A visit to our Chilean partner, Chilenter

Chilenter warehouse entrance

I blogged a few weeks ago on the importance of partners to Computer Aid’s work and a recent visit to Chile provides one of the best examples.

Chilenter is the result of an initiative by the First Lady of Chile to create a number of social foundations – 7 in all – to promote various social initiatives, in this case access to technology by schools, colleges and community organisations.  Chilenter won the tender to promote the goals of the foundation and has been in existence since 2002.  It works with Enlaces, a parallel Ministry of Education initiative to improve the education system through ICT, and takes the lead in Chile on supplying PCs to schools and colleges.

Chilenter staff refurbishing computers

Unlike many of our partners, Chilenter also refurbishes PCs, has its own flow of donated stock and its own warehouse, replaces PCs, and recycles PCs that no longer have any useful life.  It thus has a very similar, but slightly wider, brief to that of Computer Aid.

Although Computer Aid and Chilenter have been working together since 2005, and have a very close relationship, this was our first visit for some considerable time.  30,229 of Computer Aid’s 200,000 computers have been provided to Chilenter – making them our largest partner.  They have had problems in the recent past with the earthquake (2010), and last year with a student strike in schools that meant they were unable to dispatch equipment for a long time – some schools were ransacked, looted and damaged – so that planned distribution of PCs had to be postponed. We therefore chose to visit, get an update on progress, and renew our relationship with them, as well as finding out about their current programmes and the possibilities for working together in the coming years. Ludovic Gautier, our Latin American Programme Officer, and I, met with Sergio Larrain (Executive Director), Paula Caldera (Director of Communications), Diego Castro Marambio (Director of Sustainable Development), at Chilenter HQ, close to the center of Santiago.

Any visit to an organisation that does as many things as Chilenter and administers a whole country’s solution for the digital divide will find a busy and hectic operation, and so it proved.  It has been made even busier by a new take-back scheme, intended to recover and replace 8,000 PCs, but which has ended up with 20,000 PCs, printers, scanners and all sorts of electronic equipment to process – evidence of Chilenter’s success so far in distributing PCs and meeting digital need, but a real challenge even for the large warehouse that they have.  This is a big reminder that the burden of recycling at end of life still rests with others besides those reaping profits from supplying digital needs, i.e. the manufacturers.

Pudahuel students’ artwork

Because of these deliveries, Sergio and his team wish to pace Computer Aid’s contributions a bit more, starting again with regular deliveries in the 2013 year, which we are happy to accommodate.  They still have some Computer Aid donated computers from our last delivery in their capacious warehouse, workshop and recycling area.  We outlined Computer Aid’s processes and they were very envious of our volunteers programme, and the mutual benefits that Computer Aid, its beneficiaries, and its volunteers receive.  We were very envious of their central position in implementing the ICT4D solution for Chile – shown by a subsequent visit to the First Lady’s Office a day later.

Tom, Ludovic, Sergio and Diego

Sergio, Paula and Diego suffered my introduction to them in Spanish, not a language I speak, as they can now attest, and then we got into more detailed discussions about their programme of 8,000 computers to be dispatched in each of 2013 and 2014.  They also took us through some recent video of their beneficiaries, their communities and organisations. Chilenter has some peculiar challenges compared with other, more compact countries.  The length of Chile and its great variety of climates and indigenous peoples means that much of the cost of closing the digital divide in Chile resides in transport costs.  However, some of the local training requirements are supported by Enlaces Local Coordinators, sparing Chilenter the need for an on-the-ground presence.

The network of organisations and initiatives appears to work well, and is markedly different from the way some of our other partners work.  When at the First Lady’s Office at La Moneda, the Presidential Palace, a day later, I voiced Computer Aid’s objectives as bringing best practice from partners that we contribute to and learn from to other partners in other countries.  There is little doubt that government needs to be involved in such an initiative given the various success factors that need to be put in place to close the digital divide.

On behalf of Computer Aid, Ludovic and I are honoured to be escorted to La Moneda by Sergio and to outline to the First Lady’s Office our long-standing, close relations, which can only be improved after this visit.  The First Lady’s Office marveled at the amount of support that Computer Aid had supplied from the UK and our close relationship with Chilenter, which they obviously know very well.

Pudahuel students in the computer lab

The visit to the First Lady’s Office was part of a double highlight – the other part was visiting a College in Pudahuel, a disadvantaged part of Santiago, to see some Computer Aid PCs in action at a computer lab.  The College services both academic and vocational needs and uses PCs as part of the curricula.  We met the Head of the College and discussed recent events and the PCs from Computer Aid supplied by Chilenter and how they were enabling and empowering the students there.

In all our discussions with Sergio, Diego and Paula, we barely exhausted all the topics – training, universities (Chilenter has no role in closing the digital divide there), services, e-Waste, recycling – that we had in common before we had to leave, our 3 day visit at an end, a successful visit for us both and one that we look to replicate in all other countries in which we work.

For more photos from the visit please go to Flickr.

Written by Tom Davis and Ludovic Gautier, July 2012

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