OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso—The United Nations Industrial Development Organization and Microsoft have announced a partnership to set up PC refurbishment centers in Africa.
These centers are designed to help address the hardware, software and training needs of entrepreneurs with small and midsize businesses, with the ultimate goal of producing a refurbishment model that can be used as a best practice across Africa.
The project is a joint initiative to help bridge the gap between large corporations disposing of their used computers and entrepreneurs in Africa who can use these PCs to help grow their operations.
It will be piloted in Uganda, with the goal of creating local jobs, increasing information and communication technology skills development and improving the availability of technology for entrepreneurs.
“The SMB space is vitally important to economic growth, and this announcement is about creating the biggest engine for refurbishing PCs in Africa in a green way. We are trying to create a framework for clean computing and a methodology for their disposal,” Orlando Ayala, the senior vice president of Microsofts Emerging Segments Marketing Division, told eWEEK in an interview here.
Microsoft is hoping to correct a significant imbalance represented by the fact that, while the sourcing of these PCs remains a challenge here, the United States retires some 70 million computers a year. Ayala said that Microsoft sees a great opportunity to organize the industry through the right partnerships to fuel this model and also help create employment in the region, he said.
“The price of a refurbished computer loaded with its software and with a lifecycle of five years will drop significantly over time, compared with the current price of around $90,” Ayala said.
Microsoft hopes that, by 2015, another billion people will have access to computers across the globe—which was a core component of its Unlimited Potential vision.
By 2010, there will be about 1 billion decommissioned computers, and there is no reason that some of those should not be made available to allow small businesses across the African continent to thrive, he said.
Speaking at the first African sub-regional Forum on ICT Best Practices here today, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, the director-general of UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization), said at the first African sub-regional Forum on ICT Best Practices here June 7, that SMB enterprises are the cornerstone of any economy.
“This partnership creates opportunity to create IT skills in Africa, where IT penetration in homes, businesses and hospitals are the lowest in the world. That has to change. Computers are not a luxury for Africa, but rather a necessity if it is to become more competitive and breach the global divide,” he said.
A Great Demand for
The actual cost of refurbishing these computers will be determined through the Ugandan pilot, which will also serve to prove whether the project is commercially viable before being rolled out elsewhere in Africa, Yumkella said.
Microsoft and UNIDO, a specialized agency of the United Nations that works towards improving the quality of life of the worlds poor by helping countries achieve sustainable industrial development, are “committed to developing a model for refurbishment that is sustainable, both economically and environmentally,” he said.
For his part, Dr. Cheick Diarra, the chairman of Microsoft Africa, told attendees that there is a great demand for affordable computers in the SMB community in Africa.
“Microsoft through its know-how with refurbished PC solutions, and UNIDO through its experience in entrepreneurial development, have the opportunity to help address this problem,” he said.
The recycling initiative also has stringent quality criteria for refurbished computers, including warranties and after-sales service, while the refurbishment initiative will address the proper disposal and recycling of computers once they reach the end of their lifetime.
Microsoft and UNIDO will also address the issue of e-waste by promoting regional recycling facilities in East Africa, Ayala said.
This latest initiative is the third collaborative program between the two organizations in less than a year to enable new avenues of economic and social empowerment through access to innovative technology.
Barbara Kreissler, an industrial development officer at UNIDO in Vienna, Austria, told eWEEK in an interview that what is unique about this program is that the refurbishment will be done locally; and the goal is to create a center of excellence for refurbished computers for East Africa.
“This creates jobs in the region. Our goal is to create a business model around this. Also, as we are focusing on small and mid-sized enterprises, we believe the initiative will be successful and, lastly, we will set up e-waste recycling centers, where the components can be broken down into their elements and properly recycled or disposed of. This type of operation only exists in South Africa at this point,” she said.
Asked whether UNIDO has similar relationships with other technology companies, Kreissler said that while it talked to them, its relationship with Microsoft is unique, but that UNIDO is interested in partnering with other tech firms.
“In terms of the IT sector, our partnership with Microsoft is the most developed. But we are open to looking into partnering with other companies and we feel that this refurbishment partnership might steer us in that direction,” she said.