Millions of people spend the majority of their day online, whether through desktop computers, laptops, smartphones or tablets. We can work, learn, network, shop and more, all through the convenience of an electronic device hooked up to the internet (which many largely take for granted).
Across the Global South, however, many people do not have access to electronics, which leaves them cut off from the internet and all it has to offer. Even the simple tasks a laptop can perform without an internet connection, such as typing out documents and creating spreadsheets, are difficult to do.
A New York City based organization called Globetops is working to combat this issue and allow people access to laptops, which provide the tools to connect with others in the immediate community and beyond.
According to their website, “roughly 220 million tons of old computers and other tech hardware are trashed in the United States every year.” Rather than letting these items sit in landfills, Globetops aims to distribute laptops that are still in good working condition to those who need them.
It was an idea that found me.
The idea to redistribute laptops came from Becky Morrison, the founder of Globetops.
“I travel to West Africa a lot; I’ve been there five times, to Guinea, and I have a lot of good friends there. I started going because I study West African dance,” she explained. One year, as she was wrapping up her trip in Guinea, a friend asked if she could bring him a computer when she returned. At first, she was surprised at this request, but eventually reconsidered. “A year later I was getting ready to go back again, and I thought about what he had asked me, and I thought, you know, maybe someone I know has a computer that they’re not using.
She posted on her personal Facebook asking if anyone was interested in donating an unused computer, and within an hour received multiple messages.
“It was an idea that found me. I didn’t even really think of it … and then I realized there were people who have computers that they’re not using.”
Now, Globetops redistributes laptops throughout the United States, Haiti, Guinea, East Africa and India.
People interested in receiving a laptop can contact Globetops through various networks that have been created. Once their application has been received, it is posted online. People who are then looking to donate a laptop can look through the online profiles and choose who will receive it.
“In the US, people will just contact us, and we send them a form,” Morrison explained, stating that the application process to receive a laptop differs by region. “In countries where it’s unrealistic that they would just find our website … it’s through our network of connections.”
In Guinea, for example, Globetops partnered with the Peace Corps. From working within villages and towns they know who is looking for a laptop, so they are able to connect them with the Globetops network and get the process started.
For anyone living in New York City, they can easily donate an unused laptop by contacting Globetops. Their pick-up team goes and gets laptops, free of charge, from anyone living within the city. For anyone living outside the city boundaries, they pay the shipping fees to get their laptops to Globetops.
Once a laptop is received, it gets maintenance as needed, and the hard drive is wiped clean. This is done through two pro-bono partnerships: Tekserve, a company based in New York, deals with all Apple laptops, and Best Buy helps with all PC laptops.
The main costs associated with refurbishing them are then purchasing new batteries and chargers. However, they just launched a new partnership with Dream Hotels, where any unclaimed chargers left behind in hotel rooms are donated.
For laptops being distributed to people within the United States, Globetops ships them nationally. For laptops going overseas, they will ship them to “carriers” — people within the US Globetops network — who are traveling overseas to that location.
“We have people that are constantly going to India or Guinea,” Morrison said.
She also explained that Globetops doesn’t have any plans on expanding to new countries anytime soon.
“To have the greatest impact, spraying laptops all over the world isn’t what is actually useful,” she said. “I’d rather focus on a few areas and get a lot of laptops into those areas.”
The networks that are currently in place are successful, and the organization is working towards building on that success rather than spreading effort and resources too thin. Focusing in on certain areas also helps tie in to sustainable planning.
“One of the things that we’re creating is called Globetops Hubs,” Morrison said. “We partner with an already existing computer repair shop in a place where the laptops are going, so every person who receives a laptop is entitled to a free training course on how to use the laptop. They’re not just getting it and don’t know how to use it.”
Along with providing education, the Globetop Hubs also offer a 30-day warranty for all donated products, and help to properly recycle any products that are no longer being used. Globetops sees combating excessive electronic waste as an important goal.