OLPC Ends Support of Small Deployments


From Morgan Collett we have just learned that OLPC discontinued "Change the World", its program for donors to give 100 or more laptops to schools or other small pilot projects. Morgan noticed this email, which is a shock to all of us rooting for community-sponsored deployments:

olpc developer
No XO's for little deployments
Unfortunately, as some of you might have heard "Change the World" aka "Give a School" aka "Give 100, Give 1000" will cease to exist. We are just waiting for the info to be taken off the main website (any second now). We are doing this in an effort to refocus back to large-scale deployments that create change in a major way. We WILL honor all requests that we have received prior to the info being taken off the website.

I am quite saddened by this abandonment of grassroots interventions. I hear the talk about how small deployments take as much effort as large ones, with less bang, and I reject that thought forcefully.

It's the small deployments that generate the excitement for larger efforts. It's pilots that give us guidance for national rollouts. It's the OLPC movements in South Africa, Oceania, and South Asia that are giving OLPC is real successes. And to discount, or outright abandon them is foolish.

When will OLPC learn that its needs community solutions to XO deployment scale blues?

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I just read the amazing news. Last Saturday we sat down with 3 Foundations in The Netherlands to discuss how to proceed. We finally concluded the XO is still the device to go for in the developing countries we work for in spite its shortcomings etc. Now it is not possible anymore!

We wrote in our evaluation of OLPC http://www.olpcnews.com/implementation/evaluations/evaluation_recommendations_for.html : “Seeing is believing is a very basic human and business principle to convince decision makers. We are surprised we still have to convince OLPC small projects are important. Our opinion is without the will to support small‐scale deployments or pilots, the XO will not be accepted in most of the countries on a large‐scale base. Use the slogan: ‘start small, scale fast’ instead.”
OLPC is choosing another way, I think a dead end.

I must admit that the OLPC acts as if they are incapable of fulfilling orders. They seem to be unable to build a stock of laptops and simply duild them on demand.

I wouldn't be surprised when it turns out that some of their suppliers will only take large orders on very tight shipping schedules.


I love the audacity of the comment from Chuck Kane in PC World's article:

President and Chief Operating Officer Chuck Kane said OLPC is committed to small-scale deployments. "Would you like to purchase 1,000 computers and change the world?" Kane asked in an e-mail.

As if 1,000 laptops is a small deployment. That's $200,000 in upfront commitment - not small scale by most organization's standards.

This is ridiculous - why can't OLPC perform remotely as well as every other computer manufacturer on the planet? Especially with a first-mover product with (for now) unmatched features. I want 1-laptop deployments, 5-laptop deployments, and 10-laptop deployments. I really hope there's a good reason why that's not as easy as it seems.


Down here in Colombia where I am now, they sell small portions of shampoo at local stores. The supply chain is longer and the price is higher. OLPC is trying big bang sales, since its smaller workforce is not available to handle the time it takes to sell 50 laptops.

OLPC needs some Colgate-Palmolive marketing skills to penetrate its potential markets. Colgate is EVERYWHERE here. Possibly, other companies could handle the sales in a given country. OLPC Colombia gets a bundle and sells them to all of Colombia. OLPC USA sells >5000 amounts but the local country rep or organization handles the rest.

My sister in law works for Wurth from Germany selling its products in Cali. She gets a designated area. She is getting those items sold and OLPC needs to allow others to handle low volume implementations.

This news saddens me very much. The Laval University, at Quebec, in partnership with the Teacher training school of Libreville in Gabon let us work in concert in order to develop a local expertise for the use of the XO in Gabonese school context. Last year, with the purchase of 10 XO through the program Give One Get One, we could work with pupils of the elementary school also with students of the Master in sciences of education. All that with an aim of initiating a pilot project in an elementary school. I understand the economic issues which OLPC must face, and I wish that the foundation flourishes again, but it is important to support the small initiatives which contribute largely to the educational mission of the foundation.

Maybe we should take a look back in time before we complain about this supposed change in strategy.

The OLPC project was originally planning to sell the XO to governments in an attempt to deploy them in the millions. The people in these countries were supposed to take up supporting these machines, as well as develop culturally appropriate activities. Since the OLPC foundation would only provide minimal support, costs would be reduced. Since they would be rolled out in huge deployments, economies of scale were supposed to drive down costs.

For various reasons, that did not happen. Ministries of education, rightly, wanted to evaluate the technology in classrooms prior to these huge rollouts. Sales evaporated for political reasons and due to competition from companies like Intel. The OLPC foundation needed sales, so they lowered the bar on deployment size and used G1G1 to raise funds.

That has pretty much failed. It should not be a surprise that the OLPC foundation wants to go back to plan A (which probably had a lot more thought put into it anyway).

We should not be griping and moaning about this backtracking. The G1G1 program gave many people access to these machines, in order to see what an educational computer could look like. Besides, those who are interested in computers in education still have other avenues to explore thanks to the OLPC project. Sugar is still available. You can toss it on a USB key and use it on a regular laptop or desktop. And that's a good thing, since there are many nice educational activities based upon Sugar.

OLPC has incredible good will, enthusiasm and commitment at the grass roots level.
To date, there is very little evidence of the same commitment at the BIG roll out end of deployments.
We need to be finding ways to capitalize on the grass roots support and empowering it, not pushing it aside as too hard.
I am not sure it has to be one or the other, but I do know if you organize for BIG, you cannot do small, but if you are clever, you can organize for small and still take the Big wins.

Just a reminder: This shift moves OLPC back toward its original 2005 position, "No pilots, no proofs-of-concepts, we need orders of 1 million or we're not shipping."

It was nutty then, it's nutty now.

(I suppose it's ironic when an organization that's focused on empowering networks of individual students in learner-centered and autonomous groups retreats to centralized sales and distribution approaches.)

It is sad to know that OLPC won’t able to support the Small Deployments any longer. It is really unpleasant for those children whose parents are incapable of buying them a laptop or a PCs. OLPC needs some marketing skills to penetrate its potential markets. They started their job well but may due to some wrong strategies it has to face these penalties.
Suzzane Waltz