Build Program Grant

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This is the landing page for information about FreeGeek's progress on the Build Program Grant.

  • Build co-ordinator:
  • Hardware Grant/Education co-ordinator: Jane
  • Grant co-ordinator: Ifny

Project Summary

In the Community Build Program, volunteers learn to refurbish five computer systems, and keep the sixth computer for themselves. The other five are primarily redistributed to individuals, or non-profit organisations in the community. This program is designed to extend Free Geek's waste diversion, consumption reduction, and community economic development strategies.

Goals of Community Build

  1. Reduce computer waste by diverting systems from the waste stream, primarily through refurbishment and remanufacturing of unwanted equipment.
  2. Reduce consumption of virgin materials and energy expenditure, by providing refurbished computers to the public (free systems for nonprofits, Community Build graduates and other volunteers; stock for the thrift store for general purchase).
  3. Facilitate skill-sharing, collaboration, cooperation, interdependence, mutual assistance and other hallmarks of healthy communities between Community Build participants.
  4. Provide opportunities for personal development to Community Build volunteers, including free computers, job skills, technical education, Internet access, technological empowerment and economic advancement.
  5. Empower and galvanize the greater community by providing sustainable computer alternatives, fostering e-waste awareness, and offering a venue for active involvement in environmental solutions to local and global pollution, toxic e-waste and consumption issues.
  6. Provide sustainable, accessible, community-based software to the public.
  7. Utilize the power of social production and decentralized non-market cooperation to generate a more equitable distribution of technology and related skills.

Community Build Program

The Community Build Program provides a more sophisticated technical education to volunteers than our other programs are calibrated to provide. In exchange, volunteers in the Build program agree to complete six computer systems. The sixth computer they build is theirs to keep, while the remaining five computers are made available to the community through other distribution channels, principly the Computer Adoption and Hardware Grants programs.

Through the Adoption Program, individuals receive a free system after volunteering 24 hours of their time; the Community Build program will supply the necessary finished systems that Adopters receive. We estimate that 150-200 refurbished computers will go directly from Build volunteers to Adopters. Our Hardware Grant Foundation disseminates free computer equipment to nonprofit organisations. Over the last year, Free Geek has fulfilled over 80 hardware grants of computer equipment in Vancouver, Victoria and the Fraser Valley. We estimate between 80-110 more Hardware Grant applications will be made to Free Geek over the year of enviroFund funding. Community Builders would also build these machines, in conjunction with the Hardware Grant/Education Coordinator.

Surplus built systems will be sold at low cost in our Computer Thrift Store, enabling citizens to decrease their consumption of new items by buying inexpensive used machines.

Notably, Individuals who wish to participate in Community Build do not require any previous computer experience; they are taught how to build computers exclusively with used parts. They undergo a standard safety orientation and an initial assessment which determines their level of familiarity with hardware; if they are just starting out, they will proceed through "Pre-Build," a set of hands-on workshops and activities that teach skills in blocks, while still participating directly in the building process. With sufficient experience they may be permitted to “test-out” of the PreBuild stage, proceeding directly to the second level, “Build.” In the Build stage, they are taught to test and refurbish entire systems, as well as to install software and troubleshoot.

Volunteers are encouraged to learn at their own pace, and not to be harried by productivity pressures. Since hardware is being reclaimed, inhibitions about breakage during the learning process are largely eliminated, leaving participants free to challenge themselves and try new things. This leads to a positive, supportive work environment, in which skill-sharing, exploration and mutual cooperation are emphasized.

Tested hardware is assembled into standardized desktop computers which are then loaded with cutting-edge community-based operating systems and applications. Such software extends the life of computers, as it runs more efficiently and can therefore reclaim a greater proportion of systems from the waste stream.

A specific goal of this project is to redirect an average of 15 free refurbished computers per week, or about 750 per year, away from the waste stream and into community circulation. These computers will be given to individual volunteers exchanging community service for a computer, regional non-profit organizations or sold at low cost through the thrift store.

Throughout Community Build, the Build Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator and Hardware Grant Coordinator will offer regular guidance, instruction, support and feedback to individuals enrolled in the program. Seeking help from peers is also facilitated, as Build Volunteers are encouraged to share their skills with each other. After graduation, they may continue their volunteerism at Free Geek and pursue further skills in the form of “Extra Credit.” Graduates may be encouraged to become volunteer Build Assistants; Build Assistants in turn can be groomed as Build Instructors. This ensures continuity to the program, as well as mutual assistance and a sense of camaraderie.

Both the day to day operations at Free Geek and our other programs require assembled working computers. We will draw upon the products of the program to provide systems to these areas. Initially, our staff and experienced volunteers will work together to cultivate builders. As more volunteers gain experience through the program, much of the work of updating documentation and building can be carried by these individuals.

In addition, Community Build educates and engages participants regarding the environmental impacts of computing and the benefits of computer reuse; it offers a hands-on opportunity for the public to participate in mitigating climate change, while exposing them to better practices with tangible social and environmental benefits, in a local context infused with global implications.

Ore mining, electronics manufacturing, the transport of systems for sale and a massive electronic waste management morass all conspire to extract a horrific toll from the biosphere, including human health. The average lifespan of a computer is now two years, although many cast-off and recycled systems are still useful; often due to lack of orchestration or infrastructure, they are customarily destroyed despite an often desperate need in the community.

This program actualizes computer re-use and resource conservation. Rebuilt and repaired computers are kept from the waste stream for longer, offsetting the cost of extraction and consumption of virgin materials, as well as the environmental costs inherent in manufacturing and shipping new computers.


Grant Details

Timeline: Coordinated by the Build Coordinator.

Stage One: Preparation

(1 Month)

The purpose of this stage is to prepare the infrastructure so that the existing Build Program can become standard FG process, and so this Grant can be successful.

Under each of the steps in Stage 1, we have broken the step down into several "tests" that should be true when the step is complete.

  • Build Coordinator/Instructor training and workshops: Volunteer Coordinator and Reuse Coordinator, in conjunction with Education workgroup will conduct workshops how to teach; sensitivity training; how to assess Build applicants; familiarity with Pre-Build and Build material and conventions; how tracking Build volunteer hours and information in the database.
Test Status Initials
Workshop: How to teach Build course outlines exists and has group consensus on its contents Not started nobody
Workshop: Sensitivity Training course outlines exists and has group consensus on its contents Not started nobody
Workshop: How to assess build applicants course outlines exists and has group consensus on its contents Not started nobody
Workshop: How to track Build Volunteers course outlines exists and has group consensus on its contents Not started nobody
A process exists to track which volunteers have gone through which workshops, and when. Not started nobody
All 4 workshops have been taught to at least 10 volunteers each, as show by our records Not started nobody


  • Build Coordinator to format program guidelines on Free Geek's wiki
  • Build Coordinator develops additional guidelines in conjunction with Hardware Grant Coordinator and workgroup: how to meet Hardware Grants appropriately; how to prioritize Hardware Grant applications; build specifications.
  • Additional training facilitated by Volunteer Coordinator and Communications/Outreach workgroups: incorporating Community Build Program into tours and outreach; managing sign-up and enquiries; Phone centre documentation.
  • Build Coordinator to oversee constructing of tables, shelving, assembly of Builder tool kits, organising of stock parts bins.
  • Build Coordinator and Reuse Coordinator to design and implement additional testing stations, in conjunction with Warehouse Coordinator.
  • Build Coordinator and Volunteer coordinator design signage/displays for Builders.
  • Reuse Coordinator to install open terminals for Builders to consult online documentation
  • Occupational First Aid certification for Build Coordinator.


Stage Two: Prebuild

(1 Month)

This stage puts into practice workshops that help to create a critical mass of volunteers with a solid level of understanding.

  • Begin PreBuild thrice weekly
  • PreBuild workshops: orientation, sorting, quality control, command line, etc. Workshops will be organised by Build Coordinator and Instructors.

Stage Three: Build

(10 Months)

With the preparation stage done, the build program can start to become a steady, stable program that "runs itself". FreeGeek staff can now begin tweaking and keeeping it running smoothly.

  • Community Build program officially starts
  • Actively promote program and solicit Community Build volunteers via media outreach: flyers, business cards, website stories, press releases, blogger solicitation, community event appearances.
  • Communications workgroup solicits hardware donations and stimulates demand for Build systems by promoting Hardware Grant Foundation and Adoption Program.
  • Instructor training nights continue. Expanded evening workshops for build-related skills.
  • PreBuild expanded to 5 days/week. Build expanded to 5 days/week.
  • Documentation continues, driven by Build Coordinator and contributed to by Build Instructors and volunteers.
  • Regular review of feedback from volunteers by Volunteer and Build Coordinators.