BlowLab, a startup in Benin, is turning plastic jerrycans into computers using recycled components and distributing them to the public at low cost.
Arthur Dadjo is a student in Cotonou, Benin, where innovation and recycling meet. For the last one year, he has been using his own computer. It is made from a plastic jerrycan, recycled materials, and old or broken computer parts to form the computer’s motherboard and hard drive.
Locals call it “Jerry” after the name of the containers. With royalty-free software installed, it’s as good as new. And most importantly, cheap.
“You can find a full office computer for between 300 and 350,000 in the West African CFA franc, the local currency,” he said. “But with the components we bought from the startup’s help, we spent about 100 to 150,000 (CFA francs) to have this computer.”
BlowLab, a digital innovation lab working in the fields of education and digital technology, manufactures these “Jerry” computers. The startup regularly organizes workshops to teach people how to build their own computer for free.
In addition to giving people access to cost-effective products, trainers want to help them develop skills in innovation, says Maydard Agbayzon, founder of BlowLab.
The second objective is to encourage creativity in children. He says that when they learn to do these “jerry’s”, they also learn how to solve problems they encounter in their environment using the materials or tools they have.
Experts agree that computers are increasingly an essential work tool and initiatives like BlowLab should be encouraged.
Ali Shadai is with Open Nsi, an organization focused on the digital transformation of companies.
“The computer is the door to a world of opportunities, and making it accessible to as many people as possible is beneficial to these people and to society in general,” he said. “BlowLab’s effort is positive.”
Training to learn how to make “Jerry” is provided for free. But participants must find the components to build their own computers.
BlowLab has been in operation for 4 years and the founders say that hundreds of people have already taken advantage of the training sessions and built their own computers.
The startup is now working to make these self-made computers available to schools located in remote areas. With it, BlowLab says, it will bridge the digital gap one “jerry” at a time.
Moki Edwin Kindjeka contributed to this report.