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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 09 January 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Animal Welfare, Life Sciences Sector, Business Motion, Decision Time, Rotary Club of Currie Balerno (Recycling Computers)


Contents


Rotary Club of Currie Balerno (Recycling Computers)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-15094, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on Rotary Club of Currie Balerno recycling personal computers. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament thanks the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno, which has recycled and provided used computers for schools in Africa for over six years with its partners, the Turing Trust; recognises that over 4,000 PCs have been wiped, refurbished, installed with educational materials and shipped to schools in Ghana, Malawi and other African countries; considers that there are not only social benefits from reusing old PCs but also environmental benefits from the offsetting of 2,058 tonnes of CO2 emissions so far, which is the equivalent of planting 5,145 trees; acknowledges that many of the project volunteers learned IT refurbishment skills and that four trainees have used their training and work experience as an opportunity to end long-term unemployment and get full-time jobs; understands that the club’s most recent project, under the Scottish Government’s small grants programme, is to provide computers for classrooms in Malawi over a three-year period and that, to date, it has helped 41,067 students to gain vital digital literacy skills; encourages potential donors to provide old computers, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to give greater consideration to smaller charities such as these to develop their projects and expertise.

17:03  

Last November, I attended a Rotary Club of Currie Balerno event at which I had the opportunity to discuss with members the club’s work in the community. During the evening, after hearing about the valuable work that the group carries out locally, I heard from Lindsay Craig, the Rotary’s past district governor, about the innovative work that this small Rotary club that is based in my Edinburgh Pentlands constituency is involved in 8,000 miles away, in Malawi. At this point, I take the opportunity to welcome to the Scottish Parliament members of the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno, who are in the gallery tonight.

Rotary International, through the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno, has collaborated with the Turing Trust, which is based here in Edinburgh. Run by the family of Alan Turing, the wartime code breaker and founder of modern computer science, the trust ensures that his name continues, and its mission is to empower disadvantaged communities through information technology enabled learning. Since its establishment in 2009, the charity has been delivering information and communications technology resources to selected primary and junior high schools in Ghana. Since 2015, it has also been working to provide technology-enabled education in schools in the northern region of Malawi. Supported by the Rotary club, over the past six years the trust has shipped more than 4,200 second-hand PCs to schools in Ghana, Malawi and other African countries.

Every PC that it puts into a school in Africa has been wiped, repaired and loaded with offline educational resources. That work is done by a fantastic team of dedicated volunteers in Edinburgh. The project has been supported by the Scottish Government’s small grants programme, which awarded the Turing Trust £60,000 to support its work to get essential learning resources to rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa.

Each PC that can be reused has a tremendous impact in a Malawian classroom. So far, the project has assisted more than 41,000 students to gain vital digital literacy skills. In addition, more than 450 teachers have gained skills in basic computer maintenance and are using computers to support their teaching.

On top of that, there is an environmental benefit. None of the ICT equipment ends up in landfill; it is appropriately recycled at the end of its life here in Scotland and in Africa. By reusing old PCs, the trust has had a tremendous environmental impact. To date, it has offset 2,058 tonnes of CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of planting more than 5,000 trees.

Not all communities in Malawi are connected to the electricity grid, however, so providing computing facilities for those schools required an innovative solution. The Turing Trust design team, which comprised four retired professionals—Ian Campbell, Andrew Clark, Jim Douglas and John Wilson, all of whom are members of the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno—found a solution in the SolarBerry. The SolarBerry is a solar-powered computer lab and classroom that uses low-energy Raspberry Pi computers. It is designed for off-grid communities and is housed in a repurposed shipping container. The prototype was delivered to Choma in April last year, and a formal ceremony took place when it was officially handed over to the community in June.

The lab is designed for use by the whole community—not just the school. It can be used for a wide range of activities, from hosting movie nights to adult IT classes. The SolarBerry can also be used to generate income through selling its excess energy. It uses the energy that it generates to recharge small electrical goods such as phones and lamps at a fraction of the cost and environmental damage of petrol generators. That has had a huge impact on the day-to-day life of the community, whose members no longer have to walk 10 miles to charge their phones.

The SolarBerry journey starts in Scotland, where the shipping container is filled with computer equipment for distribution to schools in Malawi. Once it is empty, the shipping container is converted into a classroom, with new windows being cut into the sides to allow air to flow through the space, and a shade cloth to prevent direct sunlight from heating up the inside of the SolarBerry. Each unit is equipped with 11 Raspberry Pi computers and powered by solar panels on the roof of the container. The SolarBerry is having a huge impact in Choma, where it is allowing the local schools to offer computer studies and to support their young people in gaining the digital skills that they need for the 21st century.

I congratulate everyone who is involved in the innovative project—from the Turing Trust and from the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno—on facilitating the teaching of digital skills to some of the poorest and most remote communities in Africa. In order for those bodies to continue the project, it is clear that more companies and organisations need to donate their old computer equipment. The Turing Trust is located in Simpson Loan on the site of the old Royal infirmary of Edinburgh, which is less than two miles from Parliament. Surely it would be better use of the computer equipment that is disposed of by Parliament to donate it to the Turing Trust to be wiped, repaired and loaded with offline educational resources for use in Africa, as opposed to the current practice of sending it for destruction. I intend to raise that idea with the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body in the coming weeks.

In closing, I want to highlight a point about funding. As I stated earlier, I am delighted that the Turing Trust has been a recipient in the Scottish Government’s small grants programme. The charity has ambitions to get computers into every Malawian secondary school by 2025, but in order to achieve that goal, more international development funding will be critical. The reality is that there are few opportunities for small Scottish charities to scale up in order to compete at full development programme level. The Scottish Government has led the way through the small grants programme and has inspired many charities to scale up their ambitions and activities.

However, in order to continue that journey and encourage small Scottish charities to grow, could there be a funding round for up to £250,000, or £500,000, for projects over three years that would help to build Scottish expertise and develop our small charities to help them to make the transition into fully fledged agents for international development? I hope that the minister will be happy to discuss that with me and those involved in the near future. [Applause.]

I, too, welcome members of the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno, but say gently that there should be no applause from the gallery, please. I know that people feel like applauding, but it is not permitted.

I call Gordon MacDonald—[Interruption.] I will need to start putting sugar in my tea. I call Gordon Lindhurst, to be followed by Stewart Stevenson. I am sorry about that, Mr Lindhurst.

17:11  

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I thank Gordon MacDonald for bringing the debate to the chamber.

As a Lothian MSP, I am delighted that the work of the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno is being recognised in the Scottish Parliament in this way. Indeed, I paid tribute to that club and, in particular, to its community chest project in a motion that I lodged last year. The club did that project alongside the Balerno Village Trust. Its aim was to set aside funds to assist local clubs and organisations with small projects that benefit the local community.

The Rotary Club of Currie Balerno assists a wide range of people and groups—both young and old—through an impressive array of different projects. A clear example of the footprint that the club leaves is its work with the Georgia Rotary scholarship programme, as detailed on its website. Three Rotary districts in the US state of Georgia sponsor up to 67 students from around the world each year to study at one of Georgia’s universities for an academic year. The package is worth around $30,000 per student. My understanding is that between two and five pupils from the local area secure places on those programmes each year through the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno.

The club does not just benefit the people of Currie and Balerno, as Gordon MacDonald and his motion have pointed out. Its international efforts have included raising substantial funds for the end polio now campaign and the Nepal earthquake appeal in 2015. It is a club with global reach.

Gordon MacDonald has set out the work that the club has done with computers. Why computers? We live in a globalised world, and those who are cut off from it can often be left behind. Fundamental to tackling the issue of poverty in Africa is equipping as many people as possible with the technology and support to work in that global environment. That includes equipping young people with the tools and skills to be able to learn and work in a world that is IT and technology driven in a way that our own young people in Scotland take for granted.

There is much to be done to help to build that capacity for Africa so that people there can enjoy the same access that we often take for granted. Computer access is of course essential to that, which is why this is so important, as is the generosity of those who donate their old computers to the club.

I conclude by highlighting a quote from the club’s website, which is from a volunteer working in Africa as part of the project. This gives a flavour of the impact that the work has on the people receiving the computers:

“The emotions on the teachers and students’ faces as we were setting up the computers is something I will treasure forever”.

I end my speech by saying a big thank you to all the Rotary club members involved in this vitally important work.

17:15  

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of interests as a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and of the Association for Computing Machinery.

It is a great delight to see the members of the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno in the public gallery. My father became the president of the Rotary Club of Cupar in 1956, which was just a few years ago, and one of my very early speeches on computing was given to that Rotary club in 1973. Rotary clubs are a very important part of our social infrastructure and do good work right across Scotland, as well as work with international reach. It is a delight to hear of a relatively small club doing something that, without question, is benefiting people in Africa who need our support.

Old computers are something that I rather like, given that I am the oldest person in the chamber—I am looking around carefully—and think that there is some value in things that have aged. We can reuse them and rediscover their merits. Although computers are obsoleted by updates in the software environment and changing fashion, they can in fact continue to operate for many years delivering useful service. The reuse of old computers benefits the environment, but it is of wider benefit altogether. It is worth saying that two pals and I built the first home computer in Scotland in 1975, which is still running up in Caithness with one of that combine.

There is something in what Gordon MacDonald said about scaling up, but there is an intrinsic value in many ways, particularly in innovation, in having comparatively small teams. Innovation happens when communication between the members of a group is tight and close; if there is a big group, that becomes much more difficult. Where the opportunity has been created in Africa for access to technology, we have seen genuine innovation that shows the way for people far beyond Africa. In particular, Africa is the place where electronic money has been developed using mobile phones. To avoid having to go to banks, people can exchange money between phones. That technology has been developed locally and it shows the rest of the world that there is genuine ability to innovate there if only we can give people the equipment with which to do it.

The Raspberry Pi is a wonderful tiny computer that can sit in the palm of one’s hand. The American moon landing programme was the genesis of the integrated chip. There was only 0.4W available for the 2 kilobyte computer that navigated the moon lander down, and that required the integrated chip. Today, the integrated chip is such that I now have 4 gigabytes of memory in the device on my wrist, whereas the first computer that I programmed in the 1960s had 1 kilobyte of memory.

The world moves on, but that should not mean that the computers of the past are without value. I very much welcome the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno showing the way in how we can reuse computers. I hope in particular that we will see the recycling of laptops, which seem to have a shorter fashion life cycle. One of the important benefits of a laptop going out to areas where continuous access to electricity is limited is that they work when they are not connected to the mains. I hope that, if laptops have not been part of the focus, they will become part of the future focus.

I hope that the debate helps to ensure that what is going on in the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno and in Africa with used computers becomes more widely known and that the model is picked up and copied. I hope that there are no patents and no copyrights on the design of the SolarBerry, because it sounds like a rattling good idea that I would certainly like to see replicated elsewhere. The next time I meet Rotarians in the north-east of Scotland, I will certainly be drawing their attention to the example that the small Rotary Club of Currie Balerno has given us. I congratulate its members and congratulate Gordon MacDonald on bringing the debate to the Parliament today.

17:20  

I, too, congratulate Gordon MacDonald on securing this debate on the important work that the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno and the Edinburgh-based Turing Trust are doing to promote the recycling of PCs. It is lovely to have them with us this evening. I will spend my short time focusing on what that work does to tackle the vexing problem of electronic waste and the educational benefit that it is clearly having.

As we know, electronic waste is a major and growing problem. The United Nations publication, “The Global E-waste Monitor 2017”, reports that every year the world produces around 44 million tonnes of e-waste, which is the same weight as 4,500 Eiffel towers. Unfortunately, it predicts that that will rise to 52 million tonnes by 2021. Only around 20 per cent of that e-waste is reported to be recycled, and we simply do not know what happens to many millions of tonnes of it, due to lack of monitoring.

E-waste from Europe and other developed countries is exported to emerging economies, where it is not always properly reused or recycled. The European Environment Agency estimates that between 250,000 tonnes and 1.3 million tonnes of used electrical products are shipped out of the EU every year to west Africa and Asia, and that a significant proportion is not safely processed.

That is one of the many reasons why the work of the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno and the Turing Trust is so important. Collecting, cleaning and upgrading more than 4,000 computers with educational software is a huge task—what a fantastic achievement. Ross Cockburn from Currie, the founder of the West Lothian-based Reusing IT charity, has donated more than 400 PCs and monitors to the Rotary club’s campaign.

As well as the positive environmental impact, evidence shows that the computers are having a profound impact on the quality of the education and life chances of the students who receive them. A survey conducted by the Turing Trust in Malawi found that the vast majority of students reported that using the donated computers made learning easier and more enjoyable, and teachers reported an increase in academic performance. The pupils at the Lidoma secondary school all passed their science exams, something that had not been seen before the arrival of the Turing Trust computers. It was a notable achievement.

Both organisations are also doing their bit to ensure that the proper infrastructure exists to support computer learning. As Gordon MacDonald mentioned, 87 per cent of Malawian schools do not have electricity, so the Turing Trust’s SolarBerry project is vital. With the help of four retired professionals, who are members of the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno, the trust has transformed a large cargo container by fitting solar panels to the roof and 13 low-energy Raspberry Pi computers inside, allowing young people in the Choma community to access computers when that would otherwise have been impossible. The wider community is clearly benefiting, too.

Rotary club members have also been raising money for solar-powered electric lighting, so that classes in the Choma community can continue in the evening. It is a transformative model and one that we should seek to learn from and to roll out wherever appropriate. There is much for all of us to learn from this fabulous example.

I warmly welcome the work of both the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno and the Turing Trust, and congratulate everyone involved in getting so many computers, which might otherwise have gone to waste, to the people who need them most. I hope that the support that the Scottish Government has provided through its small grants scheme will continue and perhaps grow, and I echo Gordon MacDonald’s call for this Parliament to do all that it can to provide support to smaller Scottish charities such as those, which are clearly making a profound and important difference to many lives.

17:24  

I, too, congratulate Gordon MacDonald on bringing this members’ business debate to the chamber.

Like my MSP colleagues, I appreciate the massive amount of work that the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno and the Turing Trust have done. Their invaluable work in recycling used computers and providing them to schools in Africa over the past six years is nothing short of inspiring. It shows the real value of Rotary International and how Rotary clubs can assist and support individuals and organisations around the globe.

As a Rotarian, I am fully aware of the work that happens in clubs. I am fortunate enough to have had a number of roles in my club, the Rotary Club of Perth St Johns, including vice-president, president and an international development role, and I have experienced at first hand the sheer determination, commitment, enthusiasm and hard work that Rotarians put into their role, which they see as being to support not just local but national and international projects. Rotarians go that extra mile to support individuals to ensure that they can and do make changes to people’s lives, and the project that we are discussing this evening is doing that, without question. Much of the work of Rotarians is unseen and unsung, so it is important that members of the club and others who have provided support are in the public gallery this evening to hear our congratulations on and commendations for their achievements.

As co-convener of the cross-party group on Malawi and a long-term supporter of the Scotland Malawi Partnership, I have been very aware of the Turing Trust’s excellent work with regard to education not only in Malawi but across sub-Saharan Africa.

As we have heard, the PhD student James Turing founded the Turing Trust in honour of his great uncle Alan Turing, the computer scientist, who was heavily involved in the Bletchley Park code breaking. During his first trip to Ghana, in 2009, James noticed how difficult it was for schools to acquire affordable computers of reasonable quality. The project has galvanised support and it shows what can be achieved. I pay tribute to the staff and volunteers of the Edinburgh charity who have ensured that computers can be refurbished and reused in Africa. They have worked in partnership with the centre for youth and development in Mzuzu since 2015, and people have benefited massively from their involvement.

We have heard about the design of the SolarBerry, which addresses the need for electricity. It is an off-grid computer laboratory that ensures that the Raspberry Pi computers are workable and can be used. That has supported about 250 students and about 1,000 adult learners in the Choma community day secondary school in rural Malawi.

I pay tribute to the Turing Trust for supporting hundreds of schools across Malawi, Liberia and Ghana, where more than 4,000 computers have already been installed. As a result of the commitment of the Rotarians in the club alongside the Turing Trust, about 25,000 students in Africa are now IT literate and about 450 teachers have been trained in basic computer maintenance skills. That is to be commended and applauded.

I say to the Rotarians that what they are doing—the small part that they are playing—is changing the lives of individuals who would not otherwise have opportunities. That encapsulates the Rotarian ethos of doing things for others. I pay tribute to the club for the work that it has done, the talent that it has shown and its success, and I commend its members for all the work that they are doing.

17:28  

I, too, congratulate Gordon MacDonald on securing this debate and bringing the work of the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno—I warmly welcome its members to the public gallery—and the Turing Trust to the Parliament’s attention as we start the year. I thank him and other members for highlighting the Scottish Government’s international small grants programme.

As members said, the Scottish Government was pleased to provide funding to the Turing Trust under the small grants programme, for the trust’s project on improving information and communication technology skills in rural Malawi, powered by renewable energy. Members mentioned the trust’s work in Ghana and Liberia; the Scottish Government’s support was specifically for our partner country, Malawi.

The project, which began in 2016, has enabled the Turing Trust to create a customised e-library to complement the provision of community ICT hubs in 200 rural schools in Malawi. I understand that the project is progressing well and will be completed later this year.

I have been impressed by the incredible work that the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno and the Turing Trust have been doing together to deliver the project, with Scottish Government support. In particular, I am impressed by the approach that the organisations have adopted. The power and importance of partnership working should not be underestimated. Such an approach is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s international development strategy, and I know from the work of the Rotary Club of Leith in my constituency, Edinburgh Northern and Leith, that it is also at the heart of what the Rotary movement seeks to achieve.

The Turing Trust is just one example of an organisation that receives funding through the Scottish Government’s small grants programme, which was established in 2013 to help to grow the international development sector in Scotland and to support the sector to help some of the world’s most vulnerable communities in our partner countries.

The work that we have heard about today illustrates the difference that the small grants programme is making. With £500,000 being made available annually, the programme is an integral part of our international development fund. We are beginning to see smaller, younger organisations in Scotland, such as First Aid Africa, successfully bidding for and being awarded grants under our larger programmes—in the case of First Aid Africa, for work in Zambia. That is a testament to the success of the small grants programme in developing smaller organisations and increasing capacity in the Scottish international development sector.

The most recent round of small grants funding closed just months ago, in November 2018. Applications are currently being assessed, and applicants will be notified of the outcome in the coming months. I very much look forward to receiving recommendations from our independent assessors.

The small grants programme is an important part of our international development strategy, as is exemplified in this debate about the difference that has been made by the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno and the Turing Trust. I have had feedback on the programme from Scotland’s International Development Alliance. I always welcome feedback on how things are operating, and I would be happy to meet Gordon MacDonald, as he requested in his speech.

As members said, technology is a hugely important aspect of international development. It has the capacity to make a major, life-changing difference to many of the world’s most vulnerable people and communities. By making technology such as computers and mobile phones available to the most vulnerable, we can improve people’s ability to hold their Governments to account, increase economic opportunity, empowerment and productivity, encourage learning and even save lives, through the provision of healthcare and health information.

Many of the projects that are funded from the Scottish Government’s international development fund use old and new technologies to assist some of the most vulnerable people and communities to lift themselves out of poverty and build better futures for themselves and their children.

For example, in 2012, we funded an innovative project, through Onebillion Children, which helped more than 30,000 Malawian pupils to learn maths through the medium of Chichewa, using interactive apps on iPads. Through the 2015 to 2018 Malawi development fund, the Scottish Government provided funding to Voluntary Service Overseas, in partnership with Onebillion, for its unlocking talent through technology project, which built on the 2012 grant by equipping classrooms in Kasungu district with mobile tablet technology, to enhance instruction and enable highly tailored and interactive learning.

Unlocking talent is now a nationwide educational initiative across Malawi, partly as a result of the progress that the project made. The initiative is now institutionalised in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s digital education technology agenda, with the goal to embed it in all 5,300 primary schools, covering roughly 4.4 million children across the country. Building on the subject of the motion today, this highlights the power and importance of partnership working, supporting small organisations and harnessing technology to reduce poverty.

There are other examples across Malawi that I could highlight. For example, in the past year the Scottish Government supported the Malawi Scotland Partnership, which was mentioned, to use some of their funding and their IT equipment in their Lilongwe communications and resources centre to provide computing training and skills to 115 girls and young women from five schools.

That project and the subject of today’s debate are important examples of how technology can be used to drive social change and empower those in our partner countries, and elsewhere in the developing world, to make a bigger difference

Let me focus again on the Rotary Club of Currie Balerno and the Turing Trust and thank them for the important work that they do in recycling, refurbishing and shipping computers to developing countries. They have been innovative in their approach to recycling computers and other technology. Their partnership working has been exemplary and that focus on increasing digital literacy skills in Malawi has made an important and meaningful difference.

This work is very much appreciated by all in the chamber, as has been said today, by the Scottish Government and more widely. We are happy to have supported this project through the international development small grants programme, and recognise and celebrate the collective contribution that has been made towards greater global citizenship and making a bigger difference.

Meeting closed at 17:36.