How Free Geek Toronto Is Changing The E-Waste Game
Welcome to Press Pillay Chats, where we interview social entrepreneurs who focus on giving back to their community and making the world a cooler place.
Free Geek Toronto is an e-waste organization that launched back in 2009. They refurbish thrown-out computers and other communication technologies and sell them at an affordable price. The Vice President Board of Directors, Niral Vora, spoke with us about the impact of Free Geek Toronto and how this company differentiates itself from other sustainable organizations.
Why was FreekGeek Toronto started?
Free Geek Toronto started in 2009 as Cyber Equality when a group of Torontonians wanted to make a difference about the issue of electronic waste and access to technology. We quickly built a relationship with Free Geek in Portland, who started in 2000 with one man who started collecting cast-off computers in the corner of his dining room, planning to fix them and give them to community members who could not afford to buy them. Today there are several independently run Free Geek organizations all over the U.S. and Canada. We operate our employment social enterprise out of a store/office in Toronto's west end, selling affordable low-cost computers running Open Source Software diverted from the landfill with the help of our staff and volunteers.
A lot of people doing social good feel like they’re sacrificing the ability to make money - do you feel this way, why/why not?
Our relationship with money is that we need it to keep the lights on. As a non-profit employment social enterprise, our financial goals focus on stability and sustainability, with all profits being reinvested in helping expand Free Geek’s mission. We are always looking to expand our current retail opportunities, and help other businesses and people making social and environmentally responsible choices with old electronics.
How is your organization making the world a better place?
Our vision is to make our city a place where e-waste is disposed of responsibly, safely and ethically, and where everyone has access to computers and the Internet. We also aim to promote social and economic justice, focusing on marginalized populations in the Greater Toronto area, by:
Reducing the environmental impact of electronic waste through reuse and recycling.
Increasing access to computing and communications technologies through the sales of affordable computers and mobile devices.
Promoting the use of Free and Open Source Software such as Linux and LibreOffice.
Providing technical education, training, and job skills at our location and through partnerships with other community organizations.
How do you measure your success?
We measure our success through:
1. The amount of electronics that are donated to us;
2. The amount of affordable computers and electronic pieces we're able to sell through our store;
3. The number of volunteer and employment opportunities we're able to give to people who aren't represented in STEM and tech businesses;
4. The number of workshops we host, and how many folks we reach.
What is unique about this company?
As a community-focused technology reuse organization, we use our business model to promote things like the circular economy, Free and Open Source Software, the right to repair, and increasing burden of e-waste on our waste management system. We also focus on many of the intangibles, such as increasing access to technology in our communities, providing technical education, and training and job skills.
If you didn’t have the business, what would you be doing?
Finding other ways to reduce our dependency on un-sustainable consumerism, volunteering more towards many of the other social enterprises making a difference in our communities.
Describe your life/work using a film title.
What advice would you give to your 16-year old self?
To be mindful of the fact that the actions that you take now will have an impact for years to come. Always exercise critical thought towards why the things are the way they are, and challenge your own perceptions.
A penguin walks through the door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?
It’s pretty hot down there in the South Pole! Do you mind turning down the heat? (re: our collective impact on climate change)
Discover Free Geek Toronto online!
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Did you enjoy this article? Check out our interview with dumpster diving Tom Manimanakis here.