One Laptop per Child Association will be gathering 300 MBA, graduate and undergraduate business students to develop innovative business cases for XO laptop deployment under the auspices of the Global Case Challenge. But I wonder why.
OLPC Business Case is Already Evident
The business case for OLPC has been clear for years now. Governments will buy computers for their students, ICT4E assessments be damned. They no longer question the need for computers - as Nicholas Negroponte himself says:
"So there's only one question on the table and that's how to afford it? That's the only question. There is no other question - it's just the economics."
Its Business Plan Execution That's Needed
With the business case now evident, let's talk about what OLPC really needs - business plan execution. Its not sexy, its not fun, and its not a party with 300 students. Its:
- A clear focus on execution: Drop the XO-3 distractions and get back to basics - leveraging developed world donors to support pilot deployments of XO-1 laptops, that secure volume sales to national governments.
- Positioning XO laptops in educational ecosystems: Enough with the dismissal of curriculum, content, and support - OLPC needs to be honest with itself and with its buyers. OLPC doesn't have the capacity to develop the supporting curriculum, content, or infrastructure for the XO, and recipient governments will need to increase their budgets well beyond $200 per laptop to pay for it
- Seed pilot projects: Pilots are what convince buyers to invest the millions that an OLPC deployment costs. So make it easy for governments, even NGOs and private groups to buy smaller lots of XO laptops (100-1000 computers) to test and try out.
- Work with exiting government processes: OLPC's most successful deployment to date - Uruguay - happened through a (mostly) transparent purchasing process. Replicate that process with other governments interested in computers for children at scale.
Yet, Christoph brings up a great point - what does a business plan for selling laptops have to do with an education project?
Where is the Education Case?
OLPC should be having a Global Education Case Challenge, where masters students and educational leaders build new learning models, pedagogy, and content. This is what is missing from OLPC's solution set - not a business case. Let's get Sugar out of perpetual beta. Populate it with clock-stopping hot activities that rival the XO hardware, tie in with national learning objectives, and come with extensive teaching guides and learning aids.
Or here is a wild thought - what about child-parent learning activities? Break down the usual barriers between elder and youth with innovative cross-generational exercises that reinforce extra-curricular XO laptop usage and ensure it's child-owned.
Any of these educational cases would be more valuable to student and OLPC than $250 attendance fees for business competitions in Boston, London, Shanghai and Dubai. OLPC doesn't need business advice - it needs to execute its existing business plan and build out its educational impact.