Friday, October 12, 2007

Give a Laptop and Get One

Give a Laptop and Get One

Nicholas Negroponte hopes the One Laptop Per Child's "Give 1 Get 1" initiative will jump-start distribution of the new XO Laptop.

After two-and-a-half years of relentless organizing, product development, and evangelizing, the so-called $100 laptop is ready to go into production in October. At a time like this, you'd think that ├╝bertechnology visionary Nicholas Negroponte and his team at the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization would be stockpiling champagne for a blowout celebration. Far from it.
While the notebook computer for schoolchildren in underdeveloped nations is just about ready for prime time, the goal of distributing tens of millions of the cute green-and-white machines still seems a far-off dream. The reasons: The computers, now called XO Laptops, will cost about $188 each to produce initially, nearly twice the original estimate; and, so far, not a single government has written a check.

That's why on Sept. 24, the OLPC announced a money-raising gambit called "Give 1 Get 1." Originally, the organization had no set plans to sell or distribute the computers in the U.S. Now it's hoping to capitalize on widespread interest from American gadget fans to raise enough money to pay for shipments of XO Laptops to four countries that are among the poorest of the poor: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, and Rwanda.

Laptop Donations
Under Give 1 Get 1, which will run for two weeks starting Nov. 12, U.S. customers will be able to pay $399 to buy two laptops: one for themselves and one to be shipped to a child in one of those four countries. About half of the purchase price will be tax-deductible. Also, starting Sept. 24, people can simply "give" a laptop by making a $200 donation. Those who'd like to participate can sign up for e-mail alerts on the Web site www.XOgiving.org. The machines, which are being built in Taiwan, will begin shipping to U.S. customers in January or February.
While the highly quotable Negroponte has been a master at getting publicity for OLPC, this effort is mostly about cash: "It has become important for us to raise money this way," says Negroponte. "I have met with about 30 heads of state. They're all enthusiastic. But there's a huge gulf between a head of state shaking your hand and a minister making a bank transfer." Negroponte won't predict how many laptops might be sold through Give 1 Get 1, but factory capacity presents no limitations: Quanta Computer in Taiwan can produce 1 million XO Laptops a month, if need be.

Interviewed during a stop in Europe, Negroponte admitted that the difficulties of his task sometimes discourage him. "You wake up some mornings feeling that way, but then I think about all the good people who are helping us and supporting us," he says. He hopes that by subsidizing the purchase of computers in the four countries, OLPC will prompt other countries to make their own investments.

Read more about the Give a Laptop and Get One at http://www.businessweek.com/technology/.

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