One Million Cell Phone Challenge


by Brian Weinberg, Director, Recycle to Eradicate Poverty

Brian visiting local water well

Brian Weinberg (left)

Each of us has a unique set of convictions to pursue.  My own fell into place unexpectedly, after I read a Fortune Magazine article highlighting Dr. Muhammad Yunus’s vision to “put poverty into the museums.”

I had just arrived home, after studying Spanish in Buenos Aires and trekking 2,858 miles (4600km) alone throughout South America. Reading this article summoned the mental snapshots of several “Shanty Towns” from my recent trip, inspiring a personal call to action.

Argentina Shantytowns

I had heard the statistics and seen television ads or charity campaigns; however, my hand had lifted only to assist “the poor” on the right occasion and at my convenience. These numbers, though, did not allow me to fully comprehend the concept of poverty.  Seeing, speaking, and living with people in these situations put the reality of poverty into perspective for me.  I was able to see some of the images that make these daunting statistics. What does it mean when someone does not have “access to safe drinking water?” In the city of Lima, as I stood on the edge of a Peruvian mountain in the Andes, which overlooked 5 million out of the 9 million people living in poverty along the coastline, I realized the true meaning of these words. It meant the struggle of carrying government- distributed water, which had been poured into large blue barrels up the side of a mountain for personal/family access.weinberg21

The first thing that came to mind after reading the article was to find a way to call Yunus and help him.  I knew that I would somehow.  I carried the article around with me in my pocket for about two weeks thinking about how revolutionary the concept would be for the world.

So when I discovered “The Chiapas Project,” a Dallas-based microfinance organization, and its plans to create a program called Recycle to Eradicate Poverty (RTEP), there was no longer any question about my immediate future.

The goal was simple: recycle cell phones as a fundraiser for microfinance loans to the poor, brokering the loans through the Grameen Foundation, and the recycling through Phoneraiser. Since its inception at the University of North Texas in March 2007, Recycle to Eradicate Poverty has educated the community about the need to discard these items properly (because they contain toxic chemicals that can leach into water) and to become engaged in advancing the concept of microfinance loans to impoverished peoples. Today, anyone in the US can participate in this program for free, by requesting pre-paid mailers at

Spearheaded by young professionals and students, Recycle to Eradicate Poverty is pledging to beat what it calls the “One Million Cell Phone Challenge”. The objective is to obtain one million used cell phones before December 2009.  In doing so, RTEP can save up to 350 trillion gallons of water from likely pollution and create opportunities for 100,000 people to rise out of poverty through microfinance loans.

Help beat the one million cell phone challenge by ordering prepaid baggies from

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4 Responses to “One Million Cell Phone Challenge”

  1. Schevus Says:

    Thanks for sharing this link. I was actually just pondering what to do with a couple of old phones of my own. I am also a big fan of Mr. Yunus. I just finished his book “Banker To The Poor,” which was a fantastic read. Best wishes.

    – Schev

  2. Alethea Says:

    Thanks to Grameen for publishing this story link in their Facebook status! Otherwise I would have missed it.

  3. Brian Weinberg Says:

    Schevus and Alethea,

    Thank you for commenting and Recycling to Eradicate Poverty.

    With your help in blogging, spreading the word about, this far out challenge becomes within reach.

    Hope to keep in touch and let me know if you have any questions.


  4. Tanya Lacy Says:

    I love the concept of using systems to intercept poverty. This indirectly links to the system you’ve so cleverly devised with recycling the phones.
    Can smart bright people out there problems solve to see if we can think of ways that microfinance can be used to fund eternal or replicable business systems in addition to funding a single entrepreneur? It’s known as microfranchising. I’m an advocate for economic self reliance and can see we can get there faster if we match micro finance with microfranchising models. Perhaps engaging the private sector and franchisors to contribute intellectual property, team’s talent, resources to developing communities. I’ve found on the ground in Ethiopia, the locals we’re working with respond to the language of ‘eternal enterprise’.
    Can we link micro-franchising with micro-lending models to intercept poverty? would love to engage with anyone on this. Thank-you to all who are engaged to intercept poverty. Good Works Work!
    Tanya – Founder Intercept

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