It was then that he was confronted with the first problem – funding. “People were not willing to donate their money to a project which had no results, no impact up until that point,” said Watson. So he decided to take a summer job to raise funds for his expenses. Watson said his summer job remains one of the most interesting things he has ever done, even after the many experiences he has had on the computer project.
“I was operating heavy machinery for a private road construction project in the United States. But about half way through, my job description changed to reclaiming land from a dilapidated house. This included knocking down the house with an excavator, which is pretty much any late teenager’s dream!” he recalled.
His summer job earned him enough to buy a plane ticket from Hong Kong to Nepal, a three-month entry visa, and five computers which he brought in his suitcase.
It was in Nepal where the charitable side of the project found its footing. Watson regularly updated his blog and posted photos, and the positive results of the project made people more willing to support him through donations. “Any doubts they may have had two years ago have been erased,” Watson said. His parents, who work in the investment management industry in Hong Kong and were hesitant about his project at first, also became more supportive. Watson’s father even visited him in both Nepal and Ghana.
The unreliable electricity in the places he worked was a great inconvenience. Watson said he would be working one moment and the lights would be out the next. He said it was incredibly frustrating to clone a drive, which takes five hours, only to have the power shut off in the last hour. “It was a real pain to teach for a few hours with the computers, arrive home, switch on the fan and then realize, ‘oh right, the power’s out’.”
Through his work, Watson realised that technology would bring further positive change to people in the developing world, especially students. However, Watson also saw that a lot of government policies in the developing world hurt individuals trying to make a difference.
“I could afford the 20 per cent taxation in Nepal because I had budgeted it into the cost of computers, but what of an entrepreneurial Nepali who has a great idea for this or that, only to be stopped by his own government? It’s especially frustrating in areas where change is only going to come from the small-scale, local, grassroots’ efforts.” Watson added that a lot of people in these areas were paying for policies that would not in any way benefit them.
He decided to take an additional gap year to further build up the project. In 2010, he registered himself as a non-profit-making organisation called SolarLEAP, which means he can claim tax exemptions and campaign for funds from larger donors.