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ALESSANDRO DINELLI

Brazil,

Alessandro has engineered a citizen-to-citizen supply chain for digital producers and consumers of electronic products that increases the skill levels of Brazil’s young and underemployed workforce and properly disposes of or reuses electronic waste.

This profile below was prepared when Alessandro Dinelli was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.

INTRODUCTION

Alessandro has engineered a citizen-to-citizen supply chain for digital producers and consumers of electronic products that increases the skill levels of Brazil’s young and underemployed workforce and properly disposes of or reuses electronic waste.




THE NEW IDEA

Alessandro is bringing new life to used electronic products while training a new generation of tech savvy professionals. He has created a system so that every time someone buys an electronic product, the profit goes into career development programs for young people and ensures an ecologically and economically sound method of disposal when the product is no longer needed. Through his own family’s business, Alessandro saw that companies and employees that are not technologically relevant are falling behind. Through his experience with founding Committee for Democracy in Information Technology (CDI) in the Amazon, Alessandro perceived a thirst for learning digital skills but was frustrated by the unsustainability of training models that depended on unreliable donations of technology and capital.

When a new law passed in Brazil in 2010 to hold companies responsible for the proper disposal of electronic products, tech donations became scarcer due to the potential donor’s liability for the products’ ultimate destination. Taking advantage of the demands of this legislation, Alessandro designed a tight cycle with outlets for products and people that generates jobs and a positive environmental impact. Alessandro founded Descarte Correto, “Correct Disposal,” (DC) to address these issues of proper waste disposal and to prepare new professionals with appropriate skills for the workforce. DC acquires electronic waste from companies and either disassembles it for discard or recycling, or cleans the waste to send to digital training centers. Then, DC provides training, both in technical skills through the disassembly of electronics at DC and in information technology (IT) skills at digital training centers.

DC’s system works because there is consistent demand from sellers and consumers. Companies and individuals need a way to properly dispose of their electronic waste and they are willing to pay DC to do this; digital training centers, like CDI, need donated technology, and can no longer receive donations directly from organizations disposing of old technology and companies need raw materials to feed into new electronic products. By linking these demands through a process of electronic recycling, Alessandro also satisfies the demands of digital careers by providing training, jobs, and technology. Because Brazil is one of the top producers of electronic waste globally, there is no shortage of need to fuel the cycle. Alessandro intends to expand DC’s operations and job trainings throughout Brazil with a micro franchise model.




THE PROBLEM

Brazil is the world leader in the generation of electronic waste per inhabitant (UN). Currently, 7 kg of electric and electronic waste is produced annually per capita, and this is estimated to rise to 8 kg per year by 2015. That adds up to over 1 million tons of electric and electronic waste in the market which is predicted to continue to increase -- by about 25% over the next three years -- until 2020 (Brazilian Electrical and Electronics Industry Association). The majority of electronic waste (e-waste) goes to one of three destinations: a landfill in Brazil; a recycling plant in Brazil; or shipment overseas. There are only 94 electronics recyclers across the country, and informality in their operations is the norm. Prior to 2010, only an estimated 1% of e-waste was recycled in Brazil. Therefore, it is not surprising that some of the e-waste is sent abroad. In 2011, more than 20 tons of electronic waste were exported. This technological waste is detrimental to the environment. Electronics contain highly toxic heavy metals (including mercury, cadmium, beryllium, and lead) that are released in landfills, contaminating groundwater and polluting the air. If properly recycled, the minerals present in the waste can also be leveraged to decrease the demand for mining new minerals.

In addition to negative environmental effects, incorrectly disposing e-waste leads to lost economic opportunity. Components of e-waste containing precious metals, such as gold, are often sold at scrap value. An estimated $3.4 billion (USD) is lost annually by not reusing these parts. For some materials, this deficit can be addressed through reverse logistics, a disassembly process that recuperates raw material for the assembly of new products. Furthermore, the throwing out rather than recycling of these products skips over a potential job market. A national system of waste reuse could generate up to 15,000 jobs (Brazilian Agency for Industrial Development (ABDI)). Therefore, initiatives that can demonstrate the socio-economic boon and environmental value of the proper disposal of electronic waste are critical.

However, waste disposal has historically been difficult to regulate. After stalling in Congress for 20 years, the National Solid Waste Act of 2010 is the first effort in the country to bring some regulation to the problem; its goal is to both decrease the total volume of solid waste produced in Brazil and to improve waste management at the local and national levels. Unfortunately, the Waste Act has not been very successful in practical application, mostly due to a lack of infrastructure to support collection of e-waste and companies to carry out reverse logistics. While the law anticipates the closure of all landfills in the country except those strictly regulated by the government by 2014, 50.8% of Brazil’s municipalities still improperly send waste to their 2,906 dumps. Other salient features of the Act require new costs to be incorporated for manufacturers through the "the polluter pays" principle, meaning the party responsible for contamination is fiscally accountable for the environmental damage. As such, there is an emphasis on reverse logistics. A study by ABDI shows that putting this new system required by the law into operation will cost 0.5% of consumer electronics sales. If this is factored into the shelf price of electronic products, then buyers and sellers share accountability for the ultimate destination of these goods.

Nevertheless, there is an opportunity through recycling these products to convert access to e-waste into a business stream. Additionally, the parts of e-waste able to be salvaged and sold as raw materials provide another source of revenue. The Solid Waste Act widens the opening to this opportunity; the law even calls for local governments to adapt local solutions as a part of their waste management plans. Furthermore, it explicitly calls for social inclusion (i.e. jobs, especially for the large group of trash pickers, “catadores,” that will now be out of work with the closing of landfills) and gives preference to plans that incorporate the aspect of job creation.

Through shared accountability, a trust-based community can be created. Taking responsibility for the proper disposal of e-waste removes the burden of liability for discarded technology from companies so they can focus on their primary business. Finally, companies have an incentive to invest in digital workforce development given the new demand for reverse logistics technicians and for employees trained in electronics/technology skills.




THE STRATEGY

Witness to the environmental impact, wasted job opportunities, liability, and financial cost of e-waste, Alessandro created the social enterprise Descarte Correto through side by side systems development; the organization reduces environmental impact of discarded electronics (through collection, recycling, reusing, and proper waste disposal), generates employment for young people through professional labor opportunities, and demonstrates the feasibility of a comprehensive model of solid waste management in line with the National Solid Waste Act.

The first component of Descarte Correto is to provide services in management of electronic waste to businesses at an affordable cost which include: site visits to review and collect the materials, reverse manufacturing, and certification of appropriate destination, all with the added value of reducing environmental damage and increasing an appropriately skilled workforce. The process of reverse manufacturing involves the steps of: a) storage: receiving and sorting materials to determine their proper allocation; b) mischaracterization: disassembly and removal of identifying information (to protect the brand and company information contained in technological waste); and c) separation: sorting the materials by type to send to a certified recycling company that can break down the parts into raw materials, or to a certified disposal company that has proper equipment (incinerators, etc.) for safely eliminating the material. To date, DC has processed and correctly disposed of more than 70 tons of electronic waste.

The second aspect of DC is its targeted workforce development through recycling centers and centers for digital inclusion. In addition to generating jobs within the company and facilitating the delivery of waste to recycling companies -- indirectly creating jobs -- Alessandro takes advantage of the reverse manufacturing stage to engage low-income young people looking for their first jobs in the Accelerate Program. This program is a key part of the social axis of the social enterprise with the objective of promoting productive inclusion of youth in the labor market. DC acts as the director of Accelerate, both as a potential employer of young people and as the organizer of a network of other companies with employment opportunities. The Accelerate courses are 120 hours conducted over two months and have a nominal fee, to encourage commitment, of about $25 USD. The topics are technical training (theoretical and practical), environmental education, and citizenship (civic rights and responsibilities, project and life planning, professional orientation, and ethics). The program is an opportunity for young people from low-income backgrounds to access their first job and receive technical training to work in this new field.

In turn, the electronic computer equipment recovered by young people during the Accelerate Program is donated to the Digital Inclusion Project, which is supported by Descarte Correto as well as CDI Amazon (part of Ashoka Fellow Rodrigo Baggio’s organization). The Digital Inclusion Project is responsible for the teaching and distributing materials related to the digital skills curriculum; instructors are from the local community. In just two years of existence, DC has trained over 1,200 people in both the Digital Inclusion Centers and through the Accelerate Program. The ten Centers maintained by the DC also serve as e-waste collection points for in low-income neighborhoods and isolated communities. Through this initiative and other partnerships, Descarte Correto has built a network of collection points so that people (consumers) have access to a location convenient to their residence to dispose of obsolete products and avoid the negative environmental impact and waste of raw material contained in those products. These Digital Inclusion Centers will scale across Brazil through franchising as Digital Career Centers. Once leaders are selected by DC to open a franchise, they will buy the digital professionalization software and purchase computers from DC. A minimum of 10 students are necessary for each franchise.

DC is one of the first recycling companies to enter the market after the 2010 Solid Waste Act, and has several other competitive advantages. The prices are low and can remain so due to Alessandro’s commitment to the model as a social enterprise. Furthermore, DC has the advantage of both environmental and social impact, through its training programs, supply of digital inclusion centers, and preparation of a new generation to enter the workforce with appropriate skills. Additionally, Alessandro is partnering with electronics companies to incentivize consumers to dispose of their used products with DC. He has experimented with offering customers a discount on new purchases from participating retailers if they turn in old products to Descarte. With the company Amazon Print, for example, Alessandro created a campaign on World Environment Day in which those who discard their garbage at DC collection points earn a 5% discount on new purchases from the company.

Alessandro’s model is comprised of tight systems that are interdependent and reinforced by the (now legislated) demand for proper waste management as well as the increasing use and production of electronics. Both individuals and companies will continue to need to dispose of used electronics; digital centers will require computers at a low cost to serve their students; and new jobs will continue to demand employees with digital know-how.




THE PERSON

Alessandro has a history of setting up replicable systems in both the business and citizen sectors. He began working in his mother’s accounting firm at the age of 14. As a young adult, when he saw that the company was falling behind and losing clients because it was not keeping up with new technology, he designed and implemented a networking system to integrate and digitize operations, saving the company time and allowing them to keep up with competitors. Realizing that other business must be suffering the same fate, Alessandro then founded his own business to update other companies’ technology and systems. This skill of designing and implementing systems continues to be apparent in the side-by-side cycles employed by Descarte Correto.

Alessandro has also repeatedly found ways to professionalize and train workers in different industries and to generate new careers. After graduating with a degree in accounting, Alessandro worked with fisherman a nearby isolated community to increase revenue from the sales of their catch. Alessandro became the middleman between the fisherman and restaurants, and helped the fisherman keep more profit and negotiate better deals. Next, while attempting to hire staff for his digitalization company, he faced a lack of basic IT knowledge in the candidates (youth from the Amazon) and decided to work with schools in the region to better prepare students for today’s technologically literate workforce. With funds from the community and his family’s company, Alessandro launched the Parish School Technology Project at the riverside community of Mauéis (20 hours away from his hometown by boat) in 2001. It was during his research on the subject of technology in isolated communities that he came across the Committee for Democracy in Information Technology (CDI) and Ashoka Fellow Rodrigo Baggio. With the hope of exchanging knowledge, he contacted CDI and went on to launch CDI Amazon in the same year, the first expansion of this project to the region. Now again, with Descarte Correto, Alessandro is creating careers and preparing others to enter the workforce as tech-literate professionals.

Alessandro has managed to innovate and create jobs through traditional companies, citizen sector organizations, and now with a social business. However, in all manifestations, his concern for others is a driving factor. As a resident of Manaus (a state capital in the Amazon region) and an active leader in the Boy Scouts since the age of four, Alessandro experienced first-hand the ecological threats in the region as well as the realities of remote Amazonian communities. However, for Alessandro, his primary role model is his mother. She comes from an isolated community, and her family worked in the fishing industry. She was the second oldest daughter of nine children, and she had to work from a young age to support her family financially as well as help raise her siblings. At 16, she moved to Manaus to study, took on labor-intensive jobs to send money back to her family, yet managed to earn a degree and build a career in accounting. She has always valued education and hard-work and passed this on to Alessandro. In the middle of a divorce and financial crisis, she insisted on paying for quality schools for her sons. Alessandro has lived and worked together with her throughout his life, and remains firmly grounded in this ethos as he engineers new opportunities for others.




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