This Pop-Up in New York Is Buying Back Mobile Phones to Send to Afghan Girls

For International Women’s Day, ecoATM partners with Rumie to send digital classrooms to kids who can’t attend schools

Two women stand with phones in hand at ecoATM and Rumie's new "reverse cell phone store" in New York
At the store, reverse shoppers can learn about the Afghan girls who will soon use their phones to learn.
EcoATM

You’ve heard of stores that sell phones, but how about a store that exists for the sole purpose of buying back cellphones and giving them away to underserved girls in places like Afghanistan?

That’s the idea behind A Good Call, a brick-and-mortar pop-up store in New York that runs Friday through Sunday. A partnership between ecoATM and digital education nonprofit The Rumie Initiative to celebrate this weekend’s International Women’s Day, the store offers New Yorkers a chance to grab some cash for old phones while doing some good.

Rumie and ecoATM shared exclusive photos of the store with Adweek before Friday’s opening.

Typically, ecoATM uses its 4,300 kiosks around the country (plus 54 in Europe) to exchange used or unwanted cellphones, tablets, and MP3 players for instant cash. This is the brand’s first International Women’s Day campaign with a nonprofit partner.

The average American has six idle devices sitting around their home,” said Yanyan Ji, CMO of ecoATM. “So with A Good Call, we are aiming to inspire the nation to rummage in the depths of their drawers, dig out old smartphones and trade them in at the world’s first reverse cell phone store.”

The majority of those phones will go to girls in Afghanistan, where 2.2 million female children do not attend school. Rumie works to supply some of those children with tablets and phones loaded with offline educational materials that don’t require Wi-Fi via its eponymous app.

Rumie founder Tariq Fancy explained that a combination of harmful gender norms, lack of facilities and shortage of trained teachers poses significant obstacles to Afghan education.

“Smartphones are one way of increasing their opportunities by opening up young women to hundreds of free learning resources in the palm of their hand,” Fancy said. “Unfortunately, getting access to smartphones can be tricky.”

Previous Rumie outreach campaigns have put digital classroom materials in the hands of former child soldiers in Liberia and children affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. The company also hosts LearnCloud, an open-source system that allows users to rate and upload free digital education programs to fill gaps in subject areas like indigenous languages.

People who visit the New York store this weekend will encounter content featuring young Afghan women, who share their stories of being forced to flee cities and overpopulated classrooms. “Through access to the Rumie app,” Fancy said. “They now speak of becoming doctors, lawyers and journalists and receiving an education that they previously never deemed possible.”

While ecoATM hopes to open similar pop-up stores around the country to gather used electronics for nonprofits, the New York store is a stand-alone project for now. But Ji encouraged people outside the city to participate by donating directly to Rumie to provide materials to children and teachers around the world.

In addition to nonprofit partnerships, the e-recycling company has made environmentalism a key function of its brand, helping stem the growing tide of e-waste that sends heavy metals and toxic chemicals to landfills when people throw old electronics in the garbage. According to the EPA, U.S. consumers and businesses threw 2.7 million tons of televisions, computers, cellphones and hard-copy peripherals (including printers, scanners, faxes) in the trash in 2009. And only about 25 percent of these were collected for recycling.

EcoATM’s reverse cellphone store opens on Friday at 10 a.m. at 347 Broome St. in New York.

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