Fifth Week of USA College Students Apprentice Program in Africa Tech Sector

Fair Trade Recycling Update:  How Four USA College Students Will Change The Way You See Africa's E-Waste.
Zacharia is amazing

Fair Trade Recycling has a positive message.  Like the message in Hans Rosling's seminal "chimpanzee test" video - that ignited Gapminder in Sweden - our programs teach more about emerging markets.  The 1960s "Third World" images are, themselves, a form of pollution.

This summer we have 4 USA college interns working across 2 continents - Africa and North America - to create a partnership in parts supply.  Two students (U of Florida and Middlebury College) have been working in an apprentice program for flat screen TV repair in Ghana.  They are not just learning about T-con boards and controllers, or how to spot and replace overheated capacitors.  They are seeing Africa's Tech Sector as equals.

"Karim Zacharia is amazing!!!"

I like getting that message.  These two Americans are not "saving Africans".  They are not introducing a new "less primitive" technique. They are being exposed to Africa's best and brightest, to people who may well have been on scholarship to an engineering program if they'd been born in different circumstances.

The USA students arrived with no training in electronics except for a gift from Kyle Wiens at iFixIT - two compact electronics tool kits.  They are the students, the apprentices, the learners, the aid recipients.  They are learning what the tech sector needs - and doesn't need - from across the ocean.

Meanwhile, in Vermont USA, two other college scholars, from Wentworth Institute and Middlebury, are working in our own Online Sales departments.  One is a 4th year student in computer science, the other an undeclared sophomore.  Both are working in our online parts testing and sales unit, managing the 20% of electronics "discards" that bring us 80% of our income.  This month, the two USA interns will give a tour of the operation to a group from PLAN - Post Landfill Action Network, a "ZeroWaste" organization that unites recycling coordinators from hundreds of USA institutions of higher learning.

We hope the outcome of Fair Trade Recycling's will bring an immediate "globalization" benefit.  Africa Techs need parts, but don't want to import entire TVs to get the parts they need.  And there is no frigging way they can afford to buy replacement parts from original equipment manufacturers.

Heliocentric Circular Economy

Earlier this year, we announced a "e-Waste Offset" plan, so that American Institutions could know that even if Africa (or Asia, or Latin America) Geeks of Color did import something they couldn't fix or couldn't sell (and I assure you, that is NOT profitable or their goal), that they would collect as many obsolete e-waste items from African city streets, and recycle them correctly.  Rather than worry whether the Techs are "good enough" to repair USA stuff, or worry about how much time something stays on the shelf, we saw that our interests are completely aligned.

We have tested working parts.  Africa's Tech Sector needs those parts.

And today's generation of students is actually following Atticus Finch's advice to Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird".  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Joe "Hurricane" Benson, the Nigerian-born TV repairman who UK Environmental Agency chief Lord Chris Smith very, very proudly put in prison, had no incentive to export waste.  Anything he examined that was not repairable he returned free of charge to the UK drop sites.  Anything he didn't return he paid money for, far more money that the object was worth in scrap.  And then paid thousands of dollars to ship through Ghana customs.

The whole idea that E-Stewards and Basel Action Network know what is better for Africa's Tech Sector is absurd.  They could not even get an expert from Ghana to back them up... the guy they brought to INTERPOL's meeting described Agbogbloshie as a "remote fishing village" thirteen years earlier, and said 500 sea containers per month are dumped at the site.  The newspaper the "journalist" claimed to work for doesn't exist.  That was a year before Benson's arrest.

Friendly fire. Collateral damage. Accidental racism. Racial profiling. Charitable industrial complex. Colonialism.  There are so many obvious ways that this was wrong, yet so many soft hearted environmentalists and journalists raised the victory flag when Benson was sentenced.

Fair Trade Recycling sees people for what they can do, not for what they cannot. It extends to Americans with Disabilities Act, Veterans, Special Olympics here in Vermont.  And when we go to Hong Kong, we write about the EcoPark, not "rice paddies".  When see a GPS point in Pakistan, we recognize it's at a refurbishing mall near the University at Faisalabad.  Or the third floor of an Egyptian Technology Mall.

I see an African Attorney training a USA job counseling placement. You?
We aren't saying that Africa's Tech Sector is perfect any more than we are saying that certified USA e-waste companies are perfect.  What we are saying is that black interests and white interests are generally aligned in the global "e-waste" market.

Americans want to make parts as valuable as possible.  And Africa's "Big Bang Theory" people give the parts that value.

They are creating what a World Bank consultant called "the critical mass of users" necessary for cell phone towers, TV stations, and internet cable investments.  The "good enough market" they sell to can get online, call their families, and buzz me on Whatsapp.

The stuff won't work forever.  Someday it will get discarded.  Perhaps in Agbogbloshie.

But the device, elements of which (coltan, silver, tin, copper) were mined from horrible hard rock mining sites, are used for 20 years (5 in the UK or USA, 15 more in Africa) rather than 5 years and into a shredder. The repair and overhaul and maintenance sector is what I coin the "Tinkerer's Blessing", the equal and opposite force to the "Resource Curse", aka "Pardox of Plenty".

As I told a gathering of 100 European e-waste professionals and regulators, six months ago today, the "Circular Economy" is a fantastic idea.  But as the great Europeans Copernicus and Galileo explained, "it doesn't revolve around YOU".  The African hands who mined the metals from the rainforests are not paid much, but they are part of the circle, and have a right to use, reuse, and even "gasp" disassemble and recycle the electronics.

Banning trade sends that trade into back alleys, where it gets worse. Fair Trade Recycling represents a new generation of student activists, who were not born when 1960s postcolonial profiling of "less developed third world countries" began.

Touche Pas A Mon Pote, mes amis.   And happy Bastille Day Weekend.

Hans Rosling's better world is a product of peace, which is a product of trade and globalization.  Things like Fairtrade Coffee are not a panacea, but they helped the news get better and the world to get brighter. This is how Fair Trade Coffee was invented.  Green Mountain Coffee in Vermont was one of the earliest adapters. Most Americans didn't understand or care about coffee plantations, and the idea to "boycott coffee" was doomed.  But colleges and universities started buying "fair Trade" certified coffee, and the millions in orders gave incentives to other coffee companies to meet those standards.

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