Few high-tech products are as unwanted as used computers, and thousands are junked each year in the United States. But now more than $1 million worth of these high-tech hand-me-downs are headed from America to the Third World.
Since setting up formally in March, the Global Technology Foundation has received pledges of computer donations worth that much, and drawn requests for equipment from as far as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, said one of the founders, Philip Friedman.With the accelerated pace of innovations in research and technology, a computer generation can last as little as two or three years in the United States. After that, obsolescence sets in.
Thousands of outdated computers are stacked in warehouses. Thousands more are crushed or melted down. Still others are cannibalized for spare parts.
Upset with the waste, Friedman and two friends in Boulder, Colo., decided to set up a clearinghouse for diverting the U.S. computer glut to developing countries in the Third World.
Computer experts, American businessmen and Third World specialists laud the idea.
"For users in the Third World, this could leapfrog them into the '80s," said Robert Curley, chairman of PC Distributing Inc.
"I have never been able to bring myself to throw out perfectly good equipment. This concept is very exciting to us," said Curley, whose Illinois-based company is one of the largest computer distributors in the Midwest.
He estimated that his company's donations could amount to $100,000 annually in used hardware.
For computer businesses, the donations are financially beneficial: they are a tax deduction and can save thousands of dollars in storage costs, said Friedman.
Global Technology is asking donors to include manuals with the computers and hopes to put together training packages including literature and experts for the Third World users.
"We're not just going to dump the stuff and leave them to figure it out," said Friedman.
Global Technology has received the tax-exempt status of a charitable foundation and has applied to several foundations for grants to fund transportation for the donations and management of its projects, he said.
Gary Gaile, a geographer who serves on the foundation's advisory board, has worked on a separate project to introduce computers to government service in Kenya. Gaile, who teaches at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said Kenyans were "thrilled with the computers. It gave them a rare skill in that society."
He said the Kenyan government used to compile its budget manually, and was almost through the budget year before the document was completed. With computers, the budget is on time, Gaile said.
"Here, it's difficult to dump old computers. There, where they're 10 or 15 years behind, these machines are more than adequate," he said.