Penn Law’s Advocates for a New Era Campaign is helping create the model 21st-century law school—one that prepares graduates for an ever-changing world where technological evolutions impact the law and people alike.
The 1 World Connected project at Penn Law’s Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition (CTIC) is one such way they are fulfilling this mission.
For many people, the Internet is a centerpiece of social and professional activity. But billions of people around the world still lack access to it, with obstacles including cost, culture, and geographic barriers.
“Bringing the benefits of the Internet to more of the world is one of the most critical ways we can improve people’s lives,” says Christopher Yoo, John H. Chestnut Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science at Penn, Future Imasogie Professor of Law and Technology at Penn Law, and Founding Director of the CTIC. “It’s true from as far away as Vanuatu to as near as rural America.”
Thousands of efforts have been launched to address this need, with varying levels of success. In order to achieve optimal outcomes, governments and organizations that fund broadband adoption initiatives need empirical evidence of what works—and what doesn’t.
“Everyone says more data is needed,” Yoo says, “but until now, no one has put in the effort to collect and analyze it.”
Seizing the opportunity to make an impact, Yoo launched the 1 World Connected project in 2016. With a small team of two postgraduate students, 1 World Connected has already analyzed more than 1,000 broadband adoption initiatives; tracked success and failures; and evaluated how expanding Internet access has improved quality of life across various dimensions, including education, health care, and economic growth.
This information can assist governments in setting policy and private investors in determining which projects are viable. “We don’t have to convince politicians that connecting people to the Internet is a good idea,” says Yoo. “What they need is information on how to do it and how to sustain it.”
The benefits of Internet access are obvious when you use it every day, but this isn’t the case for those who live outside the digital sphere. Case studies completed by 1 World Connected have shown that communicating how people can directly benefit—such as weather forecasts for farmers and telemedicine solutions for communities isolated from medical centers—increase the success of broadband adoption.
“It’s important to emphasize this is not just some fancy technology that is being dropped into people’s lives,” says Sharada Srinivasan, a postdoctoral fellow at the CTIC. “We’ve learned that if you don’t make it clear how Internet access can make everyday lives better, you risk wasting time and money building a system that gets abandoned.”
1 World Connected has earned high praise from leaders in broadband adoption initiatives, who see it as the “missing link” to connect projects taking place all over the globe, often in isolation from each other.
Adds Srinivasan, “1 World Connected creates an academic repository that’s independent and rigorous,” Srinivasan says. “We’re the only ones telling the big picture story about how to build connections that can have huge impacts on people.”
The work thus far has been impressive from such a limited team, but Yoo has a far-reaching vision for what 1 World Connected can yet accomplish. “There are many projects we haven’t been able to follow up on because we haven’t had the resources,” says Yoo. “I would love to expand the fieldwork, because that improves our understanding of what works in different locations much more than working behind a computer. Long-term funding would be a great boost to our efforts.”
Advancing knowledge for the good of the world is embedded in the University’s ethos, and 1 World Connected is the kind of globally impactful, data-driven venture that is uniquely Penn. “We can help guide sound policy because we’re able to share knowledge and resources across schools,” Yoo says. “I don’t think there’s any other place in the world where we could be doing this important work.”