’One Laptop Per Child’ Founder Recalls Challenges

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nicholas P. Negroponte, the driving force behind One Laptop Per Child-the non-profit organization that provides low-cost laptops to children around the globe-recalled the entrepreneurial obstacles he faced despite his philanthropic mission.

His presentation, jointly sponsored by the Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business and the Leadership Institute at Harvard College, provided students an opportunity to engage with a successful social entrepreneur and hear about the difficult progress Negroponte’s organization has made since its formation in 2005.

The OLPC has provided low-cost laptops to 2.5 million children in 40 countries since 2005, but Negroponte said the path has been challenging.

He said his concept of a cheap laptop was initially dismissed, but contacts he acquired while working at MIT since the late 1960s helped the project gain traction.

Still, it lacked commercial interest until word of the project began to spread.

He soon drew interest from long-established computing giants Intel and Microsoft, he said, introducing competition into the market and providing new, unforeseen challenges for his philanthropic organization.

“The real difference was between thinking about children as a mission versus a market,” Negroponte said.

He said he expected his organization’s “Mother Theresa shield”-the protection afforded by OLPC’s partnership with the United Nations and what he considered the goodwill of its cause-would help the organization avoid the corporate pressure.

Source: The Harvard Crimson (link opens in a new window)