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Third World technology provider Timothy Anderson ’73
Timothy Anderson is the founder, president, and sole full-time employee of World Computer Exchange (WCE), a nonprofit that provides refurbished desktop computers and peripherals in developing countries at low cost. In 11 years of operation, with the help of some 700 volunteers worldwide, he has shipped 28,300 computers to 2,675 schools, libraries, orphanages, and youth centers in 41 nations.
A political science major and former UGBC president, with a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School, Anderson arrived at WCE by a route circuitous and apt. He has served as executive director of Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo, consulted on nonprofit development, and was the founder, CEO, and headmaster of a charter school in Hull, Massachusetts. “I know what it’s like to have to gather volunteers and resources,” he says. “I began thinking, what would happen if you applied those skills to education in developing countries?”
Based in Anderson’s Hull home, WCE has 24 U.S. and Canadian chapters that act as hubs for fundraising and computer collection, and 25 strategic allies, such as iEARN USA, the U.N. Volunteers Program, and the London-based Centre for Democracy and Development West Africa. The latter groups work in-country with the institutions receiving the equipment to raise a share of the funds—usually a third of the $6,300 it costs to ship 200 computers. “We want the organizations to feel ownership, that they can make this happen,” says Anderson. The remainder of the financing comes from corporate, nonprofit, and individual donors. Used equipment arrives primarily from corporations, schools, and libraries.
Anderson promotes WCE at venues ranging from the World Economic Forum to computer refurbishers conventions. “I had raised millions of dollars for all sorts of clients, but I was surprised at how difficult it was when you put developing countries into the equation,” he says. Getting the computers in place is also often challenging. In 2010, a shipment bound for Afghan refugees in northeast Pakistan got stalled for months after the Taliban blew up a bridge on the Khyber Pass.
“I think in terms of access,” says Anderson. “How access to technology allows kids to understand things that they couldn’t before—about other peoples and cultures. How they’ll now have skills that their parents don’t and won’t have.”
Alicia Potter is a Boston-based writer.
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