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Business - Written by on Monday, September 24, 2007 11:12 - 2 Comments

Tech solutions to under-development

We’ve written a couple of times about friend of New Paradigm’s Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 laptop project (see here and here), and while most of us are effusive in our praise of the program, I for one am rather ambivalent about it.

It’s not that it’s not a great initiative; its potential for improving access to educational materials and the Net is great. But in the context of developing countries, and in particular the least-developed countries, there are much more immediate needs. So when I read this article on the BBC about the project I couldn’t help but think “no kidding.” In it, Negroponte notes, “I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a cheque written…And yes, it has been a disappointment.”

But herein lies the disconnect between what we’ve hyped as technological solutions to under-development and reality. While this project stands to create substantial long-term benefits for future generations, it doesn’t put food on the table, power in street lights, or create jobs in the short-term. A good friend of mine, and former colleague at TakingITGlobal, likes to tout the “information as power” argument with respect to projects such as this but I’m a structural power guy at heart and thus am more in tune with the “money as power” thinking behind projects such as Kiva.org or Global Giving.



Question is whether any of these projects will work at a broader macro level – thoughts?


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Naumi Haque
Sep 24, 2007 14:24

According to the article, the cost of the laptop is $188 (still aiming for $100), but they are selling two for $399. So really, they are making a small profit if people decide to invest in the project.

Also, as Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing points out, the Get One, Give One campaign precludes those that get involved from recouping any tax benefits: “I just wish that this was structured as a donation to the Foundation, since I think they’d sell a ton of these if the purchasers could get a tax-receipt for them just before the tax year closes.”

Denis Hancock
Sep 27, 2007 18:56

I think there’s a Maslow’s Hierarchy analogy in here somewhere for the one laptop per child initiative…

What do you mean by broader macro level exactly?

Oddly, the thing that disturbs me about Kiva is that when I look through field partners the VAST, VAST majority have deliquency and default rates of zero.

That makes me suspicious that something funny is going on… how could that many micro loans be made and absolutely no deliquencies or defaults arise?

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