Open Data Lab Jakarta and global initiatives like the Open Data Charter.
The Web Foundation's work fits broadly into three areas: access, voice and participation. This report presents the progress made by our individual initiatives in each area.
Six countries, three continents, one goal —Affordable Access for All
The Web Foundation leads the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) — a global coalition of more than 80 organisations from government, business and civil society.
At the start of the year, we were hard at work on the ground in Mozambique, Nigeria and Ghana; just a few months later, country engagements kicked off in the Dominican Republic and Myanmar — two new regions for A4AI, and two countries with very different challenges to tackle on the path to affordable access for all.
Later in the year, we began a unique engagement with Liberia to support efforts to improve broadband connectivity in the post-Ebola context, including serving as a member of an ICT Policy Committee tasked with supporting the development of the country’s new ICT sector policy.
Advancing affordability research
“Everyone should have affordable (or free) access to the internet.”
Using this as our research and advocacy starting point throughout the year, we were able to chalk up some major victories.
The new edition of the A4AI Affordability Report found that affordability remains a major barrier to access for billions around the globe, and particularly for women, rural populations and the poor.
None of the 51 emerging or developing countries surveyed for the report could claim to meet the UN affordability target of broadband priced at 5% or less of monthly income for those potential users surviving on less than $2 a day.
The report launch in March 2015 attracted dozens of country ministers and policy-shapers, and its accompanying recommendations have influenced policy in multiple countries.
Leading the debate on access and affordability
Throughout the year, our team delivered this message and recommendations for policies to achieve it through high-profile advocacy platforms, such at the UN Broadband Commission, in keynotes at the Transform Africa Summit, and through testimony to the US House of Representatives, while our media profile continued to grow, with an average of a media mention every day.
In September, we celebrated a major victory when the United Nations included universal access as a key target in the Sustainable Development Goals — a win which means this issue will be central to the global development agenda until at least 2030.
Developing a strong team of affordable internet advocates
In 2015, a number of influential policymakers joined the Web Foundation’s A4AI programme in its efforts to drive broadband prices down and enable affordable access for all.
Dr Omobola Johnson, immediate former Minister of Communication Technology of Nigeria, joined the A4AI team as its Honorary Chairperson to provide strategic policy guidance and further high-level international advocacy efforts.
At a national level, we saw A4AI coalition leadership strengthen throughout the year, with Dr Ernest Ndukwe, former CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission, joining as National Coordinator of the A4AI-Nigeria Coalition, and Cindy Chaw Khin Khin, CEO of the MCC Group, taking on leadership of the A4AI-Myanmar Coalition.
Pioneering research shines a light on the digital gender gap
In October, the Web Foundation launched its first Women’s Rights Online study at the Stockholm Internet Forum. The study, based on surveys with thousands of poor urban men and women across ten countries, found that poor urban women in the developing world are nearly 50% less likely to access the internet than men in the same communities, with internet use reported by just 37% of women surveyed. Once online, women are 30-50% less likely than men to use the internet to increase their income or participate in public life.
This groundbreaking original research forms the basis of our work on the intersection of access, digital rights and gender, which will continue in 2016 through collaboration with our local partners to present to governments five-point action plans informed by the research findings. Indeed, within weeks of launch, ministries in both Kenya and Uganda asked Web Foundation and our local partners to help them shape and update policies on this vital area.
Wrapping up a year of celebrating the web’s 25th anniversary
“There’s never been so much at stake.” With those words, Sir Tim Berners-Lee opened the Web We Want Festival’s final weekend on May 30th and 31st at London’s Southbank Centre.
The Festival took place over three weekends over 2014-15 to celebrate 25 years since the web’s invention on March 12, 1989, and set out to engage a broad public audience in debates on the web’s future. As well as ticketed talks, panels and debates, the final weekend of the Festival included free exhibitions such as historic computers and games, as well as visual art and music to attract a wide audience.
The final Festival weekend was a great success — over 50,000 people passed through the Southbank’s doors, attending 30 events, talks and exhibitions. #webwewantfest trended across London and the UK during the weekend, delivering an estimated 60 million impressions. The Web Foundation also used the Festival as a media platform — interviews with our founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee shaped the news agenda across the UK, including on hot topics such as the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill, and the future of Facebook’s Free Basics initiative.
Defending net neutrality
2015 was a critical year in the battle to protect net neutrality — the principle that internet services providers should give equal treatment to all content and applications.
In the US, the Federal Communications Commission made a landmark decision to uphold strong net neutrality protections. Led by our founder, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, we supported the Save the Internet campaign which achieved this victory. Sir Tim met key lawmakers and senior White House officials and briefed US media as part of this journey. Watch Sir Tim’s “thank you” message.
But the future of net neutrality in Europe is less certain. In the EU, we helped to move the agenda forward, including through a blog by Sir Tim for the European Commission, and net neutrality regulation was agreed by the European Parliament in October. However, wording was left unclear and with scope for companies to impinge upon true net neutrality, as outlined in this blog. In 2016, all eyes will be on the EU super-regulators BEREC, as they debate guidelines for member states on net neutrality.
On the positive side, Italy forged ahead with its own Internet Bill of Rights. The document included strong net neutrality safeguards following advice from the Web Foundation, and provided some hope that individual member states might be able to strengthen their protections.
We also began to tackle the issue of net neutrality in developing countries, with the release of an A4AI research brief entitled ‘The Impacts of Emerging Mobile Data Services in Developing Countries’. The first in a planned series of reports, this brief examined the models of mobile data services available and used by customers in eight developing countries — the first empirical research to put ‘zero-rating’ under the microscope. 2016 will see a follow-up paper assess whether zero-rating is really bringing new users online for the first time.
Building a community of digital rights defenders
In 2015, membership of our Web We Want network swelled to over 100 organisations from all corners of the world — with participating organisations ranging from some of the biggest names in digital rights, to small community-based organisations. Working closely with these partners, we provided financial and practical support to more than 20 projects throughout the year, including amplifying the messages of the Save the Internet campaign in Europe, fighting back against a proposed new censorship law in South Africa, and sharing information on the dangers of secret court orders in the US.
Promoting internet rights in Africa
In 2015, the Web Foundation worked together with civil society partners to continue promoting and advancing the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms — drafted with our input in 2014. Our colleagues spoke at conferences around the world promoting the Declaration and the need to make internet access a basic human right. This cause was embodied by Africa Regional Coordinator Nnenna Nwakanma’s now often-quoted rallying cry:
Through our Web We Want campaign, we partnered with seven local organisations to popularise the African Declaration in their countries. From Burundi to South Africa to Uganda to Kenya to Nigeria to Cameroon to Zimbabwe, our partners built awareness of the African Declaration and its importance to everyday internet users. Africa and the global South will continue to be a key focus of our work in 2016.
Making the data revolution OPEN
We believe that in order for citizens to use the web to participate in the decisions that affect them, they must be able to access and reuse transparent and open government data freely. So, in the run-up to the UN General Assembly to define the Sustainable Development Goals, the Web Foundation’s open data team was hard at work to ensure the development data revolution would be open. In particular, we helped to build the new international Open Data Charter (see below), played an active role in forming the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and drove the drafting and delivery of the Africa Data Consensus, which includes the principle that:
The Web Foundation also worked with the International Development Research Centre of Canada and the Open Data for Development (OD4D) network to organise the world’s largest open data conference to date: the 2015 International Open Data Conference in Ottawa, which drew more than 1,000 attendees from all corners of the globe.
We left the conference with three takeaways:
1) We need stronger political commitment to open data
2) We must make sure the data revolution is open
3) We need to build stronger impact cases for how open data improves citizens’ lives.
In 2016, we’ll be acting on those observations through our commitment to open data to fight corruption, the principles of the Open Data Charter and our Open Data Lab in Jakarta where we’re documenting open data’s impact.
Championing the international Open Data Charter
In 2015, the Web Foundation joined forces with governments and civil society organisations to build and launch the international Open Data Charter — which is designed to combine the principles, standards and practical support needed to ensure open data become embedded in the fabric of government.
As a ‘lead steward’, the Web Foundation helped to lead an intensive collaborative drafting process to build the Charter principles document, which was then opened for public consultation. Over 350 comments were received from all over the world, which contributed to significantly improve the final text, which consists of six simple principles.
The Charter is also designed to convert intention into action — a dedicated resource centre is being created, while open data packages focused on specific sectors are planned.
As part of our role, we also championed the Charter at its soft launch in the autumn of 2015, with activities during the UN General Assembly, the G20 meeting, and the COP21 conference.
Although it is early days for the Charter, this work appears to be gaining traction. Over 20 national and local governments adopted the Charter in 2015, with endorsements coming in from a further 19 organisations. Work has begun to develop on three open data sector packages — in agriculture, climate change and anti-corruption — which will serve as tools and guides for governments to implement open data policies targeting these specific issue areas when made public and open for collaboration in 2016.
2nd edition of Open Data Barometer launched on democracy day
In order to track the pace of progress of open data initiatives around the world, the Web Foundation produces the annual Open Data Barometer — a study into countries’ readiness, use and impact of open data. The Barometer is a truly global and collaborative effort.
We launched the second edition of our Open Data Barometer on January 20th, ‘Global Democracy Day’, in a media partnership with the BBC. Covering 86 countries, the Barometer showed just how much work lies ahead if open government data is to live up to its full potential and deliver truly transformative impacts.
Governments worldwide have acknowledged the potential of open government data to reduce corruption, increase transparency and improve government services, yet over 90% of the 86 countries surveyed in the 2nd edition of the Barometer did not publish key datasets in open formats.
The report identified five things needed to advance the open data agenda:
1) High-level political commitment to proactive disclosure of public sector data, particularly the data most critical to accountability
2) Sustained investment in supporting and training a broad cross-section of civil society and entrepreneurs to understand and use data effectively
3) Contextualising open data tools and approaches to local needs, for example by making data visually accessible in countries with lower literacy levels.
4) Support for city-level open data initiatives as a complement to national-level programmes
5) Legal reform to ensure that guarantees of the right to information and the right to privacy underpin open data initiatives
The Barometer results were reported by global and national media around the world, and allowed the Web Foundation to push forward conversations on how we make sure governments remain committed to transparency and opening up government data.
First open data lab opened in Jakarta
In January 2015, the Web Foundation’s first open data Lab officially opened its doors in Jakarta, Indonesia. The goal? To accelerate progress and ensure that open data rapidly becomes a vital tool to tackle practical problems in developing and emerging economies.
After a high-profile launch event in February attended by over 130 stakeholders from across South and Southeast Asia, the Lab team moved on swiftly to host a Regional Open Data Agenda-Setting Workshop to agree priorities for the region’s open data agenda from now through the year 2020. This was the start of a busy and successful year. Highlights included partnering with the Jakarta City government to open up data to the public, and working hand in hand with schools, teachers and civil society in Banda Aceh to link open data with improved educational outcomes. The Lab produced a number of how-to guides and lessons learned papers to share the methods and results of our work.
Jakarta is the first in a planned network of Labs — stay tuned.
Image in this section by:
James Cridland CC BY 2.0
2015 saw the Web Foundation continue to grow and mature as an organisation.
Perhaps most excitingly, we opened the doors to our fourth Hub — the Open Data Lab in Jakarta, Indonesia. This development means that we now have hubs on four continents, with around 30 team members representing more than a dozen nationalities. We continued to put our stated commitment to gender equality into action — more than half our team are female, and the majority of senior managers are women.
Another significant development was the launch of our revamped website in May 2015. Delivered on a tight budget, the new site saw us boost visitors and total hits by around 50% in 2015, and time on key pages and blog posts more than tripled.
In October, we were delighted to announce that Afsaneh M. Beschloss had accepted a post as Chair of our Board, replacing Rick Haythornthwaite, who stepped down after three years at the helm. Ms Beschloss brings decades of experience to the role — she is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rock Creek, a global investment and advisory firm active in global and local emerging markets, and has previously held senior roles at the World Bank group. She also serves on the boards of a number of other not-for-profits, including the Public Broadcasting Service of the United States (PBS), the American Red Cross and the World Resources Institute, and is a past Trustee of the Ford Foundation, where she chaired the Investment Committee.
Supporters and How to Give
As an unendowed foundation, we depend on your support to further our fight for an open internet available to all of the people, all of the time. This year alone, you’ve helped us to expand affordable internet access across three continents, win key fights for net neutrality and the open web, and empower citizens to hold their governments to account through open data initiatives on all continents. We’re massively grateful to everyone who supported us in 2015, and look forward to great things to come in 2016.
If you would like to support our work, please visit our ways to give page.
Thanks to our supporters:
$500,000 – $999,000
International Development Research Centre - Canada (IDRC)
$100,000 – $499,000
Vodafone Group Services Limited
UK Department for International Development (DFID)
Swedish Development International Cooperation Agency (SIDA)
$50,000 – $99,000
$20,000 – $49,999
The Tides Centre
$5,000 – $19,999
Kaia Miller and Jono Goldstein
$500 - $4,999
Network for Good
Several anonymous donors
WilmerHale Boston (pro-bono legal services)
Cisco (Donation of WebEx conferencing services)
Heidrick Struggles (pro-bono search for Chair of the Board)
Image in this section by:
Nita CC BY-SA 2.o