After almost 2.5 years of the association's activities, the association was able to distribute the 5,000th laptop for an apprentice affected by poverty on 18 July 2022. But the work is far from over; it is only now that it becomes clear how important the work of the small team really is. Many perspectives have already been created with devices that would otherwise have ended up in the electronic scrap.
A success story with further potential
Tobias Schär had launched the mission behind wLw on 1 April 2020. Since then, a lot has changed: The work is no longer done on a purely voluntary basis, and the first positions have been created. The association also works with almost 700 municipalities, many cantons and other aid organisations in order to clarify the neediness of inquirers.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think that such rapid growth would happen," says Schär. He started with a simple idea and now looks back on an organisation that receives laptops every day, processes them professionally and then sends them all over Switzerland. "At first, the focus was on schoolchildren, but with each week we realised more and more that other people are denied access to the digital world because of their low income situation.
Schär says there is still a lot to do, because in 2019/2020 alone, around 25% of the Swiss population were affected by or at risk of poverty. Without access to digital tools, it would be difficult, for example, to record job applications, look for jobs or generally manage everyday things. "When you look at these figures, we know that what we have done so far is just a drop in the ocean."
Open source is well received
The association also wants to ensure that there are no follow-up costs for the users of a laptop. Thus, the team relies on so-called open source software, which is mostly freely available and offers a similar range of functions to common tools. For example, Zorin OS is used as the operating system on many devices and this is equipped with additional programmes such as ONLYOFFICE.
"You shouldn't pay CHF 70-80 per year when you can use similar functionalities for free. In Switzerland, we are a bit spoiled here and the system doesn't make it easy for us either." Schär alludes here to Microsoft's monopoly positions. In many places, people only know Windows 10/11 and Office365. "Free doesn't mean it's not good for anything - you just have to be willing to change." For apprentices and students, however, the familiar operating systems would continue to be offered, because this is considered absolutely necessary in many places.
eLearning platform under construction
The association plans to launch an online learning platform in 2023 that will enable people to learn how to use these open source programmes, as well as general topics such as how to navigate safely on the internet, regardless of time and place - and all of this free of charge. "Laptops alone can achieve a lot; but without expert handling, this is still not enough," says the founder of the association. The aim is that simple tasks such as creating a CV or a household budget can be learned using simple and interactive learning content.
Currently, the piloting is financed by the association's assets, but Schär believes that this task is also done in the general interest. He believes that digital illiteracy is an issue that is greatly underestimated in Switzerland. With broader awareness, it should then also be possible to secure funding in the medium to long term.
For this purpose, wLw has created a project management position, which will be responsible for the implementation of the platform from August. "Fortunately, we were able to recruit a person with the right experience to convey meaningful content in simple learning steps." It is currently difficult to estimate how large the platform will become - this also depends on how many partners can be found to provide further learning content.
Closing loops: So that everyone wins
The association's offer is quickly explained: partners, such as municipal social welfare offices, can order a ready-to-use laptop for a current contribution towards costs of CHF 150 each. The requests are steadily increasing, but the team notices that many partners order laptops but do not contribute any equipment.
"For CHF 150, no laptop will be cleaned up, reset and distributed. All partners who thus support us with old equipment will be able to benefit from more attractive offers in the future," says Schär. The goal is to awaken an understanding of recycling in small communities as well - and if the wLw offer no longer needs to be used, everyone involved will also win.
Through simple ordering processes, clear communication and an ever-increasing range of additional services free of charge, the team scores particularly well where economic and administratively simple procurements are necessary. The association's accommodating approach is also particularly appreciated: "We want to distribute joy and not frustration.
The rapid growth of the association is not easy to orchestrate. In the meantime, six people are employed and numerous others work on a voluntary basis. Thus, with a growing team of employees and volunteers, it is also becoming increasingly necessary to ensure leadership and control. Financial security is also an issue that concerns the board of directors as well as the management.
So far, no measures have had to be taken to tap further sources of funding. At the beginning of the project, two foundations provided financial grants, but in the meantime the association has become self-supporting - with the above-mentioned CHF 150 per distributed laptop. "The contribution margins are small, but all our processes are scalable," says Schär.
We now send out between 50 and 75 laptops a week; and sometimes even double that during the high season from July to September." So far this summer alone, around 500 laptops have been distributed to apprentices who cannot afford basic equipment.
Schär is confident that the association can still achieve a lot for all those who are not seen in digital Switzerland. Not only are prospects created by refurbishing old laptops, but the environment and tax coffers are also spared. "The IT industry is not exactly the lowest-emission sector. This makes it all the more important for each of us to realise that with mostly simple measures, most devices can last far longer than one would think - and this is where all of us can help!"