The IEEE Connecting
the Unconnected Challenge

The IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge is a new, global IEEE competition that solicits solutions from start-ups, grassroots organizations, universities, or anyone else that is working to bridge this digital divide in innovative ways. Organized by the IEEE Future Networks Technical Community and other partners, the competition is looking for applications from early-stage projects that offer unique ways to increase broadband access and usage for unconnected or under-connected populations/geographies.

Unconnected populations lack access to online marketplaces to sell goods and services. Students lack access to schooling. Since working or studying from home is simply not a reality, those lacking internet access are forced to make a tradeoff between learning or making a living. This often results in offline students receiving no education at all. In addition, falling global economies leave such workers and students with few options for self-sufficiency, putting a financial strain on governments and nonprofits who are expected to support them.

Increasing connectivity can not only provide life-changing benefits to these communities, but it can also expand the global marketplace at the same time. In fact, in addition to providing unconnected populations opportunities for health, education, and economic progress, research shows that for each additional 10% of internet penetration, 1.2% is added to the per-capita GDP growth in emerging markets.

Help close the Gender Digital Divide

In 2023 IEEE partnered with USAID to bring more focus to the persistent gender-based inequalities in how women access, integrate with, and are empowered by digital technology. As countries continue to digitize, the ongoing exclusion of women from online spaces will widen economic and gender inequality, which will limit inclusive sustainable development. For women who have managed to secure access to digital technology, a new set of challenges and harms await them online.

The CTU Challenge will continue bring focus to this area in 2024 with help from IEEE Women in Engineering through a prize for Best Overall Gender Inclusion. This award will go to the contestant in any category (TA, BM, or CE) whose project or solution makes a significant impact or effort in closing the gender digital divide. Applicants will have an opportunity during Phases 2 and 3 of the competition to demonstrate how they have focused on gender inclusion within various KPIs, and generally.


Participate in the IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge and you can help us make a significant change in this global problem. During this challenge, we’re looking for solutions that approach the problem from one of three different perspectives:

1. Innovative Technology Applications (TA) to increase Internet access or otherwise enable connectivity.

2. Innovative Business Models (BM) that result in increased affordability for Internet access.

3. Innovative programs that increase Community Enablement (CE), or the likelihood that populations choose to start using the Internet where previously they did not. (In this last category, supply and affordability may not be a problem, but people still don’t use the internet.)

Who Can Apply

The competition is open to private sector companies, startups, non-profits, grassroots groups, university projects, students, government organizations, any other organization or any individual participants from anywhere in the world. Competitors who represent underserved communities, developing/emerging nations, and/or the Global South are highly encouraged to apply. Individual participants and team leaders must be at least 18 years old.

Award Criteria

The submissions, which can be small projects or ideas that have not yet been tested, will be assessed based on a number of technical and societal impact criteria. These will include novelty/innovation of the idea/project and relevance to the Digital Divide, as well as scalability, sustainability (from a business/deployment perspective) and readiness of the proposed solution. The submissions will also be evaluated on their potential for inclusion, impact, efficacy, and risk. More details can be found in the competition rules.

Support Our Mission

Sponsorship of the IEEE Connecting the Unconnected Challenge will showcase your company’s leadership and innovation in the important work of connecting the nearly 3 billion people who still don’t have access to the internet.