SOLS 24/7 Malaysia Director, Teacher Raj Ridvan Singh, has always believed technology can alleviate poverty ten times faster than any other solution.
After years of pursuing this theory, he’s now championing a new age of social empowerment, providing free education and access to computers and internet for the underserved youth of Malaysia.
Whether it’s through his SOLS Tech or Solar Academy arms, via the Better Malaysia Foundation’s Community Centres or simply through his partnership with Google as a certified Google Education trainer, Teacher Raj and his SOLS 24/7 non-profit empire are connecting thousands of young Malaysians to education and technology they normally wouldn’t receive.
And to think it all started with a gift from Bill Gates is quite remarkable.
“I’ve always been extremely passionate about technology and the internet. I took my passion so seriously I graduated as the youngest Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer in Asean in 2000 at the age 17.
“It was a humbling moment when I received a watch from Bill Gates who had heard of and was impressed at my achievement.
“Since then I’ve tried to do my very best to bridge the digital divide and bring technology to the poor and underserved. I feel they need it so much more as they are already at a disadvantage compared to the rest of us,” he said.
Teacher Raj says there are thousands of kids who are denied access to proper education in Malaysia because they are not literate in technology and providing access to technology is just one way society can help.
“Everyone talks about how technology advances almost weekly and monthly, but yet over 10 million Malaysians do not have access to computers or the internet. We have found a solution that is both simple and easy to implement,” he added.
“The average Malaysian individual or company has used digital devices in their drawers, cupboards and storerooms. They’re basically collecting dust. We have developed our own ‘Poor Help Poor’ process whereby we collect these old digital devices, refurbish and recycle them.”
Through www.sols247.org/solstech, Teacher Raj and his team have been able to collect, refurbish and distribute computers to NGOs, welfare homes and community centres for free. Backed by the Hong Leong Foundation, they have donated over 1,300 complete computer sets to over 150 organisations in the past two and a half years.
“Our job is to not only educate communities in need but to educate communities who can help. With SOLS Tech we can achieve both of these things,” said Teacher Raj.
“For ages, people used to throw away their old computers and other bits of software. Particularly large companies who were upgrading. They never thought of donating their old computers to charities or NGOs. Worse still they don’t recycle responsibly and give their items to non-qualified recycling companies.”
On top of their daily SOLS Tech operations, SOLS 24/7 Malaysia also operates 30 computer labs throughout the country training over 10,000 underprivileged kids and youths on the skills of typing, using the internet, Google Apps and cyber security.
They’ve also mentored over 400 computer technicians at their JPK government certified Computer Training College at the SOLS Solar Academy at Segambut.
Teacher Raj said his biggest struggle is maintaining financial stability for all his programmes and while SOLS Tech, through its burgeoning success, is able to generate some income, there’s always the reliance on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) projects to maintain their status as a non-profit tax-exempt organisation.
“We have setup SOLS Tech as a social enterprise (SdnBhd) where we are able to generate income but we still have a long way to go,” he said.
“The current economic climate creates instability in the country and investors are reluctant to invest in a more social driven social enterprise as opposed to a social enterprise that focuses primarily on generating income for the shareholders.
“So we’re always working on ways to manage our resources and keep our existing donors happy, whilst also reaching out to new companies who want to change the world with us.”
Manager Omar Elkhawaja said there’s an entire network of volunteers behind SOLS Tech’s success and he is confident they can continue to bridge Malaysia’s digital divide in 2016 and beyond.
“As technology continues to boom, there’ll only be more and more devices for us to recycle and refurbish. There are still so many communities that need our help and we won’t stop until we connect as many people as we can,” Elkhawaja said.
“It costs an average of RM25,000 to collect, refurbish and deliver a set of 100computers so we’re always looking for people to donate, sponsor and partner with us.
“Soon we are launching the ‘tech squad team’ that will provide onsite and remote IT maintenance to NGOs that receive our computers as well as companies and individuals for less than 50 per cent of the market price.
“We are also developing an online app to assist in the collection, donation and sponsoring of items as well providing a platform for people to volunteer.
“We believe the app will be the widest social network dedicated to empowering underserved communities nationwide.”
For more information on SOLS Tech or how to contribute go to http://www.sols247.org/sols-tech/ and click on the ‘Get Involved’ tab.