Was OLPC Success Hindered by its Nonprofit Status?


Technology in the classroom is becoming an ever common sight around the world. One organisation that aims to extend this further to developing regions is One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). But rather than operating with the intention to make a profit, OLPC distinctively runs as a non-profit with humanitarian motives; surrounded by highly competitive and established technology companies.

"Now once people start looking at this, they say, ah, this is a laptop project. Well, no, it's not a laptop project. It's an education project...I'm just going to get that thing built, and it turns out it's not so hard. Because laptop economics are the following: I say 50 percent here; it's more like 60, 60 percent of the cost of your laptop is sales, marketing, distribution and profit.

Now we have none of those, OK? None of those figure into our cost. Because first of all, we sell it at cost, and the governments distribute it"
Nicholas Negroponte speaking at the TED2006 conference (Monterey, California)

The purpose of the research paper, Has the non-profit business model adopted by One Laptop Per Child hindered its success? , is to investigate the impact of the non-profit model on OLPC's accomplishments so far and whether it is the right approach for the future. Focusing on the business aspect of OLPC, the paper studies some of the many characteristics of the non-profit sector and important areas of management applicable to non-profit organisations. Past news events related to OLPC are linked with these findings in order to form points of discussion.

Research survey found that the user community feels neglected from the OLPC initiative and that they should be better utilised to help support the non-profit approach.

The paper concludes that OLPC should still maintain their non-profit model as a way of differentiating themselves within the laptop market and whilst they might not consider themselves as having competition, better management is need to ensure that future goals and new laptop models are to become a success.

Mikul Patel is studying for his BSc Business Information Technology


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Being nonprofit does not excuse a poor product or not implementing its product properly!

Nonprofit does not excuse one from being brain dead!

Never once did OLPC inform me that I had a defective keyboard.

Non-profit status has little to do with success or failure of any project. GregYohn, my personal observation is that most technology products cannot last in a child's hands (perhaps even older ones). Companies that pride themselves with quality like apple have serious hardware and software quality issues. A lot of the effort OLPC puts in is well meaning but the proof of the pudding as they say is in the eating. It is only after implementation that you discover that not all the OLPC ideals are practical. We have seen articles about the high cost of ownership forcing schools to own the laptops. My opinion is a multi-tiered strategy rather than a one size fits all, and for multiple designs of laptop to account for (practical) use in various markets, and expansion to other learning media beyond the laptop like electronic blackboards and video media. This will probably not happen soon as it is expensive. I also believe in supporting initiatives of non-profits (and for profit) outside of the core OLPC help to increase the effectiveness of OLPC by spreading out the cost and effort.

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