When COVID-19 struck and schools had to move online, many students in Puebla, Mexico, lost access to education because their families could not afford mobile data. Brandon, a fourth-grader in a class of 40, was one of them.

Only about a quarter of his classmates received lessons and homework via WhatsApp while learning from home. Scarce jobs and dwindling incomes made already-expensive data even less affordable. Even as families rationed data for their children’s education, they often ran out of data before their needs were met. Brandon’s father, Santiago, is not sure how parents would be able to continue paying for an education that relied on data and fears that for all their effort, their children will still be left behind.

Around the world, NIUs like Santiago and the people in his town find themselves more prone to all sorts of extreme conditions. This is chiefly a result of environmental and infrastructural limitations like inefficient transportation networks and poor access to the internet or life-impacting services, which make it more difficult for them to cope and stay well in challenging times.

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A New Digital Solution Saving Lives Across Africa.

It’s mid-afternoon in Lagos, Nigeria, and traffic in the city of 24 million is at a standstill. In the midst of it all, motorcycle dispatch driver Joseph Kalu has a map and a mission. Joseph works for LifeBank, a tech company founded by Temie Giwa-Tubosun that connects blood suppliers to hospital patients and provides lifesaving delivery services.

LifeBank uses Google Maps – which has a handy feature designed for two-wheelers (see Motorcycle Mode in Maps) – to find the quickest routes between blood banks, doctors, and drivers in the area. For Temie Giwa-Tubosun, Maps provided a critical key to unlocking her goal of expediting blood delivery time from 24 hours to just 45 minutes, creating an infrastructure for medical supplies in the process.

We’re using Google Maps to build a communication platform between blood banks, hospitals, and patients that didn’t exist before.

– Temie Giwa-Tubosun

In the past, hospitals, or sometimes even patients’ family members, would call individual blood banks in search of a blood type match for patients in urgent need, but unfortunately, the lack of resources and poor traffic conditions often meant they would run out of time.

To tackle this problem, Temie created and mapped an online blood repository in partnership with 52 blood banks across Lagos. Doctors can request a blood type and immediately access a map that tracks the journey of the delivery.

To date, LifeBank has moved over 22,000 units, served 400-plus hospitals, and saved more than 8,000 lives. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, the infrastructure Temie created has been realizing new benefits for her community. LifeBank is providing free oxygen treatments to patients in critical need and recently launched drive-thru and walk-in COVID-19 testing centers, with a goal to provide a model of centralized screening across Africa. LifeBank is also working to create a national register of critical medical equipment, finding and repairing respirators, ventilators, and ICU beds for local hospitals.

In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only perpetuated the extreme conditions faced by NIUs, but it has also disproportionately impacted their lives in many ways.

Aside from the direct devastation of the disease itself, COVID-19 presented increased economic strain to NIUs.

As essential, life-impacting services in education, health care, commerce, and government increasingly move online to cope with the challenges of the pandemic, NIUs who already experience limited access to those services found the gap to that access slipping even further out of their reach. While advances like telemedicine, government aid, and remote learning or working via video have delivered tremendous benefits to much of the world amid the pandemic, for those who can’t take advantage of those benefits due to a lack of internet access or digital literacy and confidence, it’s made a bad situation even worse.

Covid-19 has presented a tremendous threat to the significant progress NIUs have made over the past half-decade despite the extreme conditions they face. Addressing and counteracting the challenges of this group needs to be a priority for the industry at large, governments, international organizations, and nonprofits alike.

We’ll have to keep building a supportive ecosystem around new users and make sure they have access to the internet even during challenging times. We also have to increase our focus on education — helping new users better understand online information and services and adapt to deeper changes like the rise of online education. And for Google’s part, we have to keep advancing the work we’ve done as part of the NBU initiative: ensuring our products are meeting the needs of the next generation of new users and building a more inclusive and equitable internet for everyone, everywhere.


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Growth in Africa
Growth in Africa

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Built for the next billion users, Motorcycle Mode in Google Maps shows how developers Google can improve existing services to meet evolving user needs.

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Optimizing for Offline

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Reality vs Perception

We’re helping educate novice internet users in order to prevent misconceptions and empower people when they spend time online.


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The barriers women face are disproportionately higher compared to their male counterparts. We have the opportunity to empower women and help close the gap.

Xtreme conditions

Some novice internet users experience environmental barriers that prevent them from getting online. Learn more about the challenges they face.


The benefits of education should be made available to all youth, the country's richest resource and the driving force to full country potential.

Gorm the Zop

“Gorm the Zop” is a game to help people understand the experiences of novice internet users around the world—and build empathy.