Free Geek Turns Two Problems into a Social Enterprise

Free Geek Turns Two Problems into a Social Enterprise

Toronto business offers programs for people to earn, build computers

A newly-founded Toronto company is using two problems to create one solution.

Free Geek Toronto president Ushnish Sengupta says Free Geek was founded on the premise that too many computers are sent to the landfill before the end of their useful life. This is in spite of the fact that many people still don’t own a personal home computer.

Enter Free Geek, which offers the public free disposal of electronic waste and uses the equipment to create opportunities for people to volunteer and receive free computers and workshops.

The company supports its activities by running a thrift store where it sells rebuilt computers for the affordable price of $50 and receives recycling revenue for its work.

Free Geek Toronto gave away 24 computers in its first year and is hoping to increase the number to 100 in 2011.

Referring to Free Geek Toronto as a triple bottom line social enterprise, Sengupta says the company incorporates social, environmental and financial objectives.

It has a vision is to make Toronto a place where everyone has access to computers and the Internet and where e-waste is disposed of responsibly, safely and ethically. Often, old computers are shipped to developing countries where conditions are unsafe with few worker and environmental protections.

While Free Geek Toronto received support from the Toronto Enterprise Fund and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, it’s on track to becoming financially sustainable in the future, according to Sengupta.

He says the first Free Geek was founded in Portland 10 years ago and was generating sustainable revenue within four to five years. Free Geek Vancouver has been in operation for three years and is already close to financial self-sufficiency.

“We’ll get there, not in the first year but we will get there in three to four years,” he says.

When asked how social enterprises can heighten their effectiveness, Sengupta says collaboration and partnerships offer tremendous opportunity.

“Most of the social enterprises are non profit, therefore collaboration and partnerships would enable the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts,” he says.

He points to a social technology conference Free Greek held with partners last year to see how organizations that are increasing opportunities for people to access computers and the Internet could work together.

He adds the sharing of infrastructure should also be encouraged.

“It would enable (social enterprise) more tools at their disposal that they can use to expand their reach and grow their business,” he says.

To learn more about Free Geek Toronto, click here

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Writer Bio

Camille Jensen's picture
Camille Jensen

Camille Jensen is an employee share ownership consultant with ESOP Builders, Canada’s largest provider of employee share ownership plans (ESOPs) for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Prior to joining ESOP Builders, Camille was a generative journalist and team member at Axiom News. She credits her time at Axiom as fundamental to her understanding that business is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Camille is a B.C. Partner for Social Impact and volunteer with Okanagan Changemakers.

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