This article sums up my concerns nicely. So often people try to help but end up mis-targeting culturally or not defining the objectives correctly. Is a laptop that's readable in the sun really what's going to help people get out of poverty? Is that what's necessary? Or is it a cool design challenge?
I have this innate sense that what will work in Africa will be deceptively simple. It will be removing cotton subsidies in the US, or a robust, cheap device that filters water for drinking and increases the average lifespan, thereby making people *want* to be successful and entrepreneurial because they will be around to enjoy it. Or maybe it will just be getting the governments stable and honest. Or a successful African entrepreneur who builds a business on the mobile networks (why is this a laptop and not a phone?). It won't be a fancily designed laptop that is the western world's idea of what an african child wants to use.
The charitable world doesn't have a market allowing successful ideas to rise and unsuccessful ones to fail, so how do we evaluate the effectiveness of an effort, when a charity has an incentive to pretend that what it's doing is great, even if it isn't?
This is clearly a very cool laptop, with awesome design principles and creative ideas. Apparently the give one, get one program sold 162,000 laptops. But I think the cool things they did with this laptop are perhaps more targeted towards kids in developed countries, and as such these principles and cool ideas should live and die on the market like any others.
From the article:
Q: We understand that Bill Gates and some others in this business have criticized this initiative as untenable. What is your response to this?
A: I don't respond to such criticism. Because criticizing this project is like criticizing the Church, or the Red Cross.
-Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the $100 laptop movement, as quoted by
The Daily Vanguard, Nigeria