Used Technology Donations for Vulnerable Canadians

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has become more vital than ever. It is essential to work, communicate, learn, shop, or access important services.

As a result, demand has soared for the refurbished devices the government of Canada’s Computers for Schools Plus program runs. It delivers computers to not only educational institutions. The list libraries, not-for-profit organizations, Indigenous communities, and isolated and low-income Canadians, says Toby Harper-Merrett, executive director of Computers for Success Canada (CFSC-OPEC), a not-for-profit organization that supports the program.

“Requests are pouring in just as supplies of the used technology we need is dwindling,” he said. “We need more private-sector companies to step in and fill the gap.”

Since 1993, the Computers for Schools Plus program has distributed more than 1.7 million refurbished computers. Federal and provincial governments provide the majority of used- technology donations, with the private sector supplying about one-third. The diverse list of donor companies includes major Canadian telecommunications companies. Such are McCain Foods and CIBC, who see the program as an impactful and responsible solution for their used technology.

More private businesses have to step in

With funding from the government of Canada, the program’s affiliates handle donations. These are not-for-profits that operate in every province and territory. They are dependent on receiving digital hardware such as desktop, tablet and laptop computers, and smartphones. Also needed are accessories such as keyboards, monitors and printers.

Harper-Merrett said they also welcome donations from small-to-medium businesses, and all are tax deductible. “And there are many other ways in which contributing used technology to the CFS+ can be a value-add for any donor.”

Most Canadian companies now have green initiatives in place, which extends to their donation policies. When they pass on their used technology to the program, they know that everything possible is being done to favour reuse over recycling. We plan to refurbish more than 60% of all the donations; this means 40,000 tonnes of electronic waste has been diverted from landfills. The remainder will be responsibly recycled.

Over the years, hundreds of libraries and community organizations have been the beneficiaries of the technology that the Computers for Schools Plus program refurbishes.

Refurbished technology: Implications for young people

The refurbishment phase also has positive social impact across the country. It includes youth interns, some of whom come from at-risk backgrounds. The federal government’s CFS+ Intern program hires them, which is part of the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy (YESS).

To date, more than 7,000 young people from every province and territory have participated in paid internships. They gain both work experience and the digital skills expected to enhance the employability and marketability of youth through internships specifically targeted to develop expertise and skills needed to actively participate in the digital economy. Some learn how to rebuild and upgrade computers, others engage in communications and other digital supports for those that receive donated devices.

Over the years, hundreds of libraries and community organizations have been the beneficiaries of the technology that the CFS+ refurbishes. As well, it enjoys a long association with the country’s major school boards.

During recent school shutdowns, it has become more evident that some students are at a disadvantage. With no access to a computer or internet at home, and no longer at their school or local library, they could not keep up their schoolwork.

Harper-Merrett said that without access to technology, they may be unable to learn, apply for jobs or government assistance, or fulfil other everyday tasks that require them.

Serving vulnerable Canadians

The Computer for Schools Plus program has expanded its reach to include vulnerable Canadians across the country. Through the Connecting Families initiative, for instance, participating services have delivered more than 30,000 additional to low-income families and to support the offer of $10/month internet.

Indigenous communities across the country are an important area of focus as well. Computers for Success Canada works with the Pinnguaq Association to manage the program in Nunavut, while other CFS+ affiliates serve other regions.

Potential corporate donors of used technology should contact the affiliate organization in their province or territory. Or, they can get in touch with CFSC-OPEC directly if they can donate in multiple provinces or territories. Each has its own procedures and has put into place health and safety procedures to protect donors and staff. As for another safety issue, that of data security, the CFS+ uses industry best-practices and can issue Certificates of Destruction.

“The measures in place meet the requirements of the federal government, including the program’s largest single donor, the Department of National Defence,” Harper-Merrett said. “It’s just one of the ways that we can reassure companies looking for a solution for their used technology.”