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Please Stop Asking for Equipment Donations. There is NO Hardware Santa Claus

By Wayan Vota on July 24, 2015

santaweb

Recently, I was asked to help find a donor that would give a program several hundred Android tablets to support a new ICT4D initiative. I was a little surprised by the request as I thought we all moved beyond the hardware donation fantasy back in 2010.

However it seems there are still people who believe in a Hardware Santa Claus. Here are three reasons why he doesn’t exist now, and never really did before.

  1. Hardware Donations are Hard to Get
    You may think Apple, Samsung, Dell or Lenovo can deeply discount mobile phones, tablets, or computers because they are big companies that ship millions of units. Yet, margins on each device are razor thin, usually less than 10% of the retail price (with the notable exception of Apple), which means that if you can get a discount, it might be 3-5%, which is usually the same discount available to anyone who bargains hard enough. You will rarely ever get a full-on hardware donation.
  2. Hardware Donations Can be an Albatross
    If you are lucky enough to get a hardware donation, take a very careful look at what their offering. Usually it will be factory 2nds or end-of-life equipment that can have major defects or not be supported by the manufacturer. Worse, it could be recycled equipment, and unless its from the few reputable computer recyclers, its pretty much guaranteed to be e-Waste in disguise.
  3. Needing Hardware Donations is a Warning Sign
    If you don’t have the budget to buy new equipment for your ICT4D program, you might have a larger problem on your hands. Could it be that you’ve under-budgeted for more aspects of your program, like marketing for user adoption, user training, long-term user support, and even simple things like replacement units and spare parts? If you’re begging for hardware, your whole program is begging for a rethink.

Now let’s assume that someone has budgeted for everything but hardware, that they are being thoughtful and holistic and its an unforeseen constraint that requires a hardware donation. How could a program acquire mobile phones, tablets, or computers in a way that doesn’t break a budget but also doesn’t rely on dodgy donations?

What About Co-Buying Hardware?

I am consistently surprised at how many projects think they need to front 100% of the hardware needed in a project, especially if its focused on constituent usage of the technology to better their lives or make their work easier. Stop buying phones for community workers. Instead, offer them a phone stipend – pay for the first $50-$100 of the required phones or tablets and let them fund the remaining amount.

First, this creates a sense of personal ownership of the device. Its theirs to take care of and recharge, theirs to show off to their friends and say its a perk of their work, and theirs to stress over to make sure its not lost or stolen.

Next, it reduces the overall cost of equipment. Even if you sponsor 90% of the equipment cost, that’s a 10% savings, and you’ll find that many participants will put in significantly more than you expected to get a nicer device – cost share from where you least expected it.

Finally, if your constituents are unwilling to co-fund the purchase of the device, it shows that they really don’t care that much for your intervention. This could be an early and clear indication that the overall program needs to be re-designed to take more of their needs into account.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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6 Comments to “Please Stop Asking for Equipment Donations. There is NO Hardware Santa Claus”

  1. Depending on your constituency, hardware donations are a valid approach to acquiring infrastructure. You don’t have to go to the traditional suppliers you mentioned in your post. You have to innovate when sourcing infrastructure. At the http://www.elearninginstitute.biz we are innovating around the following stakeholders as infrastructure donors:
    a) Diaspora. The economic situation in most global south communities creates situations where activate labor is exported. Diaspora groups have a very strong need to part of the community. Craft win-win additions to your ICT4D project that has facilities for cutting the geographic barrier between diaspora and their community. A small teleconferencing setup that enables them to participate in local meeting is one good example.
    b) Government/Parliamentary Representatives. In some cases governments give members of parliament constituency developments funds to use as they see fit. You can add an extra functionality to your ICT4D that links on-going e-gov roll-out to your ICT4D (i.e. show that they will collect tax faster, receive more accurate crop estimates etc.
    c) Business Community. We have succeeded in convicting a local manufacturer of mobile devices to consider donating devices for a eLearning imitative in a very impoverished community. We cleverly tied this donation to be a competitive tool that creates awareness about some of the crucial and core services from the manufacturer.

    There are literally quite a lot of options that however require knowledge about the local environment combined with outside the box thinking that traditional donors and global north partners would find it hard to uncover. Our goal is to make http://www.elearninginstitute.biz a global south player where conversations with global north and traditional donors, governments and local communities about collaborations in using indigenous innovation address challenges that still persist in poor communities take place.

  2. I could provide several examples from my experience to illustrate the “no free lunch” principle, but it shouldn’t be necessary. The suggestion to consider a co-buying approach, or basically subsidized purchase where ownership is transferred, is excellent.

  3. Saa E.Fillie says:

    There Should Be Hardware Donations.

    School-going children in under-developed and developing country’s are eager to receive ICT Education in their various curriculum. Projects such as the integration of information and communication technology in Primary and Secondary Schools should be supported with free OX-computers to be in hands of the billion children in schools around the world.

  4. Herman Fung says:

    Hi Wayne, I love the brutal honesty. So many projects depend on handing out free hardware and report it as if that is the end goal.

  5. Mireille Nsimire says:

    I agree with you Wayan, specially for Stop buying phones for community workers. Instead, offer them a phone stipend – pay for the first $50-$100 of the required phones or tablets and let them fund the remaining amount.

    First, this creates a sense of personal ownership of the device. Its theirs to take care of and recharge, theirs to show off to their friends and say its a perk of their work, and theirs to stress over to make sure its not lost or stolen.

    Next, it reduces the overall cost of equipment. Even if you sponsor 90% of the equipment cost, that’s a 10% savings, and you’ll find that many participants will put in significantly more than you expected to get a nicer device – cost share from where you least expected it.
    We have such experience with farmers, who wish to have everything for free ( even the seed for their farm) but they are careless about the management.

  6. I believe in some circumstances there should be free hardware donations. Savana Signatures in Ghana have a number of projects such as Tech Girls that depends on computers that have been freely made available for the primary and junior high school girls to learn ICT. Other projects in the organisation concerned such as the Integrating ICT in Education Programme on the other hand offers laptops to the teachers to buy on flexible payment terms.

    As trainers we take the project funded Tech Girls laptops to the community schools to teach the girls basic computing, word processing, blogging (www.techgirlsambassadors.wordpress.com, http://www.mahamakthelma.wordpress.com) among others.

    The issue arises when in our case the girls have completes JHS and are leaving to the various Senior High Schools in the country. As trainers we know the potential they have to grow the skills they have acquired to eventually make money from it, but it just saddens the heart when they ask you how will they continue blogging when they don’t have computers to work with.

    The trainers clearly knows the girl’s parents can’t afford it, the project obviously does not cater for parents economic well being to empower them to take care of their children. These young girls cannot afford to buy the computers by themselves at that stage so we just leave them to go.

    Am sure that when computers are freely made available to students that show heightened interest to use ICT to solve societal problems and eventually make genuine income from it then it is in the right direction. Adults on the other hand should be made to buy (flexible payment terms) any of the electronic hardwares such as PC’s, Phones, Printers etc.

    For sustainability the laptops/desktops given to students must be replaced by the same students after a 3 year threshold where by that time they should have been able to buy an affordable and decent computer to do their work.