Wikipedia Zero - a world of knowledge at your fingertips

Janina Kuhagen is a One Young World Coordinating Ambassador from Germany, representing 10 countries in Europe, and actively engaged in several project initiatives. She has previously worked for Telefonica and was part of the Telefonica delegation to the One Young World Summit 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. Over the past few years, she has traveled to South America several times and got engaged in ProNiño an initiative to eradicate child labour and enhance education in South America.

“Imagine a world in which every person on the planet has free access to the sum of all human knowledge". This is Jimmy Wales' vision, theFounder of Wikipedia. It might seem very idealistic at first but after looking at the “Wikipedia Zero” project closer, it becomes a lot more realistic.

Today, Wikipedia gives more people access to knowledge than ever before. Each month 500 million unique visitors visit Wikipedia’s website which consists of more than 34 million articles. The internet, particularly sites such as Wikipedia, is democratising information and providing fairer opportunities for all. Everyone around the globe could potentially access the knowledge on the platform, learn, participate and create content. The wealth of information that can be found online has the potential to transform education and provide opportunities for millions. In a recent survey, 39% of respondents in developing nations experienced a “significant transformation in their access to education” because of connectivity.

The problem is not one of connectivity, but of cost.

In developing countries, mobile is often the primary, and only, access point to the internet. However, accessing information online is currently very expensive, and in many cases people cannot afford the data charges. Thus even though 85% of all new phones sold in the world have a form of internet browser, only 15% of people currently access the mobile web.

In Latin America, the problem is not one of connectivity, but of cost. Despite the fact that the infrastructure has already been rolled out and 92% of the population is covered by 3G, only 26% of the population are 3G subscribers. Considering that about 40% of the population in Latin America lives on less than $4 a day, it is no wonder that nearly half of households in Latin America cite cost as the main reasons for not adopting mobile broadband. In Nicaragua, for example, the minimum cost of a data bundle is $1. For a large part of the population, essentials such as food take up to 60% of the daily income – making it nearly impossible to pay for airtime. Thus, the democratization of access to information is still a long way away.

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Wikipedia Zero is trying to change this by providing knowledge for everyone - for free

To make human knowledge equally accessible to everyone, no matter what their income, Wikimedia has launched “Wikipedia Zero”. This is an initiative whereby mobile operators ‘white-list’ the Wikipedia site on mobile devices, allowing customers to access it for free. The aim is for everyone to be able to have access to, and contribute to, free knowledge - even if they cannot afford mobile data charges.

This is where mobile operators can take on an active role in supporting education and societal development in emerging markets. By waiving data charges to Wikipedia, it allows their customers to have free access to the world’s largest general reference work. Over 40 mobile operators are already on board which means that an estimated 410 million people in 34 countries now have free access to Wikipedia. Initial findings by Orange Uganda and Orange Tunisia show in the first two months post-activation a significant increase in customers visiting Wikipedia. While Orange Uganda recorded a 20% increase in page views, Orange Tunisia reported a huge 45% increase. While this shows the clear interest and reachability of the project, it is not only the population that benefits.

Listening to Jimmy Wales speak at the One Young World Summit in Dublin was extremely inspiring. My Telefonica colleagues and I noted that our company was driving innovation and supporting education in Latin America. After hearing Jimmy speak, we got in touch with the Wikimedia foundation who were able to provide us with support and a lot of information. We then started developing an internal project to drive this initiative within our organisation to support the implementation of Wikipedia Zero in Latin America together with Telefonica.

Besides the obvious CSR reasons for a company, it would further amplify existing initiatives to support digital literacy. It would, moreover, educate people about the life-changing power of mobile internet, and support economic and societal growth. And, furthermore, a partnership has the potential to increase reach to young and create a positive brand association, eventually attracting new customers, creating a win-win situation. We are hoping to get approval for a formal collaboration between Telefonica and Wikipedia Zero in the near future.

Therefore, with the idea of “Wikipedia Zero” and the cooperation of telecommunication companies around the globe, the democratisation of access to information is becoming more realistic than ever in today’s increasingly digital world!