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Providing Africa with IT and education

On the launch of Digital Pipeline in 2004, Bill Gates said: “Digital Pipeline offers an innovative approach to the effective reuse of technology. Currently, less than one of every 250 used computers is donated for charitable use. I believe we can do much better.” Today, his highly predictive words have been put into practice by a charity celebrating its tenth anniversary next year.

Digital Pipeline, supported by Microsoft since 2004, has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people by improving their education and lifetime opportunities through providing their schools with PCs and software that they couldn’t otherwise afford.

You can change a child’s life when you change your PC. Technology should always be a right and not a privilege

David West, COO, Digital Pipeline
 
The company’s biggest success has been in Africa. In 2011, Digital Pipeline merged with the award-winning Computers 4 Africa, a charity steadfastly building up its own reputation by supplying thousands of computers to schools, libraries and other places of learning throughout 18 African countries.

Both companies, acting as a catalyst for change and operating solely as Computers 4 Africa within Africa (leaving Digital Pipeline to operate under its own name elsewhere in the world) can now proudly celebrate the fact that the lives of more than a million children have been transformed – from Somalia in the east of Africa to Gambia in the west. And this is all achieved through taking end of life IT equipment, wiping the data and sending good quality refurbished kit to communities across Africa to help them in their education.

“What seems small in the UK makes a big difference on the ground in Africa,” says David West, chief operating officer at Digital Pipeline. “You can change a child’s life when you change your PC. Technology should always be a right and not a privilege.” But, as West explains, PC ownership is significantly lower in some parts of Africa than in other parts of the world, meaning the importance of upping the ante when it comes to computer donation has never been more important. “Africa has the lowest rate of PC ownership per capita in the world – South Africa, the best IT developed country in the region, has 8.2 computers per 100 people and the UK has 84 per 100 people,” he says.


Students at Rugambwa Secondary School in Tanzania are experiencing the benefits of an IT-fuelled education through the use of refurbished machines from Digital Pipeline

But this problem is starting to be addressed, thanks to organisations like Computers 4 Africa. “Fortunately the generosity of companies and individuals who realise the impact of their old computers on children in Africa is truly impressive,” says West. “We want this to continue in order to lift children out of poverty and ignorance and change their lives for the better – once and for all.”

For people in areas served by Digital Pipeline and Computers 4 Africa, access to digital technology helps improve education and communication by making it easier for under-served communities to take advantage of the economic and educational opportunities provided by the digital revolution.

A steady supply of fully operational hardware equipped with Microsoft software and educational initiatives has made its way to schools throughout Africa. Computers 4 Africa’s state of the art facility near Maidstone in Kent has the capacity to securely data-wipe and process more than 1,000 computers a week.

An IT educated student in Africa can earn several times the local average wage. Peter Kanini is one of five children raised in the 43 Kabati slums in Naivasha, Kenya. For many years he worked as a child with his single mother Teresia, mining ballast in a quarry to try and provide funds for his education. After receiving a scholarship from Computers 4 Africa in 2011 however, he trained at Naivasha Polytechnic and passed his exams, resulting in employment at Braden Junior School as an IT teacher. Through the use of technology provided by Digital Pipeline, Kanini can now look after his family financially and his mother no longer needs to work in the quarry.

Similarly, Julia Mumbi has started a computer course at Naivasha Polytechnic, which will equip her with IT skills and transform her role in society by enabling her to make choices she wouldn’t otherwise have. She follows in the footsteps of a Tanzanian Masai family, which was persuaded not to exchange their 14-year-old daughter in marriage for 40 cows, but to allow her to learn IT skills and develop her life fully.

Where more than four million computers are thrown away each year in the UK, over 61 schools in the country are now involved in mass donations designed to give a second life to laptops often discarded without a second thought. Many luminaries have also shared Computers 4 Africa’s vision by supplying the charities with computers in their thousands, including ICAP, Barclays Bank, Nomura International, Travis Perkins, Lloyds Pharmacy, the Economist Group, the House of Lords and Balfour Beatty.

Trade building materials supplier Travis Perkins has been an ongoing partner donating IT for the last four years. “When we replaced a large number of Travis Perkins Group PCs, we decided to adopt an eco-friendly method of disposal,” says Martin Meech, group property director at Travis Perkins. “Computers 4 Africa was able to help us meet our target in reducing waste to landfill and at the same time put our PCs to very good use in Tanzania. We are delighted that we have been able to enhance the lives of so many children in such a positive way.”

Children’s charity Lifelites Hospices also supports Computers 4 Africa. “We get through a lot of hardware; our package has changed considerably over the last few years to keep up with developments in assistive technology,” concludes CEO Simone Enefer-Day. “Even as our packages become more tailored to the needs of disabled children, it’s great to know our older kit is still of value.”

Today many people may get caught up in their digital lifestyles and not understand the importance of an outdated machine, but through Computers 4 Africa’s mission, children across Africa can have access to an education and IT skills that have previously not been available. “Digital Pipeline’s goal is to show European businesses that they can make a real difference to the lives of people living in poverty by simply making better decisions when it comes to IT equipment that is being replaced,” concludes Mark East, president of Digital Pipeline and Microsoft’s general manager of the Education Industry Group.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Touch.

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