Local OLPC Assembly Justification: Employment, Investment, Empowerment

   
   
   
   
   

It's pleasantly surprising to see my previous call for Open Source OLPC software and hardware move from a humble post on OLPC News into the mainstream press.


Local OLPC XO assembly, please

It's even more heartening to note that I am not the only one to believe that local laptop production and assembly is a key requirement to sustainable technology implementation.

In the "Two visions for delivering PCs to emerging nations" article on C-Net, Michael Kanellos explored the competing production mindsets to supplying the world's children with educational computers.

On the one hand, you have major semiconductor companies like VIA Technologies and Intel promoting local component suppliers, computer assemblers, and support & maintenance companies. On the other hand you have One Laptop Per Child, who has concentrated OLPC XO production in Taiwan, and by doing so substantially increased Taiwan's computer production revenue.

While Nicholas Negroponte is correct to say that his OLPC method produces the lowest absolute cost for hardware, his reasoning around manufacturing jobs and local production justification are way off.

Negroponte, for his part, says the jobs that local PC manufacturing can provide are somewhat illusory, particularly if the cost of hardware goes up.

"Every country I visit, bar none, even the small ones, ask if they can build the XO in their country. My reply is in two parts. One, yes, if you will accept the price going up. Two, if you understand that this is really assembly and that assembly jobs are both few and not great jobs," he wrote.

"The only justification to build the XO in each country is national pride--which is certainly important. Otherwise, local manufacturing does not affect economics as all the parts are (imported) anyway."

Agreed, local production will increase the price of the Children's Machine XO's, but that is money, investment, employment recycled back into the local economy.

olpc $100 laptop production
Quanta's OLPC XO Production Line

Government funds for those increased costs will go to local companies, not Taiwanese firms, and basic economics teaches us that the multiplier effect will magnify those payments throughout the economy, easily offsetting the increased cost with increased economic activity.

Now while Negroponte might think an assembly job isn't great, not like his jet-set lifestyle, it is a desirable job in the economies that OLPC is targeting. The best example: Quanta Computer.

Quanta offers those very same assembly jobs in Changshu without a labour scarcity problem. No matter if its fair labour OLPC laptop production or not, I know a whole continent or two of people looking for harder jobs that pay less.

National pride aside, assembly jobs where all the components are imported and only the labor is local, are coveted even in relatively well off countries like Macedonia. There, the majority of the apparel industry operates on the loan system - companies are shipped all the fabric, thread and accessories pre-cut. Macedonian firms only supply the workers to sew and assemble the garments yet are besieged with job applicants.

And no matter if you ignore the multiplier effect, or think labor-only assembly isn't a good job, local manufacturing and assembly teach valuable enterprise management and job skills that can be spun off into other areas of the economy. Just ask Japan, China, and any other "Asian Tiger" - that's exactly how they climbed the economic development ladder.

Or better yet, just ask Moussa.

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9 Comments

Your concerns are just about hardware, or about software too?

What about Lebanon develop it's own software, instead learn to use a foreigner, expensive and closed software? (http://www.geekcorps.org/2007/02/microsoft-geekcorps-team-up-mi/)

well, you can understand these guys are not corporate people...
they were happy to be able to make such a wonderfull laptop...
I mean really!!!

Jose,

It might surprise you to learn that some Lebanese companies use Microsoft software to create profitable products, because for them it is the most efficient way to enter the market.

Or that even Nicholas Negroponte & OLPC have a Microsoft alliance http://www.olpcnews.com/software/operating_system/microsoft_windows_olpc.html

Remember, the goal is national development, through technology, not technology for technology's sake.

I thought the goal was universal access to high-quality education. But hey, what do I know.

Sounds like Wayan is imposing his own goals on the OLPC project.

VIA and Intel -- don't they sponsor Geekcorps or something?

The OLPC Mission:

"constructionism is our goal; XO is our means of getting there. It is a very cool, even revolutionary machine, and we are very proud of it. But we would also be delighted if someone built something better, and at a lower price."

And I say that local production would be a lower price - higher hardware cost but greater long-term economic benefit than sending all the production money to Taiwan

Efficiency over-and-above Profit maximisation.

Canceration worship (the practice of maximising profits over-and-above all else) is killing us.

the OLPC project should at least be above that kind of shit.

you're absolutely right about the "local production" thing, wayan. "profit over and above all else" utterly and insanely distorts absolutely everything.

anyway.

if you want to actually see this hardware, go buy a koolu.com computer: it's the same motherboard.

Luke, the koolu machine is certainly similar to the XO but it isn't correct to say they are the same. The Geode GX (XO), for example, doesn't have some of the features the LX (Koolu) has.

As for local manufacturing, Brazil had a strict "reserved market" policy for computers from 1977 to 1992. Some people here remember it as a dark age ("no Macs or Ataris!") while others feel that extremely valuable skills were aquired making any sacrifices endured worth it, only to have it all thrown away in the import frenzy of the 1990s. So this is an very sensitive issue in Brazil with highly polarized opinions.

Great Product

However I have not seen South Africa on the list. I am very much interested in getteing my hands on one of the OLPC units. Can someone help or tell me how to get one a.s.a.p

Kinnd Regards

There goes any hope of local production: http://www.digitimes.com/systems/a20070515PD220.html

Mary Lou Jepsen, the founding chief technology officer of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), recently said about 92% of the Quanta Computer-made OLPC notebook's (XO) components are sourced from Taiwan.

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