At its Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas, Dell, in partnership with Computer Aid, Intel and Microsoft, announced the Solar community hubs, an evolution of its Solar Learning Labs program on which Computer Aid International and Dell Technologies (Dell) have been collaborating since 2011. The first Hub opened in Lagos, Nigeria in 2014. It was followed by a series of labs in South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico. These hubs are constructed from converted shipping containers and, as the name suggests, are solar powered, making them incredibly flexible in location.
Dell has worked with approximately 60 technology partners to open 25 labs in 7 countries, including Computer Aid International, a non-profit organization with 25 years of experience supporting e-learning and promoting access to technology in developing and remote areas around the world. They are also pioneers in their approach to the circular economy, offering IT asset disposal and data erasure for businesses and organizations around the world. The focus on sustainability for hubs begins with the deployment of used shipping containers that would otherwise be discarded. Solar panels are then mounted on the structures to supply them with renewable energy. In the case of the Amazon location, sustainably sourced wood and furniture is also used.
As the technology evolved, the project evolved in terms of the technology deployed but, more importantly, in terms of focus and community involvement. Dell and its partners shifted their strategy from building labs to building larger hubs, almost twice as large. These function more like internet cafes in the way they bring the community together to access technology and learn first about the technology itself and then about the topics and skills that will help provide career opportunities. . The hubs are now equipped with Wi-Fi to accommodate people inside and outside the structure and they use Dell computers and networking equipment designed to operate on a thin client network with needs minimum power supply. The products deployed are specifically selected for their durability, long life and energy efficiency.
So far, the focus has been strictly on education, but the revamped effort wants to expand to improving access to technology, healthcare and workforce skills. working for communities in remote areas of the world. The Solar Community Hubs will be built with Dell technology-based solutions including 5G, edge computing and other services. Each hub will be community-driven and reflect the needs of that community. In addition to technology, the hubs will provide communities with access to water and electricity, healthcare and resources for environmental preservation. Community members will also have access to technical training, entrepreneurship support, educational and career guidance, and income-generating services to support employment opportunities and financial sustainability. The first hub will open in Boa Esperanca, Brazil and aims to help the community fight local deforestation.
“Research shows that the greatest impact starts with empowering local communities,” said Cassandra Garber, vice president of environmental and social governance, Dell Technologies. “By introducing Solar Community Hubs, communities will have access to resources and infrastructure to solve their most pressing problems. This evolution puts community needs at the center, and we look forward to seeing – and being a part of – the impact these community partnerships will have around the world.
What’s interesting about Dell’s approach with Solar Community Hubs is that the initiative’s scalability and longevity are at the forefront. This has pushed Dell and its partners to engage communities more directly to better meet their needs and prepare them to become self-sufficient over time. Even how partnerships work takes flexibility and scalability into account. Organizations can fund hubs financially or in kind. From donating containers to providing shipping, insurance and access to water or electricity, the hubs receive donations that will allow the project to be operational. Hubs are also a great example of collaboration in technology for the greater good of humanity. Dell is bringing customers and business partners together in this initiative so that more can be achieved in terms of deployed sites and deployment times.
The project also highlights that solutions such as hubs built with flexibility and sustainability in mind are not only suitable for delivering education or health services to communities in remote locations. Hubs could also perform a critical function in disaster recovery situations.
On the first day of Dell Technologies World, in an interview conducted by Dell CMO Allison Dew, actor and author Matthew McConaughey spoke about technology and nonprofit initiative. He said, “I like a non-profit idea that can generate profits.” I think solar hubs are a great non-profit idea that could turn a profit. The work that Dell and its partners are doing is good technology put to use, but the idea of self-sufficient hubs that could help the community is an opportunity that governments should evaluate.
I’m sure, like me, you haven’t forgotten the stories of kids in Silicon Valley who relied on the Wi-Fi signal from the gas station to be able to do school remotely. Unfortunately, we don’t need to go to remote places around the world to find communities that need access to better technology. Hubs would be a great idea as STEM education labs, community health checkpoints and more. In the United States, companies have turned shipping containers into tiny homes as for-profit ventures. Who is ready to see Community Solar Hubs as a business opportunity and start doing good by doing good?
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analytics, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author has no ownership interests in the companies mentioned in this column.