06.01.2023 - Make or break

In 2023, Wir lernen weiter will celebrate its third anniversary. In an interview, Tobias Schär's Managing Director explains what will be important in the coming months: and how the association can survive in the medium to long term.

Business Manager Tobias Schär at a workshop on social entrepreneurship

Last year, the association was able to pass on around 3,200 laptops to people affected by poverty in Switzerland. In the meantime, within less than three years, more than 6,500 laptops have been saved from electronic waste, refurbished and passed on to those affected by poverty. This was made possible in cooperation with over 900 municipalities, almost all German-speaking Swiss cantons and aid organisations.

Successful balance sheet for 2022

The enormous amount of technical machines that pass through the path from a donation to a new perspective would no longer be possible on a voluntary basis. In the meantime, Schär can count on four other employees, an intern and some volunteers who help every day to carry on the vision of the association.

With each year of the association, we create more understanding for the fact that digitalisation does not only affect the economy and administration, but also society.

Tobias Schär, Founder and Business Manager

In 2022, the association was honoured for its work with the SDG Award of the Swiss Green Economy Symposium. The team was also nominated for the Prix Jeunesse, where it achieved a podium finish. Numerous workshops at companies and guest lectures at universities show that the potential of wLw is becoming more tangible for many. "This is also important, because we can't close the digital divide on our own," says Schär.

The wLw team gratefully receives the SDG Award 2022

Helping fully

If you distribute a lot of laptops, you also gather a lot of experience about the users: Not through data collection (which wLw strictly refrains from), but through feedback and questions. For the team, a connection between poverty and a lack of basic digital skills is becoming more and more apparent.

"Anyone who receives a tool must also know how to use it - otherwise there is little or no benefit," says Schär. For this reason, wLw has decided to launch an e-learning platform by 2023, which will provide interactive and entertaining learning content. The aim is to integrate this learning content into existing physical courses in order to improve learning effects and to use synergies between course providers.

"The most fundamental opportunity of digitalisation is the networking of knowledge and the exchange of information. Handling a PC is not rocket science, but it does not make sense to reinvent the wheel in quite a few places. We want course providers to be able to concentrate on the essentials: Namely, the support of the course participants," says Schär about the project.

Those who want to participate in digital life must not only gain access, but also knowledge.

To implement this project, Nadine Leimbacher was brought on board in August 2022. As a former primary school teacher, accomplished operator and gifted painter, she has since ensured that the course content is didactically meaningful, stylistically appealing and practical.

"One of the biggest challenges is to get a clear picture in this area of adult education. There are many providers, many associations and political bodies, but many of these parties are looking for their own solutions," says Leimbacher. The actual care and thus also overall responsibility for this area of education lies with SERI, EDK and organisations that are subsidised by the Confederation for this purpose. "We are actively working on setting up partnerships where it makes sense and where there is a willingness to cooperate," says Leimbacher.

One of the first pilots is SAH Central Switzerland, where participants in basic computer courses will be able to obtain supplementary e-learning content as homework or as part of the self-study lessons from February 2023. Only time will tell how successful the so-called wLw Academy will be.

Policy and Switzerland-wide solution finding

In Switzerland's administrative jungle, it is not always easy to find uniform solutions. The social sector is one of the most segmented areas. For example, there are cantons in which PWC has been able to enter into partnerships directly with the government, but in others the canton does not even support the dissemination of information.

"Federalism not only makes our work more difficult, but also prevents certain urgencies from being perceived at the necessary levels." - Schär means that especially in cantons where there is a great deal of communal autonomy, there is a greater risk of recognising basic digital equipment as a necessary basis for work. In the worst case, this would result in jobseekers not being able to write applications and thus incurring higher social costs than necessary. However, Schär also clearly states that not only the unemployed should be taken care of, but that access to the digital world makes many everyday things possible in the first place. For example, tax returns can no longer be filled out on paper: Unless you are prepared to live without important additional information (e.g. deductions for professional expenses).

Schär in the National Council chamber with some parliamentarians

"At the national level, this problem cannot be solved because we do not know any national social assistance laws. Each canton is free to determine how who is supported; or not. Although the cantons have the so-called SKOS guidelines at their disposal, these represent the basic rules of the game and are not mandatory. "Coupled with the so-called discretionary powers, situations then arise in which a person is not supported if you look at the social workers the wrong way in the morning." - and this is a big problem according to Schär.

In January 2022, the SKOS published a leaflet on "Digital Basic Provision", which points out that not only apprentices and students should be equipped, but all persons who could benefit from it: For example, job seekers. However, according to Schär, it will be a long time before these recommendations become part of the SKOS guidelines and are then anchored in the cantonal legislation.

"It is actually a pity, because we as taxpayers are footing the bill for all the expenses that are not actually necessary - simply because there is a lack of understanding and pragmatism in certain places," says Schär. In recent years, he has also tried to raise this issue via parties and members of the National Council and Council of States: Sometimes without success.

We continue to fight for the unseen and unheard in our digital Switzerland: the almost 25% of the population who just couldn't get a laptop just like that - regardless of whether the politicians support it or not. We change Switzerland with deeds instead of words.

Tobias Schär, Founder and Business Manager

Make or break: or how to succeed

With several employees, soon several locations and also other expenses, the association has now reached a point where the expense contributions of the distributed laptops alone are no longer sufficient for financing. To this end, various activities will be implemented in the coming months that will also allow funds to be generated outside of the actual operational activities.

Schär: "I am proud that we can stand at this point and have been able to build up most of the association's reserves ourselves: Not through donations, but by distributing laptops. But now it's time to think like a real aid organisation - and fundraising is part of that.

The wLw team at the muri2022 trade exhibition

The work of the association deserves to be supported and promoted by administrative bodies; at least Schär is of this opinion. "Our work has certainly already saved taxpayers in Switzerland a lot, protected the environment with second-hand laptops and created many perspectives. When I see all the other money being squandered on, our clean work should also be supported by the federal government and the cantons. We are acting in the public interest," says Schär.

Whether this plan will work or not will probably become apparent in a few years. With the current club reserves, the club could exist for seven months (without further income). This is actually a short time horizon, but with this team it is a time span in which a lot can be achieved.

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