Computer Aid Ships 200,000th PC To Developing World

Charity shifts focus from recycling to empowerment through third world projects

Charity Computer Aid International yesterday celebrated shipping its 200,000th reconditioned PC to developing nations at an event which stressed that ICT for development is not just about the hardware.

The charity takes PCs which are discarded in upgrades, reconditions them, and so far has shipped them to 112 countries where they are used by schools and colleges, farmers and doctors.  But the charity’s partners say the machines would go unused without thought-through software and support.

A new life overseas

Since it was founded in 1998, Computer Aid has sent 31,236 PCs to Chile, 19,792 to Kenya, 15,284 to Zambia and 9,717 to Ethiopia. In so doing, it keeps discarded kit out of landfill in the developed world, and prevents it entering the developing world’s illegal and toxic waste-reprocessing economy.

More importantly, when included as part of a thought-through scheme, the PCs can boost economies and allow people to develop skills, said David Grimshaw, visiting Professor of ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London, who opened the Computer Aid event at the British Computer Society headquarters.

There was confusion in the early days about the organisation’s aims, admitted Grimshaw, with an overemphasis on dealing with e-waste, and accusations of dumping technology on the developing world. From that there has developed a focus on ICT for development, where long-term benefits and support are considered.

Schools and colleges still get most of the PCs, and use them to boost skills, said Gladys Muhunyo (pictured), Computer Aid’s director of Africa programmes. The PCs also help medical staff reach rural populations, and farmers share information to boost crop growth, she said.

“Better weather data will help farmers succeed more often,” said Tom Butcher of the Met Office, which provides training and support so rural stations can automate weather observations in Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, using Computer Aid provided PCs. The project uses the low-cost Climsoft database and Access application instead of more expensive databases, and has helped African countries replace creaking networks of manual reporting from remote weather stations, to provide up-to-date information.

Despite the emphasis on projects using the systems, donors should still be motivated by the desire not to simply discard their old equipment, said the charity’s new director, Tom Davis: “I think that the richest companies in the world, who profit tremendously from IT, have a responsibility to deal with the consequences.”