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Acer America
Acer America Corp. is a computer manufacturer of business and consumer PCs, notebooks, ultrabooks, projectors, servers, and storage products.

Location

333 West San Carlos Street
San Jose, California 95110
United States

WWW: acer.com

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News

June 2, 2023 |

PCs for People Advances Digital Equity by Reducing E-Waste

The nonprofit social enterprise is working to reduce the digital divide by distributing refurbished computers to individuals in need while helping to save the planet.

PCs for People has two big, hairy, audacious goals (BHAGs): advancing digital equity and saving the planet. By recycling and refurbishing donated computers, PCs for People reduces e-waste in landfills and increases digital inclusion by providing low-cost, quality computers to low-income individuals, families, and nonprofits. PCs for People also offers tech support and no-cost or low-cost internet through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to qualified recipients.

To date, PCs for People has distributed about 260,000 computers, connected 92,000 households to the internet, and recycled 13 million pounds of technology.

“About 60% of the people we serve have never owned a computer before,” says Joseph Benson, vice president of business development. “We also have low-cost internet that we provide those individuals, and then digital support. Because, if you think about never owning a computer before, we have a call center and that gets thousands of calls a day. And the calls can be anything from, ‘How do I turn on my computer? How do I open an email? I just got a virus, what do I do?’ … We’re there to help.”

Joseph Benson

The national nonprofit social enterprise has humble roots, explains Loren Williams, regional account manager. A social worker in Mankato, Minn., was working with troubled youth, one in particular was hacking the high school computer system. The social worker talked with the youth about putting his skills to good use instead, and then approached the county about getting that young person their own computer. There was no budget, but there was a room full of old and broken devices. The county told the social worker if the youth could fix one, they could have it. And from there an idea was born.

Later, an intern working for the county through his college years, Casey Sorensen, now CEO for PCs for People, made the case to scale the program as a self-sustaining social enterprise. Today, PCs for People has 10 locations, an online store, and brick-and-mortar stores in six states: Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio.

“The goal is to almost look at a heat map of where we’re most needed and try to put PCs for People in that area,” says Benson.

PCs for People’s mission is sustained by the free e-waste pickup and recycling of electronic equipment donated by businesses, corporations, and governmental organizations. PCs for People has both NAID AAA and R2 certifications, meaning data is protected through strict adherence to the highest standards of information destruction, hard drive sanitization, and all recycling is environmentally responsible.

While many organizations resell older equipment on the secondary market, Williams says the case is compelling to donate those computers instead. “When I talk to donors, I say, ‘Do you really know how much money you’re making from those computers? Because often what happens is, you pay somebody to come out and pick them up, you pay them to delete the data, and then they sell them for you on eBay or whatever. … Maybe you’re making $20 or $30 or $50 a unit.”

By donating instead, Williams continues, “those computers make so much more of a difference in somebody’s life, in a family’s life, than $30 probably does.”

In addition to corporate donors, Williams says PCs for People is working with managed service providers. “So, some managed service providers are just doing software or cloud, but I’m finding many of them are helping to manage hardware for their clients. And one of the things they do to manage it is do the upgrades and replacements and take out the old stuff.”

Loren Williams

Rather than having to delete the data and recycle those machines themselves, PCs for People can pick them up, do the work, and provide the necessary reports, Williams says.

“If the donor wants it, we generate a report that shows serial number of the computer, serial number of the hard drive, and a signification that data was deleted or that hard drive was destroyed.”

For the customers of MSPs that have an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiative, PCs for People can provide pertinent data for their own ESG reports. “Once we’ve built a history with a particular donor and been collecting equipment for a while… we’re able to generate reports showing the weight of the equipment they’ve contributed, the number of computers they’ve contributed, and to some extent where they’ve gone … the average income of the households that received them, which is about $15,000 annual income,” Williams explains.

Just last year, PCs for People distributed more than 60,000 computers.

The goal is to keep growing.

“It’s funny,” Benson says. “I’ve spent 30 years in the for-profit world. This is my first opportunity to work in nonprofits, and I go to sleep at night now knowing that the work that I’m doing is going to outlive me. And the mission that we have, these seeds that we’re planting, when I think about that device going into that home, it’s a seed. That’s whatever that use case is for that individual, whether they are going to school, finding a job, or honestly just on Facebook and they’re connecting with friends—the same things that all of us do with computers. Getting a chance to have an impact in that way is very, very compelling. And it makes you want to continue to push and hopefully get to the point where we have bridged it [the digital divide].”

He concludes, “Wouldn’t that be amazing if we were able to do that and then at the exact same time to be able to have an impact on the environment as well?”

Those are some BHAGs worth striving for.


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