Ready Tech Go: Breaking the Poverty Cycle with Devices
19 August 2021
A blog by Savraj Kaur, Chair & Co-Founder of Ready, Tech, Go for the UCL International Development Hub
At the start of the pandemic, I had a check in with an incredible community leader in Fulham. Little did I know what a game changer that conversation would become:
"Savraj, I just came back from seeing three children, all sharing their mother’s phone to do classes and homework. One is trying to finish college and go to uni. And when mum has to apply for jobs or go out shopping, she needs to take the phone."
I was born nearby too, but what I call the lottery of birth meant that my school offered us desktop computer classes in the 80s, my (single) father could provide me and my three siblings with quality computers through the 90s, and my endless study and leisure pursuits with the MS Office package would lead to me to ace a dissertation on how smart homes systems could help disabled people. This led me, no less, to a full scholarship at UCL itself (MSc 2007) and concentrating in Disasters and Development at (our very own rival -!) King’s.
So, the thought of digital inequality between children hit me hard.
The more I researched, I confirmed.
- 4.3M people in the UK have no digital skills
- 60% children without laptops in some schools
- 40% people who say being online makes them feel less alone
- 1 is the number of phones or tablets some entire families have to share
Covid-19 showed the spirit of locals, communities, and neighbours helping neighbours, and it made me think of a solution:
“How great it would be to get people to redirect unwanted laptops or tablets PCs to those most in need nearby to them.”
From Iraq to Imperial Wharf
It wasn’t until I spoke to Kanwar Randhawa, that I could see it happening.
I knew Kanwar from my days on international aid and development projects. Our first project had been in Northern Iraq, with Yezidi women who had undergone some of the most difficult times any human could go through. As a team, we always wanted to educate others, and we always played on each other’s strengths to make it happen.
He was the perfect person to help carry out this new dream.
We briefed a small group of friends – another UCL alumnus Nikos Souslos (BA 2016, MA 2017), Kullie Randhawa, Jymit Singh, and Tom Evans – and all agreed to form a volunteer-led, social enterprise - with the core belief that access to technology should be a right and not a privilege.
We named it Ready Tech Go.
The response was overwhelming. We had more requests for devices than we were getting in donations, sometimes 15 in a couple of hours. But it kept us going.
With each device that went out, we knew we had opened up a world of connection and learning, and that we were making a difference, and as word spread, and we gained experience, it began to fall more and more into a rhythm.
One year on Ready Tech Go is still going strong, calling on anyone to donate unwanted devices, and refurbishing them. We have reached many parts of the community, including:
- The housebound elderly
- Students in poverty
- Homeless people
- Those out of work and job seeking
- Refugees and asylum seekers
- Women who have fled abuse
We have formed our first partnerships, including with Imperial College’s What the Tech?! programme. This matched older people who receive a device with engineering students who help them learn how to do things like make a call on Zoom.
It’s all about the individuals in the end
Julie ended up referring more children to us, including 'B', who had spent consecutive lockdowns unable to log on for school and interact with classmates.
When we gave him a laptop and asked what he would do with it. He grinned, clutched the device under his arm, switched to a wiggle dance, and said:
"I'm going to work, work, work!!".
When a child gets a laptop, it’s something very special. I see a longer-term vision, of them getting better grades, then a better-paid job, and be the first in their family who don’t live in poverty. It could break the cycle they are born into.
This is also why we formed another partnership with H&F Council and UNITED in H&F (my day job) to get a carefully studied list of 1,500 local children in poverty their own devices, too.
The effects could be phenomenal.
Our tech volunteers are vital
Whatever we do, and wherever we go, we simply couldn’t function without tech volunteers, who make sure each and every device is double checked for quality and security, and it’s safe and reliable enough to pass on.
As I write this, I have recently taken up the role of chair, with an eye on new heights. We are looking for new corporate partners who redirect e-waste through us. We are awaiting news on exciting funding proposals with other borough schemes in London and are launching our first ever international project. We’ll also be engaging with students at UCL through activities facilitated by the ID Hub and hope to see you there!
Current opportunities to engage with us:
- Volunteer – get in touch if you would like to offer your tech or social media skills
- Donate – give a child £20 for Wi-Fi or £159 for a laptop, via Tech4Kids
- Share – share our social pages and make noise about our project
We look forward to doing more, together.
Chair and Co-Founder, Ready Tech Go.