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  5. 23.05.2022 - General Assembly and Info Event 2022

23.05.2022 - General Assembly and Info Event 2022

On 7 May, the 2nd Annual General Meeting was held at Merenschwand Postlonzihus, followed by a public part. The board led through the accounts, Tobias Schär as founder and business manager took over afterwards for the budget 2023 and the info event with a concluding tour.

It will certainly not be boring in the new association year.

The association has big plans

On 1 April 2020, Tobias Schär from Merenschwand set out with a simple mission: he wanted to collect laptops, pass them on professionally and then give them to people affected by Amur who cannot afford such equipment. In the meantime, the team around "Wir lernen weiter" (wLw for short) has grown considerably, employs four people at the beginning of May and has saved over 4,000 laptops from electronic waste within two years and passed them on in a targeted manner. The first jobs were already made possible in April 2021, one year after the foundation.

"Pure volunteer work is no longer possible in the current situation and with the developments of the association. In order to work professionally, wages have to be paid.

- Tobias Schär, Founder and Business Manager

 The association's concept is well received: In the meantime, "Wir lernen weiter" (wLw for short) is working with more than 600 communities, many cantons and aid organisations throughout Switzerland to make digitisation possible for everyone. Within two years, the association has collected over 4,000 laptops, refurbished them and then passed them on to people affected by poverty via partner organisations. Schär expects that the cooperation will continue to increase. 

"Our partners can obtain laptops for CHF 150 each, which are ready to use and set up - and in addition they receive many instructions on how to use them.

- Tobias Schär, Founder and Business Manager

The offer is particularly well received in eastern Switzerland. For example, the municipalities in the cantons of Graubünden and St. Gallen are connected via cantonal organisations and associations. Schär says that this is not possible everywhere due to the federal structure. There are certainly cantons and regions that have hardly been touched so far, according to the founder. For example, the association is not yet represented in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Schär knows that issues such as professional language skills and support would be necessary here: "However, we expect that our offer will be even better received in the Suisse Romande, as the cantons there are more social.

A tour of the association's workshop shows: Work is being done here!

Not known everywhere

wLw has done important pioneering work in the past months and years. The fruits of this work are now particularly noticeable in the recruitment process. More and more municipalities already know the association from their own areas of activity, and the quality of the equipment and the professionalism of the processors are also convincing. The association's website contains a lot of feedback from partners who praise the work. 

"There is a growing awareness that laptops are not only necessary for education, but also for finding a job or for integration in an increasingly digital world," says Schär. But it is precisely legal regulations that are standing in the way in some places. Since there is no national social welfare law in Switzerland, many cantons are free to implement it - and in many places, municipalities decide who receives a laptop and who does not.

Here, the association works together with the SKOS (Swiss Conference for Social Welfare), which, for example, referred to the association in its recently published leaflet on digital participation. The SKOS draws up guidelines that many cantons follow in their own legislation. In many places, more is not done than is legally necessary - even if this would simplify integration and ultimately minimise social costs.

"It is important to us that our principle is understood: Digitisation should not be an income-based privilege. Many are not poor by choice."

- Tobias Schär, Founder and Business Manager

Simple ordering process

The Service Desk is the hub of the association's work. Here, private individuals who need a device can call in and partner organisations can place orders. The association can also meet specific requirements, for example from vocational schools. The selection for a suitable device is done by the team. "This is probably one of the biggest advantages. In many municipalities it is usually expensive, especially for new purchases, because you don't know which devices would actually suffice. With us, each laptop costs CHF 150.

In addition to clear budgeting, the participating partners are also relieved in the organisation of the equipment. Ideally, laptops lead to people being reintegrated into the world of work more quickly. For example, a laptop can facilitate the job search by allowing applications to be written at home. Ultimately, the individual municipalities and cantons benefit from this.

More and more municipalities are also supporting the association directly. Schär explains that more and more municipalities are deciding to donate their own old laptops to the association. In addition to the professional and free data erasure, the municipalities are thus also directly contributing to the fact that wLw can continue its work. "It's a classic win-win situation: we can recycle equipment, while our partners know exactly who needs a laptop and who doesn't."

Overcome peaks

Especially in the summer months, the team is particularly challenged by apprenticeship and study starts. Last year, for example, over 650 laptops were distributed throughout Switzerland in the months of July and August. Schär expects more than 1,000 devices to leave the workshop in the former rectory Merenschwand during these months this year.

"But we can't do without laptops. We would therefore also like to point out to our partners that they are largely responsible for our continued existence in the long term. Many laptops still end up on the electronic scrap heap, even though they would still be functional. Equipment from schools and administrations in particular can usually be used for longer than one would expect, provided it is professionally refurbished. The association plans to continue to reward partners who not only purchase equipment at favourable conditions, but also bring laptops that are no longer needed to the association.

More and more companies are also supporting the association. The largest donation of equipment is currently over 600 laptops. These were collected from the donor with the help of a logistics partner and also presented the association with logistical challenges. "When there are suddenly 12 pallets in front of the hut, you first have to find a dry place," says Schär with a smile.

Even after the info event, there were other opportunities to get to know the team

A look into the future  

During the information event, the association also announced the next direction it will take. In the future, not only laptops but also suitable tools, services and platforms in general are to be created to simplify the use of digital resources. For example, the wLw-Academy is currently being created, where people in Switzerland can learn how to use laptops free of charge.

"The wLw-Academy will become the first free-to-use platform for interactive learning throughout Switzerland"

- Tobias Schär, Founder and Business Manager

To this end, the association also wants to increase awareness of the so-called "digital gap", i.e. the digital undersupply, as well as highlight the consequences. "We will be at a higher level of fluency in the future. The goal is that not only laptops, but also the basic right to a minimum level of IT skills will be possible in Switzerland." However, cross-subsidisation through the association's earned income from laptop levies is not to go ahead. This is needed to secure salary guarantees, as well as general liquidity and additional events. Schär hopes that the added value for Switzerland will be recognised and that corresponding funding can be found: "Our work so far speaks for itself. We want to help - but we can't do it alone. Digital illiteracy is already costing us many millions today. And in the future, people who cannot handle a laptop will have fewer opportunities in the labour market". 

The association will certainly not run out of work. What succeeds and what doesn't will then be looked at in advance - and if necessary broken off. Schär and his team are doers and look for pragmatic ways: "We are agile and react to trends and signals. If, for example, the Academy is not being used, we will draw appropriate conclusions for ourselves. 

The courage to take a gap and to face uncertainty; an attitude that has accompanied the club since the beginning. The team hopes that this will continue to work out.

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