The Fridge Door: OLPC and Interactive Sponsorship

olpc learning club
Luis wants an XO laptop too!
Like many families, our fridge is a magnet for fridge magnets. One of those magnets is a 3x4 frame that holds a print of a smiling Luis.

Luis is a World Vision child, sponsored by my son, a university student who can barely manage to pay tuition, buy texts, house and feed himself – let alone sponsor a child.

So, in the end, he resorted to some creative sponsorship tactics - I ended up sponsoring him as the sponsor of the sponsored child – which leads me to the topic of this post: getting creative with charitable sponsorship.

As I read Robert Arrowsmith's "Mesh Networking XO Laptop Users – Globally" , it occurred to me that One Laptop Per Child, with its global reach, might offer an excellent opportunity for collaboration between the XO community and NGOs such as World Vision and its "Sponsored Child" program.

To be clear: this is not about purchasing XO laptops for World Vision.

This idea focuses on the emerging XO network and its multimedia resources and how they might allow NGO donors to either, in real time or close to it, see, hear and experience the impact of their charitable donations. Again, I'm not referring to the G1G1 donations but rather the various NGO programs that are looking for donors.

An evolving XO infrastructure could potentially make NGO sponsorship programs so immediate, so interactive and so compelling that it might result in a much larger draw of sponsors and their resources.
Take this idea a step further: a future XO infrastructure could allow sponsor groups and sponsored communities to, in near real time, work together as teams to manage and implement donor projects.

An XO based interactive "Child Sponsorship" program is only one possibility.

Others could include sponsoring a village, a school, a new well, a teacher and so on. On the other side of the equation, it could be done in a group setting rather than as individuals. Interactive sponsorship even changes the sponsors' donated resources from being just strictly dollars to being dollars plus the sponsor group's experience, knowledge, problem solving skills etc.

On occasion I've asked Luis questions, as he smiles back at me from the fridge door, such as - how much of my donation did you actually get? - or, what did you or your parents use it for? - or, were you or your parents even asked to participate in that decision making process? Unfortunately, all I get in reply is a smile ...

Don't misunderstand me – I trust World Vision's expertise and good intentions to have used our family's donation well.

Nigeria OLPC
International help with geography

Imagine though, if as a sponsor family, we could see and hear first hand through OX's mesh network, multimedia resources and an intervening server network, how things are going for Luis and his family at home and at school.

From the fridge door, Luis is always smiling back at us – frozen in time and space. How would things look in near real time and interactively? Perhaps we'd get a better feel for how things are improving or not improving – for him, his family, his teacher, his classroom, that decrepit village well Luis included in one of his video clips ... you get the idea.

While an idea like this may have potential for rewarding and motivating sponsors, it also comes with many, as yet unanswered, questions and pitfalls – not the least of which is language barriers.

Here's a partial list:

  • to determine the viability of "interactive sponsoring" would require a NGO to undertake a trial project with the objective of producing measurable results by the end of the trail period.
  • convincing a NGO to participate in a trial could be difficult – there's the ever present danger of sponsors becoming overly intrusive.
  • access to sponsored communities would need to be tightly moderated, structured and controlled.
  • if interaction is only via XO laptops, then the sponsor base is limited to G1G1 participants.
  • could real time virtual interfaces to the mesh network be constructed for mainline PC operating systems?
  • could XO laptops be made more available to NGO's willing to trail interactive sponsoring?
  • if the OLPC Foundation and an NGO supported an interactive collaboration between a sponsor group and a sponsored community, could such a program help the OLPC Foundation and the NGO better market themselves to their respective client groups?
  • would near real time interactive feedback from the sponsored community or sponsored individual to the donor group, or individual, improve the efficacy of donated resources?
  • can this kind of idea work in an environment where language translation is required for it to function?
Lots of problems and questions but I suspect the payoff of donor groups collaborating directly and interactively with sponsored communities is well worth the effort.

Is the present XO laptop, its software and its network ready and capable for what's being proposed here? Likely not yet - but they might be in the near future – the XO initiative is not now dormant just because the little green beauties are shipping.

This post was submitted by Dennis Major. If you have an opinion on One Laptop Per Child that you would like to share, write a Guest Post today.

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Recently, I communicated with World Vision regarding about OLPC program. The below is my email and their reply:


Greetings World Vision,

I'm a sponsor of a child in Cambodia through World Vision program. Recently, I heard about OLPC project. This project aims to provide
children in third world countries laptops to improve their education.
Those laptops are very easy to use, water-resistant, and no electricity infrastructure required. Currently, OLPC sale laptops to individuals in US and Canada for $399. For each laptop OLPC sold, it will donate a laptop to third world countries like Cambodia, Nigeria
... The sale is from since November 12nd until December 31th this year.

I'm very interested in this project. I'm planing to buy one laptop for my sponsored child and donate another to other children. I know that laptop would benefit the child's education tremendously. I believe there would be other sponsors interested in this program as well. If I participate in this project alone, the cost will be $399 for each laptop (I get one, and donate another one). However, if there is a coordinated effort to buy large quantities of laptops, the price would be cheaper. In addition, you can specify where the donated laptops to be sent.

According to

Give 100+
$299 per laptop

Give 1000+
$249 per laptop

Give 10,000+
$199 per laptop

In my opinion, World Vision could benefit tremendously by this program. World Vision is dedicated to working with children. OLPC is
aiming at children education through its laptop program. If both organizations co-operate in the same village, town ... the benefit will be in order of magnitude.

The laptop per child program can only reach its full potential when every child in the same class, school has one laptop. That's because
those little laptops is design to communicate and transfer information to each other.

If World Vision is willing to step up the effort and organizing the purchase in large quantities of those laptops so we can direct theses laptops to World Vision sponsored children. I'm very happy to participate.


Their reply:

Thank you so much for your email and obvious concern for those children living in desperate circumstances. We apologize for this delay in response as we have been handling a backlog of Christmas requests.

Unfortunately, there are several reasons why purchasing a lap top for your sponsored child is not a good idea.

To begin, the focus of the areas where we are specifically working is based on immediate relief distribution, and long-term development so that self reliance can be achieved.

In addition, our "child protection policy" would not permit the individual presentation of a laptop for a child we are trying to protect, when he/she may be naive to the basic use of one.

Sadly, history has shown us that those wishing ill intent could easily bypass international boundaries, and we take every precaution possible to protect the children in our care.

I hope you can also appreciate that many of these children may have never had access to a computer laptop. We do not have the resources to teach them, or their teachers on how to use one.

This type of gadget could not only cause jealousy among a child's peers, but it could place any one of these children in grave danger, should someone else wish to sell this laptop for personal gain.

To explain further, the chances of lap-top purchased in Canada making it all the way to a developing country would be slim. Please understand that in developing countries where items like lap tops are rare in the areas where we work, it could easily be stolen on route through the postal system, sold on the black market, and we would have no way of tracing it. I hope you can appreciate that the postal system in developing countries is far different from our own Canada Post.

I suspect that the above information is a great disappointment to you, but thank you again for your passion in helping us help the world's children who live in poverty.

Again, thank you for your email. We are encouraged by the ongoing commitment by caring Canadians like you.

May God richly bless you during this season of Hope!

Merry Christmas.

Kindest regards,

I think that a program like that may be regarded as intrusive, and we certainly would have to be conscious of cultural implications. But I do think that periodic reports from the classrooms that benefit from the G1G1 (or similar) programs would be an excellent motivator for donors -- and it would provide feedback to developers.

Another neat thing may be creating pen-pal type programs between children in different nations, so that they can get a taste of what life is like outside of their village/town/city. Such one-to-one programs would be much more personal than "look up something on the Wikipedia and tell us about their culture." Indeed, there is probably no reason for a teacher to be asking them what they learn. Sometimes curiosity is enough.

I like Dennis' point of view - We all are a little unsure as to where our sponsorship dollars go and if it is being used responsibly.

Michael also points out that we're very much in an 'adoption scenario' where it is somewhat counterproductive to expose 'who donated to whom'.

I would propose however that a broader brush stroke could be applied where 'First Day' donors are appraised of the progress within the first schools to be gifted with XO laptops.

This nicely sidesteps the personal issues involved and also allows the students from those schools to say thanks as a school to people that did participate in G1G1.

One significant step that OLPC could take would be to email those that donated to G1G1 and provide a printable certificate that could indeed be placed on the Fridge. Of course this would be issued after deployment of laptops so that mention could be made of where the laptops were sent to.

I would dearly like to see students at schools make use of their potential and perhaps create their own school website where donors can visit anonymously and see pictures of students learning with their XO laptops.

Likewise, will be providing a place for donors to post a little about themselves if they desire.

Your project does not fit world Vision's plan. They seem not to understand the OLPC plan and are very protective of their group - children.

And the use of OLPC machine really requires many machines in a community because the include a sat link for the school so the whole community can access thru the mesh.

If you want to interact with someone you are helping, go to, an amazing organization thru which you may make LOANS which you get to choose to whom they go. They have local associates in many parts of the world who help set up the people who apply and vet them and their projects. The people are inspiring.

But OLPC xo machines are designed for having a bunch of them in the same area. The kids can teach each other. One kid on his lonesome could get really stuck.


Every word in the WV reply speaks to their ignorance of the basic concepts behind OLPC. While this may not be their fault, it would further speak to the failures of communication time and time again when it comes to the OLPC project.

The notion that a child who has never seen a laptop before could not work with the OLPC seems to be the VERY thing it was designed for.

Perhaps the donors in this case need to provide direction to the NGO and not look for it from the NGO. This is not to say they should go about telling the NGO how to help but perhaps when to dig their head out of the sand and look at new the OLPC. Then they might see that while giving ONE notebook may or may not be a bad idea, giving 20, or perhaps 30 i.e. an entire village, might in fact be a good idea.



Thanks for the tip re - It does seem to offer the real possibility of interactively helping people help themselves.

I'm going to take a shot at getting all of our family together - 6 of us - and jointly kick in money towards a common family entrepreneurial loan - it's such a great idea!

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