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The SolarBerry is a self-financing, community-owned off-grid computer lab powered by solar energy with energy-efficient computers.

The SolarBerry is a self-financing, community-owned off-grid computer lab powered by solar energy with energy-efficient computers.

Photo of James Turing

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James commented on The SolarBerry

Hi Sadie and team,

Thanks for getting in touch. It's great to hear about the fantastic work you're doing in Nepal!

We would love to expand the SolarBerry to anywhere where there's a need for it, and if we could access the internet this would be fantastic. I was wondering whether you would be able to share your experience of getting wifi in to rural areas - are there any ways you've found particularly useful in keeping costs down?

My colleague Georgia would be happy to discuss this with you further, her email is georgia@turingtrust.co.uk.

Best,

James :)

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James commented on The SolarBerry

Hi Kate,

Are you able to share the user feedback you have incorporated into your project even if it is at a high level i.e. 'We’ve been incorporating user feedback into our computer labs for several years and so have quite a good idea of what our beneficiaries want from a rural computer lab'?
- From our experience users want IT labs which are easy to access, welcoming, and which provide training to both children and the wider community. We have incorporated this into the design of the SolarBerry and our plans to encourage use and maintain it. This feedback has been built up over a long time, but the highlights would be things like including the following services;
Commercial printing
Passport photos
Typesetting
Graphic design
Movies
Adult education

There are other aspects such as the type of elearning resources we've included or the requests to get certification from the learning courses available.

Could you tell me a bit more about the financing model?
-The financing is fairly simple as a lease-to-own model. However, the crucial difference is that we will co-create the incomes from the SolarBerry with the community. This means that we will continue working with the community until the SolarBerry is reliably creating income to enable the community to own the SolarBerry and continue creating funds for the school owners for years to come.

As we are approaching the final stretch, are there any types of organisations that you are keen to connect to in terms of sector or geography for this project or in general?
- We would be very interested in connecting with any organisations doing similar work in Northern Malawi, particularly around Mzuzu.
Those working in internet connectivity, or off-grid computing could also be interesting to build synergies with. Perhaps the biggest challenge for us is how we can bring internet connectivity at realistic and affordable prices, so help in this area would be extremely useful.



Thanks!

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James commented on The SolarBerry

Hi Everyone,

Thank you so much for your very helpful input, it's been very constructive.

I’ll start by answering your questions:
• How will you maintain any donated or low-cost equipment?
→ The SolarBerry is a lease to own model, meaning that any maintenance issues which occur will be managed by us for the first few years whilst the SolarBerry is under lease. Afterwards, we intend to offer these services at a low cost to the community. We’ll be ensuring we’re never too far away from being able to provide the critical maintenance services to keep everything working in perpetuity.
• How will you attain community members as users?
→ We have several plans. Mostly these include offering free trials of services and having a big launch night to introduce these services to the community members who may not be used to a ‘walk-thru’ movie theatre.
• What do the workshops/training look like?
→ There will be a variety of training/workshops which will be delivered to users. These will be community based to foster engagement across a diverse group of users (ranging from school students to adult learners). They will be tailored to the audience and will be taught in classes of up to 20 at a time over a day or with the option to be spread over several weeks.
• How does this idea consider user needs?
→ We’ve been incorporating user feedback into our computer labs for several years and so have quite a good idea of what our beneficiaries want from a rural computer lab. A lot of the training we will offer in the SolarBerry consists of courses we had never envisioned until they were requested, such as including e-learning resources on how to improve public speaking.
• How will you bake user-feedback into your organisation as you grow?
→ We will have continuous feedback such that community members can always give us suggestions of things we can improve or new services they would like to be included. We believe simple ideas like suggestion boxes can work well if properly introduced and sufficiently advertised.
• What are your plans to maintain your equipment in country whether it is donated or sold at low cost (rent/buy?)
→ As mentioned earlier, we will be continuing contact with the community in the long-run to support any maintenance issues. The equipment they will be using is not actually ‘low-cost’ equipment but simply fit for purpose as we believe Raspberry Pis, when equipped with the right software packages, are the most suitable solution for teaching computing in off-grid environments. So unlike second hand equipment, there will not be as many maintenance issues as the equipment is all bought new.
• Can you make more clear the bridge among Peace, Prosperity, and Planet.
→ The SolarBerry helps to bridge the main two elements of prosperity and planet. Through digital education we are enabling communities to increase their range of employment opportunities which will in turn bring prosperity. By delivering this educational platform with renewable energy in an upcycled container we believe our e-learning materials, including resources on topics such climate resilience, will physically demonstrate the opportunities for the community to develop in harmony with the planet. Lastly, we believe that increasing access to information will increase independent thinking and political involvement to promote peace.

All feedback has been taken on board and incorporated into the text of the idea to make things as clear as possible.

Once more, thank you for you feedback and interest in the SolarBerry. It’s great to see the interest it’s generating!