Ethiopia Digital Project - Geeks of Color Sighting

The International Business Leaders Forum (cool title) is associated with the "Fair Trade" Electronics Recycling endeavorr which EPA Director Lisa P. Jackson toured this week in Ethiopia.   A leader from the IBLF with a role in Ethiopia Digital Project sent this message:
"We are pleased to have the support of the US EPA and feel it will go a long way to support our endeavors to mitigate Ewaste while supporting digital access.   I often quote Victor Hugo "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come"  "the Idea of a quality refurbisher/recyler in an emerging country supplemented with  market knowledge and oversite is  an "Idea whose time has come" 
- Chris Frasier Supply Chain Developer  Digital Partnership
More about the EPA's support for the "fair trade recycling" endeavor can be found at this press release. Information on the Ethiopian Ministry of ICT, can be found at the linkThis project came through World Bank ICT funding.

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The idea of "Fair Trade Recycling", the empowerment of Geeks in developing world to properly recycle whatever they cannot repair, and to take back and recycle product from their own country's residents, is an idea whose time has obviously come.

When I left the USA Peace Corps (Cameroon) in the 1980s, I seriously considered extending (I took a job as a Peace Corps staff trainer instead), but I basically realized that the USA Peace Corps was "training wheels" on a bike which would move much faster through business partnerships with good people from different countries.  Peace Corps later (I heard) took on a more "SBA" model.

The sad thing is that Europe aspired itself away from these boots on the ground projects, and is in full swing to adapt the policies of the "Accidental Racist" - to take these jobs away from African Chicas, and with it the path of development which actually caused Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, etc. to leapfrog and emerge, through refurbishment and "good enough" economies.  The USA seems on the fence.  But here's the real news... ASIA now generates more obsolete and elective upgrade electronics, and will not hesitate to set up factories in Africa.   It is happening now.  There are 2 "SKD" factories underway in Africa.  I wish I could have played a role, but I realized any attention from America is a lighting rod for the Accidental Racists who would bring Intercon down to destroy the aspiring technicians.  So I sit on my hands, help where I can.  We applaud the relatively small recognition projects like the ICT in Ethiopia.  But the fires are already started.  It will be an Asia-Africa partnership.

If recycling can be well done by hand disassembly, then allowing groups to earn money by properly recycling and reuse can be an idea whose time has come.  We should shed the "ewaste" label and take recycling back as a force and tool against mining, against forest destruction.  Recyclers are the good guys.  The Anti-Recycling Watchdogs should find another tack.


Jim Puckett said...

Dear Robin:

For once you and I can support the same project in a developing country!

I am very glad that you are applauding the IBLF Digital Partnership Project in Ethiopia. I have been working as advisor of the IBLF project in Ethiopia since its inception. The project was inspired in no small part by the film Digital Dump which I showed to IBLF staff in 2004 in London. At that time the Director of the IBLF Digital Partnership Project, Ms. Lyndall de Marco, and I wanted to create a digital divide project that was squeaky clean and in accordance with the Basel Convention from start to finish and provided for collection at end of life.

I know you like to describe your exports exports of untested equipment to developing country refurbishers as “fair trade,” but this is a different approach that will not allow any hazardous waste to be exported to a developing country.

The IBLF Digital Partnership Ethiopia Project is truly Fair Trade in that it provides bridges over the digital divide without creating the Digital Dump. Here's how it works. IBLF provides logistics services including collection, consolidation, testing, tri-age and data wiping, prior to the fully functional equipment being shipped to Ethiopia. It requires the donor to provide only tested fully functional computers with a long life ahead of them, which are then shipped to Ethiopia to a refurbishment center where they are spruced up cosmetically and loaded with software and tested again. The refurb center has been built in part with funds from the World Bank.

The cost for each computer readied for deployment in schools and businesses in Ethiopia is $105 USD, which covers shipping, overland transportation, Microsoft Licenses (MARS Package), virus protection software, new keyboards, mice and power cables and funds the overhead of the refurbishment center. It also includes a $10 fee for end of life processing, meaning that the recipients have paid for the equipment to be de-manufactured at the time of purchase. And the loop is completed with a World Bank funded local demanufacturing center which is readied to handle the equipment when it finally dies and cannot be repaired anymore by the refurb center. The Ethiopian government’s focus is to get large numbers of computers distributed for education and health and the demand at the current price is huge.

This is one of the very few donation, reuse programs I know about run by a non-profit that looks after the computer after it dies and funds its collection and demanufacturing ensuring that no toxic waste is disposed of in country. The demanufacturing facility is separate and has been designed and set up by e-Stewards recycler Neil Peters-Michaud of Cascade Asset Management. He trained the staff there using the e-Stewards Standard as a model for operations. He also was partly responsible for vetting available downstream recycling markets in Ethiopia. Some fractions can be safely handled in Ethiopia but clearly the circuit boards and cathode ray tubes cannot be. These will be exported to foreign markets once they have accumulated enough to ship. All of the exports from the facility are funded from the 10 dollar fee set-aside and will be done according to Basel Convention procedures. In this way, exported used electronics do not create toxic waste in the importing country or anywhere else for that matter.

It is truly a unique and forward looking program. For this reason we have referred US EPA to the program and thus the Lisa Jackson visit. It is my hope that the US government and digital divide charities will see this as a model worth perpetuating around the world. I hope you see it that way as well. It is truly fair and toxic-free trade and a model worth replicating all around the world.


Jim Puckett
Executive Director
Basel Action Network

WR3A's Robin Ingenthron said...

Hi Jim,

I'm glad for your participation in this discussion! First things first, how can you possibly describe our members goods as "untested"? What are you talking about? If we remove and domestically recycle 78% of the electronics we get, do you suppose we are doing so randomly?

As far as your support for THIS Ethiopia project, we obviously agree it's great. Our operations in other countries are also great. And they do more than take back their own old equipment - they take back equipment they never sold or made, in "computers for clunkers" programs. If we can see the good in a program you promote, I hope you will reconsider calling our other fair trade facilities names like "illegal" and "polluting". This is about the definition of testing and the cost of making the working PC (our cost in Egypt was $65, that program unfortunately was closed when the P4s were declared "e-waste").

Keep reading, keep posting, and thank you for your comment.