Zebra Electronics reduce the education gap in Burundi with refurbished IT

2022-06-15

Zebra Electronics is an organization that works to reduce the education gap in Burundi and other countries in the African region. To accomplish this, the company is focused on providing institutions like schools and universities high quality, refurbished IT. Zebra Electronics was founded in 2013 by the Polish couple Matt Sulejczak and Lila Malinowska. In 2015, they started working with Inrego to import computers and laptops and give them a second life in this part of the globe. This spring, Matt came to visit us in Täby, Sweden and we got the chance to learn more about Zebra Electronics incredible work.

Burundi is a small country in East Africa with a population of around 12 million people, bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania, and DR Congo. Matt Sulejczak’s journey in Burundi began 10 years ago when he worked at an Irish NGO located in the small African country. After 1 year, his contract was terminated but he still felt that he wanted to stay in the country and with the people he had come to know. Living in Burundi, it’s easy to see that there’s an education gap between Burundi and other countries. Matt, who had some experience of refurbished IT from working in a refurbish IT company in Poland, saw the many possibilities in providing the people of Burundi with refurbished desktops and laptops to reduce this gap.

The access to computers or internet is not a matter of course in this country. Far from it. Africa is also a place without any regulations around electronics. Matt was shocked coming from a European country with regulations and certificates, now living in Africa and found himself in need of an extension cord. He bought one from the market that wasn’t working two days later. Nothing is tested and there’s no certificates or guarantees. Market and shops are full of one-use products pushing population to re-buy quickly and drill economy of African nations.

- Imagine you are in the second poorest country in the world and one classroom hosts around 50 children. From donators a school can afford one new computer. During a 60 minute long lesson, where all these kids have to share one computer, each kid get around 1 minute of computer time.

Matt started to do a couple of orders of refurbished IT for the local schools that was looking for laptops and computers.

- To be able to offer the boards of the schools and universities five or six refurbished products with better quality for the same price as a new one, that was convincing me a lot. And it also convinced them. To bring them something that is tested and will work for many years, that was the key.

In the start of Zebra Electronics, they worked mainly with institutions and imported the exact amount that was ordered. Within two years, the company decided to open a shop in Bujumbura, the largest city in Burundi, and two branches in both Tanzania at Dar es Salaam and DR Congo at Bukavu. Here, the collaboration with Inrego began.

Zebra Electronics was looking for a supplier that was flexible and able to take on small orders. They placed their first order with Inrego in 2015, was happy with the quality of the products and decided to go on full scale with the collaboration. Since then, Zebra Electronics has placed 1-2 orders per month from Inrego.

- The collaboration with Inrego gives me a peace of mind, knowing that I’ll get high quality refurbished equipment that will work. Especially now, since I don’t live permanently in Burundi anymore. My experience with Inrego is that you are careful with the testing and that the delivery from Sweden directly to Burundi works without fault. It’s a peace of mind for me that there will be no surprises.

Zebra Electronics has supplied all the universities with IT equipment in Burundi in some way. The more regular customers can buy 100-200 computers or laptops a year, in total they deliver 1000-2000 units per year through Inrego to the educational institutions in Burundi. However, to deliver computers to a school or university in Burundi is not as easy as we know to be in Europe.

- For some universities in the capital electricity is not an issue, but across the country there are some cities that only have electricity for a few hours. Therefore, it’s not just about selling computers, we also need to provide them full electricity systems based on solar energy. Usually, we send the systems in containers with windows and installed solar panels. So, in case the electricity gets cut off, the computers will still work.

To have access to a computer and internet in a country like Burundi, where 90 % of the economy is working by calculators, paper, and pen, is a privilege and can make a huge difference to a person’s quality of life. It can mean that you can get an education, can perform a job, even that you can belong to the middle class.

Zebra Electronics also educate their employees and customers about environmental issues. It’s important for Zebra Electronics not to leave a footprint of their existence in Burundi and for that education is needed for the people in the areas that they work. Zebra Electronics continuously collects e-waste all over the country and safely delivers them to Glice Burundi and a Belgian NGO that sends them back to Europe where they can be fully recycled.

Next year Zebra Electronics is celebrating their 10 years anniversary. Zebra Electronics aim to invest more in solar panel systems to make IT accessible in more parts in the area with limited access to electricity. After 10 years in this business, Matt sees many opportunities and possibilities by working with refurbished IT in these developing countries. Not only, to give the people the opportunity for a better education and a better life but at the same time work on environmental issues and reducing the fastest growing waste stream in the world right now – e-waste.

- Myself, I believe, that to reduce the stream of e-waste we should not only work on the developed countries in Europe or North America. We should do the same effort in developing countries in Africa or in Asia. Imagine how much we can reduce the costs, both economic and environmental, by offering refurbished IT products in these countries instead of buying new, poorly tested products that breaks after two times of use. Africa is a huge continent with 50-something countries and over 1 billion in population. I think it’s a matter of education, and us from the developed countries need to provide that for them.