Sunday, June 12, 2011
Computer repair group for teens gets NIS 1.4m. grant
Eco Tech adds social value by providing PCs to families in need, reducing toxic waste.
For Didi Silberman, rescuing three-and four-year-old computers from meeting their deaths in landfills not only benefits the environment, but also provides work for at-risk teens and functional machines for needy families.
Silberman heads Eco Tech, a branch of the NGO Machshava Tova, which on Thursday received a NIS 1.4 million grant from Bezeq and the National Insurance Institute’s Children and Teenagers At-Risk Fund.
Eco Tech was founded two years go, to “narrow societal gaps in Israel through technology.”
Eco Tech currently runs one workshop in northern Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood for 30 teenagers who upgrade 100 computers each year, but with the additional funds, the organization will be able to now train 120 teenagers to upgrade a total of 1,000 computers at eight workshops around the country – ultimately helping around 5,000 people, Silberman said. The classes will probably expand to locations in west Jerusalem, east Jerusalem and the center of the country, according to Silberman.
“Now with the help of the huge, amazing grant we’re hoping to have the program run for two years – during the second year they’ll [the participants] open a computer lab as a small business,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday night.
“They’ll run this little lab in their neighborhoods and run the lab charging lower rates to underprivileged families.”
A 31-year-old innovator, Silberman is joining other entrepreneurial and socially influential peers this week at the annual Jerusalem ROI conference, first organized in 2006 by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation to bring together young innovators to mingle and share ideas.
“I have dreamed of opening up Eco Tech workshops around the country,” Silberman said in a statement. “Thanks to this generous grant from Bezeq and Bituach Leumi [the National Insurance Institute], Eco Tech can realize this dream. At the ROI Summit, I will be able to compare notes and share best practices with Jewish social entrepreneurs involved in similar projects around the world.”
ROI Community Executive Director Justin Korda said in the same statement: “Didi Silberman joined Machshava Tova and made Eco Tech a reality. She exemplifies what ROI Community is about: nurturing individuals who are change agents in their own communities, with initiatives that reverberate far beyond. We salute Didi, Eco Tech, Bezeq and Bituach Leumi for impacting on so many positive levels.”
Silberman told the Post she is excited “to meet fascinating young entrepreneurs that will maybe be able to take this project and make it global and interesting.”
Formerly involved in environmental organization Green Course, Silberman said the idea of reducing electronic waste was very interesting to her and she was simply looking for the right group in which to get this initiative started two years ago.
“The core idea existed in Machshava Tova and I took it to the next step,” she said.
Eco Tech runs a six-month course created by Machshava Tova, where professional instructors train high school students, mostly between the ages of 14 and 17, to repair discarded computers and then deliver them to families in need, according to Silberman. The majority of the students are currently recruited through the Jerusalem Municipality’s Division for the Promotion of Youth, while the repairs are certified by Microsoft’s official Refurbisher Programs, she said.
“They actually teach the kids everything they need to know about being technicians, and then they have three months of the actual stage [apprenticeship] where they experience what they learn,” Silberman told the Post. “They’re actually able to fix computers.”
Although the program has had only one female student so far, Silberman said that she is “hoping to have more girls in the years to come.”
Big companies, hi-tech firms and factories that Eco Tech approaches regularly typically donate the computers. Some machines – both desktops and laptops – arrive at Eco Tech directly, while others come through nonprofit organizations that function as conduits for donations.
“Usually these places tend to change their computers quite frequently,” Silberman said. “A computer could be four years old and they’re already changing it.”
The computers rarely come from private individuals, though Eco Tech welcomes such contributions.
“Gathering computers from private people is so expensive logistic-wise that we haven’t figured out how to do it,” she explained. “We’d be happy to create a partnership with maybe a delivery or moving company, but for now we can only offer the people to come give them to us.” If you are interested in donating, contact Silberman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While it benefits families that would otherwise not have computers, the project also prevents damage to the environment.
“They have all kinds of really hazardous materials in them – the metals and the delicate components,” Silberman explained. “I know the hi-tech companies are usually careful about throwing them out into proper places, but this way we’re also gaining social value.”
After being repaired, the computers are available to “pretty much everyone” who could benefit, Silberman said. Quite often, they go to Ethiopian-immigrant, haredi or Arab families, depending on whom the individual student chooses.
“Each computer gives the teenagers a skill that will benefit them the rest of their lives and help a family,” Silberman said.
“Sometimes they go to homes that are even poorer than their own,” she continued.
“It gives them a good perspective about who they are. Once they’ve gone out and given one computer, they become really enthusiastic and committed to the program.”