Connecting the 4.4 Billion Unconnected

On Wednesday evening I was on a train coming back from London and chatting to my colleague Alice about how important the internet, and good access to the internet, is to us personally. Alice had recently moved house and all her furniture was in storage, but she was happy as the broadband was connected and she had a beanbag to sit on.

Alice and I had been to an event where about 60 social entrepreneurs, business people and delivery projects from around the world had been discussing the Why and the How to connecting the last 4.4 billion people who still can’t or don’t use the internet.

In the UK we still have 10 million people who don’t have the basic digital skills to use the web. As part of my day job I get meet with many of the thousands of people that Tinder Foundation and our partners help every month, and I hear about the life changing effect the internet is having on new users who have: found work, saved money, been in touch with distant friends and relatives, no longer felt lonely, got healthier, and stopped rough sleeping.

Scaling that up, a vision of connecting the 4.4 billion people unconnected is mind boggling. Many of the stories, I heard on Wednesday, of lives transformed were familiar to me: people getting new skills so they can find useful work, people finding a voice, people linking to essential services. But other success stories were about how to use technology to solve very different challenges. For example, Instant Network School from Vodafone Foundation helps children displaced by conflict access education resources via tablets and the internet. We heard from about infrastructure solutions, free data to use basic Facebook and other public services for mobile phones in the developing world, and about digital literacy.

There were common strands in our discussions. Such as technology is just the tool; what we really need to make change happen is to develop programmes importantly involving users and helpers that result in behaviour change. We talked about value and cost. In the UK I keep banging on about the people who just can’t afford the internet.

For many people still digitally excluded in the UK, just like people in some of the developing world, the choice is an internet connected device or something else – where the ‘something else’ may be food or travel costs to get medical help. It’s just like the prevent or cure agenda: we never get truly focussed on prevention when there are so many people who need curing. I often feel hopeful and frustrated in equal measure.

Bob Gann, from NHS England, and I gave a short talk on our Widening Digital Participation Programme. I brought it right back to the 4.4 billion people and told the story of just one of them – Ron, who used to live in a tent next to an A road just outside Hull.

Ron Dale and Bob Gann

Ron Dale and Bob Gann










Too often the big numbers obscure the fact each statistic is a person and each time they are empowered to change their life for the better that’s one more life improved. Ron’s story has been told to the UK Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and this shows that one small change in one life has the potential to change the opinion of the man in charge of the NHS. We have to look bottom-up but we also need to make sense of it top down, so we can scale change as well as learning from local practice.

Bob and I talked about the Tinder Foundation Network Effect. How the thousands of hyperlocal partners we work with in our network achieve more because they are part of that network. Yes, it’s about products and services and platform and grants – the things we provide. But it’s about more than that, it’s about belonging to something bigger. Ron was helped by Inspire Communities in Hull; Inspire Communities’ work is very important. Southampton Library, and Starting Point, and Cook E-Learning, and the Bromley By Bow Centre, and thousands of other hyperlocal partners work is very important. They all tell us they know that by working with Tinder Foundation their work, their expertise and their efforts are all respected and valued, and they also tell us that they feel part of something bigger. We are all part of something bigger. Together we have a bigger impact than just working alone. That’s the network effort.

Alice and I met people in India and South Africa who are working in a similar way to Tinder Foundation. We will keep talking. We now belong to a bigger network of people with a similar vision and tireless energy to keep going until we cross the finish line.

Yesterday’s event was hosted by Huawei, and they published a microsite a year ago with articles and further information about the 4.4 billion unconnected.

Everyone’s been at it recently…

…talking about digital inclusion that is. Well, that’s how it’s felt after celebrating some important milestones over the past week.

In my last post I talked about the Digital Leaders Annual Lecture and following on from that I wrote a post for the Digital Leaders blog – which just so happened to coincide with the Digital Democracy debate at the House of Commons, led by Meg Hillier MP. It was also the first time the public (me included!) could use electronic devices during an MPs debate.

The Digital Democracy debate in Westminster Hall, March 2015

Fast forward a few days and it was back to Westminster, this time at the House of Lords, for a big day for the Tinder Foundation team. For the past six months we’ve been working with Vodafone UK and 17 UK online centres to research how mobile technology can contribute towards bridging that digital gap. The results of the project have formed a new report, “Mobile: Helping To Close The Digital Divide?

I must admit (it’s something I talked about on Tuesday) when we first started working with Vodafone I was feeling pretty fed up of attending events to hear people saying that everything (digitally-speaking) was fine because “all the old people will die soon and everyone left already owns a mobile”. And I was definitely fed up of replying (or often shouting) that they were wrong.

But the project with Vodafone has reignited my enthusiasm for mobile as there have been some really great results.

The launch event for ‘Mobile: Helping To Close The Digital Divide?’, a report produced by Tinder Foundation and Vodafone UK

We thought the people taking part would find using a mobile more intuitive (and they did) – which has had a huge impact. But the health and wellbeing impacts, and the impacts for people with caring responsibilities – were a real ‘bonus’ finding. The below is only a taster; I hope you can have a read of the findings in full here. Let me know what you think by using the hashtag #digitalmobile:

  • 55% not only learnt in the UK online centre with the help of the brilliant staff there, but they also carried on learning and enjoying their mobile device at home (and 45% didn’t learn independently)
  • 88% improved their digital skills, with their motivations for using the internet also changing dramatically
  • 65% reported improvements to confidence and self-esteem.
  • Overcoming loneliness and isolation was a big gain, with 67% saying they had better and more frequent communication with friends and family.

And finally, on Wednesday we celebrated another important milestone in our Widening Digital Participation work with the NHS, where I was joined by Dr Ollie Hart. Ollie is a GP from Sloan Medical Centre in Sheffield and together with local partners in Sheffield he has been integral in referring his patients to the UK online centres “digital surgery”, run by the Heeley Development Trust.

I’ll be blogging more about the Widening Digital Participation programme soon, but in the meantime take a look at

We’re also holding a great Tweetchat next Thursday to find out what GPs, CCGs and other health practitioners think of the Widening Digital Participation programme. You can find out more here, and so do join in if you’re interested using the hashtag #NHSWDP – we hope to see you there!