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Launched in 2019 as a joint-initiative between UNICEF and ITU, Giga has set the ambitious goal to connect every school in the world to the internet.
Half of the world’s population has no regular access to the Internet. Millions of children leave school without any digital skills, making it much more difficult for them to thrive and contribute to local and global economies. This has created a digital divide between those who are connected and those who are not, a divide that has become even wider during the Covid-19 pandemic. UNICEF and ITU have therefore joined forces to create Giga, an initiative to connect every school in the world to the Internet and address this new form of inequality.
Giga focuses on connecting schools so that children and young people have access to information, opportunity, and choice. It also uses schools as anchor points for their surrounding communities: if you connect the school, you can also connect local businesses and services. This creates opportunities for service providers to generate revenue from paying users, making connectivity more sustainable. A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that a 10% increase in school connectivity can increase effective years of schooling by 0.6% and increase GDP per capita by 1.1%.
You cannot fix a problem unless you can see it, so the first step is to map schools and their connectivity levels. Giga uses machine learning to scan satellite images and identify schools. These are then marked by coloured dots on an open-source map: green where there is good connectivity (over 5mb/s); amber where it is limited; and red where there is no connectivity at all. The project has already mapped over 2.1 schools in 54 countries, including several which were previously unknown to governments.
Connecting every school in the world could cost US$428 billion or more. Much of the funding already exists but it is not always well aligned. Giga therefore works with governments to unlock public funds for use in delivering connectivity and to attract private investors by reducing the risks in harder-to-reach areas.
Once school connectivity has been mapped and financing secured, Giga works with a range of partners to bring the Internet to schools. We support governments in designing competitive procurement processes. We are also developing real-time payment mechanisms, meaning that if a dot on the connectivity map is only green for three hours a day, the provider only gets paid for three hours of access. Giga is already connecting schools in 19 countries and is prototyping several test solutions, including in refugee camps and remote, mountainous regions.
Just as building railroads allowed previously isolated towns to flourish, providing good quality Internet access will allow communities to participate in the digital economy for the first time. But Giga’s work in laying the tracks for connectivity is only one part of a wider effort to bridge the digital divide. UNICEF’s Reimagine Education initiative brings all of this work together and has set the goal of connecting every child and young person – some 3.5 billion - to world-class digital learning solutions by 2030. In addition to Giga, it includes components focusing on the affordability of data and content, access to devices, teacher certification and the engagement of young people. Along with ITU’s digital skills programme and other initiatives, Reimagine Education aims to ensure that, once connected, young people are empowered with the tools they need to shape their own futures.
Our partners are a huge part of our work, supporting us with both financial resources and in-kind support. We currently have a portfolio of a small group of major financial partners, and a larger group of others who provide technical assistance on important projects, including data sharing, cost model development, and more.
You can read more about Giga’s work at https://gigaconnect.org/ and by following us on twitter @Gigaconnect
About Our Team
We are a fast-paced, multi-disciplinary team of software engineers, finance specialists, data scientists, policy experts, and much more. Our team is a distributed workforce and plans to remain distributed into the foreseeable future.
We are growing fast. Our team has grown by over 400% in the last 6 months are we rapidly scale to meet our stated mission. Much, if not all, of this growth is supported by our partners and the work of our Partnerships Team. To-date, Giga has brought on more than a dozen partners and raised over $47M in funding. But many of our partners contribute more than just funding. To us, partners are collaborators, working shoulder to shoulder with our team to develop software, analyze data, conduct groundbreaking research, and much more!