Sunday, November 25, 2007

One Laptop Per Child Shows Nonprofits' Power

Nicholas Negroponte, the chairman of One Laptop Per Child and one of the founders of Wired magazine, was featured this weekend in the Wall Street Journal. In 2005, Negroponte unveiled his plan to design a 100-dollar laptop and get it in the hands of 150 million of the world's poorest schoolchildren. Read the transcript of his Nov. 2005 presentation "The $100 Laptop: The Next Two Billion People to Go Digital" to the Carnegie Council in New York City where he talks about open source, relating it to Wikipedia:

Open source is a very controversial subject. If you have not seen the Wikipedia, I urge you to do so. The Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia, written by the readers. When you do Google searches now, very often the Wikipedia entry comes up.

You say, how could that possibly work? Somebody can go in there and type complete garbage. But the truth is that it is self-cleansing. Somebody else reads it and finds out it's wrong and corrects it. It is so current and up-to-date that within 24 hours after Bush nominated my older brother for director of national intelligence, it was in my entry. It said, "Nicholas Negroponte, the brother of the nominee for director"—and I didn't put it there; he didn't put it there. How did it get there?

Encyclopedia Britannica can't compete. It is not that this is a free encyclopedia; it is a better encyclopedia. And that is what open source is about.

(By the way, you can read the Policy Innovations article here where we coined the phrase "Wiki Influence." That article has been one of the most popular articles in Policy Innovations this year.)

The Wall Street Journal article describes how companies such as Intel have been ramping up efforts to build a laptop that would compete for those emerging markets.

Blogger Matt Asay makes the case that open source means more freedom:

The good news, of course, is that developing nations win as competition ramps up, even if One Laptop Per Child isn't the organization ultimately selling the laptops.

The bad news, however, will be if these vendors use their cheap laptops to entrench themselves in developing markets, such that choice is dampened for decades. This is where open source needs to flex its political clout and stress that price is not the only consideration for countries looking to adopt technology for their children. Freedom should also be a critical factor. This means open source.

I think the cool story here is that a nonprofit, albeit one headed by a person with great ideas (Negroponte calls himself an ideas guy), influence, and contacts, was able to change the market, forcing the big technology companies to compete or lose out. This story is a great example of how NGOs and nonprofits are changing the world, just as Carnegie Endowment head Jessica Matthews predicted in her famous 1997 article "Power Shift" in Foreign Affairs. Here is a pertinent excerpt:
The most powerful engine of change in the relative decline of states and the rise of nonstate actors is the computer and telecommunications revolution, whose deep political and social consequences have been almost completely ignored. Widely accessible and affordable technology has broken governments' monopoly on the collection and management of large amounts of information and deprived governments of the deference they enjoyed because of it.

1 comment:

Wayan @ OLPC News said...

If you want to read more of Negroponte's speeches on OLPC, may I suggest OLPC Talks - a transcript archive of OLPC presentations