While I do think that the current incarnation of OLPCoprs Africa is a good idea gone bad, do note that I mention its a good idea to begin with. Just not the right way to spend $3.5 million of student donations.
If One Laptop Per Child and One Here, One There want to leverage college student enthusiasm to efficiently effect change, then may I suggest they be practical about what college students can do in 10 weeks.
Make marketing the obvious focus
While both organizations attempt to put a learning sheen on OLPCorps, its a simple marketing effort. OLPC wants to have activity across Africa, and OHOT wants to show it can do more than use cute photos of African children to raise money from privileged American youth. So cut the spin and be honest - make half the openings (50 teams) be a 10 week summer internship for aspiring marketers.
Screen for and demand that each group be good at photography, video, editing, and graphic design. Make them submit a promo ad to be considered and demand they produce a marketing campaign by the October media-fest at OLPC headquarters.
Now if OLPC wants OLPCorps to really have impact, make the focus of these campaigns be the Ministries of Education in Africa - not the American public as was G1G1's focus. And be clear about that with the students so they can research Ministry needs and concerns and produce effective collateral to convince them that OLPC is the best learning option available - hint: cute photos don't work.
Devote teams to measurement and evaluation
The best way to convince Ministries of Education that OLPC is a better investment than other options available - from teacher training to chalkboards - is to show them the impact XO laptops have on learning. Have 25 teams devoted to getting hard data on the effect that XO laptops have on learning and education in their recipient communities.
These students should be from the social and hard sciences - aspiring teachers, sociologists, and statisticians - and ready to cast a cold, objective eye on the One Laptop Per Child program and its actual implementation costs and impact on communities. They should also be told very explicitly that OLPC wants objective results from their internships, be they positive or negative.
I know this is a radical departure from OLPC's current operations, where there isn't any real focus on measurement or evaluation of its programs, but without independent studies of their projects, the one laptop per child idea and the OLPC organization itself, face a huge creditability gap.
Offer qualified interns as long-term volunteers
Let's be honest - 10 weeks, with 2 of those weeks spent in training, is not long enough to effect any lasting change in-country. So for those college students that want to have real impact, offer 25 of them the opportunity for 6 month internships from June through December 2009.
But don't just offer long-term assignments to anyone, make sure these volunteers have the capacity to be a benefit to their communities. Look for volunteers with local language skills, experience with technology in the classroom, and previous experience in Africa. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers should be a special focus as they already know much about volunteering to effect change in the developing world.
And make sure that you give the recipient organizations the resources to be able to manage these volunteers. A matching $10,000 organizational grant for their volunteer management expenses would be a start, as volunteers are not free. They have a management and administrative cost, often overlooked by both the volunteer and the recipient.
Run all OLCorps through existing OLPC deployments
And that brings me the final, but most important OLPCorps Africa design change. This idea that 100 new small deployments will bloom through 10 week volunteer experiences is fantasy. Be practical and build on the investment of others from the start. Have all 100 OLPCorps Africa volunteers intern with ongoing OLPC deployments.
From Ghana to Kenya, Ethiopia to South Africa, there are multiple small deployments of XO laptops across Africa that would love to have qualified interns and the the support to manage them. Have each group submit their internship desires and play matchmaker between earnest college students and program that can utilize their enthusiasm.
As an added bonus to those existing deployments, send them all 10,000 of those XO laptops earmarked for OLPCorps. Unlike isolated 100 computer deployments, destined to be punchlines for Engadget, adding XO's to existing programs will expand immediate and long-term impact.
Tighten up the volunteer support infrastructure
As usual, OLPC has a OLPCorps FAQ, which answers most layman's questions about the program. But as someone who managed a volunteer program in Africa, I have grave concerns that these volunteers will be woefully under-supported in the field.
Where is the in-country support for volunteers? From basic partner screening to medical insurance and evacuation plans, OLPC will need to be very involved with each OLPCorps team. Saying "Its not our problem," will not be an option if an OLPC-sponsored volunteer is hit by a Nigerian scooter in Kafanchan.
What is a problem now is OLPCorps leadership. With a job ad posted now, whomever takes over the program will most likely start in April, giving them two months to shortlist volunteers, organize the Rwanda conference, and motivate 100 teams of college students.
May I suggest that OLPC look to bring back one of the laid-off staff to cut that delay from weeks to days. Who ever leads OLPCorps will need every minute to prepare.