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Digital Empowerment Foundation to rent used phones to rural citizens


Digital Empowerment Foundation, an NGO based in Delhi has launched an initiative called Merabyte that collects ‘functional’ second-hand phones, tablets, pen drives, SD cards, laptops, cameras, and other gadgets as donations to distribute it to the “marginalized and underserved rural population of India”.

Merabyte utilizes 161 Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs) set up by the NGO to provide used gadgets for public use in rural areas across 21 states. People can rent out the donated devices at a low cost. DEF has set up 150 collection centres across 22 states in India for crowd-sourcing donated devices and gadgets.

Donors can request for a home pick-up or courier the devices by signing up online. They can also drop it off in the collection centres. The NGO claims to have collected and distributed more than a 100 devices since the project’s launch last month, which is still at a pilot stage.

Refurbishment centres and e-waste management: After 6 months of piloting, DEF plans to start refurbishing phones, laptops, and other gadgets and provide at CIRCs for usage. It plans to open 3 refurbishment centres across Chanderi (Madhya Pradesh), Guna (Bihar) and Ranchi (Jharkhand).  In addition, DEF is planning to roll out an e-waste management mechanism within a year to recycle gadgets and devices that become unusable due to wear-and-tear.

Why DEF is charging a usage fee

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A spokesperson from DEF told MediaNama that it charges a usage fee for donated devices: “If the refurbishment of 1,000 phones costs Rs 1 lakh, we will charge Rs 100 for refurbishment service per phone (and not as the cost of the phone) to recover the cost of refurbishment.” The money will be donated to the organisation in exchange of the same phone.

Note that the organisation does not actually charge Rs 100 for usage, but it mentions this to explain the usage fee for devices. The NGO however did not reveal the exact charge to us, but mentioned that it is a “nominal fee”.

Other digital initiatives by DEF

Apart from distribution of devices, the Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs) also provides services like scanning, printing, passport-size photography, and research and survey purposes. DEF also runs other rural digitization initiatives. Other initiatives include:

-Internet connectivity project: DEF in partnership with The Internet Society, provides free basic Internet connectivity to remote villages and towns in South Asia under the Wireless For Communities (W4C) project. It claims to extend connectivity from the nearest location that has an Internet connection to a location, which has no internet access. This is done by creating multiple Internet hotspots among village and location without connectivity. The distance for extension can be anywhere between 15 kms to 100 kms.

The Digital Cluster Resource Programme trains weavers to use advanced design software like CAD/CAM and eCommerce platforms, It also educates them about market traits, design , government schemes for handloom weavers/industry and upcoming exhibitions/fairs around them.

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Image Credit: Flickr user CIAT under CC BY-SA 2.0

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MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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