Best Projects 2022 features all the nominated entries submitted ‘Submit your Project’ category. All the entries consist of innovative projects run by existing enterprises in the form of businesses, NGOs, or informal programs.
Closing the Digital Divide through the Donation of Devices and Digital Literacy Classes
Explain your project in details:
ClosingTheDivide began as an idea in March of 2021, when I set up a team of founding four to close the digital divide starting in the Bay Area. From March to June, I set up our marketing infrastructure to reach out to as many people as possible in the Bay Area and receive donations of devices, and due to the market being untapped, we reached a device count of over 100 by the end of the summer. In June, we received our first grant of devices, 10 laptops from TechExchange, an Oakland-based digital divide combating organization. In August, we received our second grant of an additional 10 devices from Omnipro, a San Francisco-based Chromebook distribution retailer. Each of these grants boasted a donation value of $5000. A couple months into the school year, CTD started to blossom after obtaining 501(c)3 status, allowing us to apply for official grants from businesses and other microgrant opportunities. We received financial grants from the American Eagle Outfitters Foundation ($10,000), the Pollination Project ($940), and most recently, the City of San Jose Digital Inclusion Project ($17,500). Another bulk of our grants came from in-kind device grants, which we received from UKG (20 devices), the Allen-Stevenson School (83 devices), eWaste Collective (20 devices/month, currently 120 devices) and Hitachi x ABB (100 devices). Now, in addition to the ongoing e-waste program, I have shifted CTDs gears to effectively utilizing the financial grant money for maximum impact - we have created 10 computer labs (6 in Tanzania, 3 in California, 1 in Cambodia). Overall, CTD has donated 956 devices with a donation value of $156,594, has branches in 32 locations across the globe, and looks forward to reaching a device count of 1000 while also expanding our beneficiary base and impact.
Impact of your enterprise on sustainable development
CTD has distributed 956 devices with a donation value of $156,594, with around half being from our e-waste program in which devices are received from residents, refurbished, and donated. The other half includes $64,100 of grant funding from companies such as Google, Hitachi x ABB, UKG, and Omnipro. Locally, CTD received a $17,500 grant from the City of San Jose to improve digital inclusion in the city. CTD accumulated 41 organizational partners, most of which receive devices from CTD or help with device distribution. In addition, by obtaining devices that otherwise would have been trashed, CTD has diverted 4.5 tons of e-waste from ending up in landfills and polluting the soil with toxic contaminants such as lead. CTD has donated devices to multiple 90+% minority population schools, including Carl B. Munck Primary, Elmhurst Middle School, and James Lick High School, the three of which received over $10,000-valued donations. Along with the computer labs constructed in Bay Area schools, CTD has created 10 computer labs, 6 in Tanzania (All Secondary schools in the Manyara Region: Bagara [540 students], Nakwa , Nagara , Komoto , Kwaraa , Babati Day), 3 in California (the donations mentioned above) and 1 in Cambodia. All these donations, partners, and grants were possible through the work of 160 networking and strategies to obtain grants and collaborations. Finally, CTD has overtime transformed from just benefiting low-income families and students to refugees. The US pullout of Afghanistan led to the mass influx of refugees to the US, and CTD greeted them in partnership with Welcome.US, a partner organization, to donate over 80 devices to these families and help them obtain jobs here.
Sustainability and future plans
CTDs business model is unique because of the blueprint for our E-waste program. Our market research concluded that current digital divide organizations were so refurbishment-based that they could not obtain high volumes of devices from community residents due to the majority of funds being directed to refurbishing. This also prevented expansion into other states because setting up international warehouses and staff was far too expensive. However, CTD revolutionized the way these organizations received old devices from residents by dedicating each and every volunteer to marketing to the community, allowing CTD to specialize in obtaining devices and partner organizations such as TechExchange and eWasteCollective to divert 100% of their attention to device refurbishment. Due to CTDs strategic focus on marketing and our correcting of a distressed market, CTDs overhead costs were minimized to exactly $0.00, as every cent was devoted to reaching out to the community for old devices and purchasing new ones for schools and computer labs. By creating an NGO model where no warehouses or refurbishing experts were necessary, we scaled CTD from a Bay Area startup to a global organization with branches in 29 states in a matter of months. The model allowed CTD to replicate the e-waste program constantly to untapped markets, creating a constantly growing supply of new devices that were then refurbished and donated to uplift entire left-behind communities. As CTDs number of branches grew, so did the total volunteer count, as people brought in their friends, who brought in their friends, and so on, each who knew new people in their localities to request old devices from. As such, our utilization of economies of scale has recruited 160 people in 29 branches, and by increasing CTDs coverage in the future through awards and press, closing the digital divide could become a global movement.
Your profile as an entrepreneur
My name is Ayush Agarwal, a 17-year-old high school senior at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley. I immigrated to the United States from India at the age of 4, and due to my shy nature my parents each immediately enrolled me in what they believed would boost my self-confidence. My father enrolled me in Boy Scouts of America, where the discipline I learned eventually led me to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout. My mother enrolled me in Martial Arts, and the self-defense tactics I learned enabled me to believe in myself and eventually earn the rank of 2nd-Degree Black Belt. My father also enrolled me in debate to hone my public speaking skills, and it turns out from debate and Boy Scouts, I found out about the cause that I truly wanted to fight for. When debate tournaments went virtual during the pandemic, the low-income debate friends I had made, no matter how talented, could not attend tournaments without adequate internet and device access. This first introduced me to the concept of the digital divide. From Boy Scout food drives, I met many who mentioned they also had spare devices lying around at their homes that they wanted to give to someone who would use it but couldnt find a middleman to do so. This introduced me to the concept of e-waste, or extra devices. By connecting the dots, I discovered the intersection of these issues. I learned that if I could take the devices people had laying around at their homes, refurbish them, and donate them to low-income families, maybe I could put a dent in the digital divide and increase technological access in the least-connected regions.