Negroponte on OLPC's Next Steps

Last Updated Apr 9, 2008 2:58 PM EDT

I'm at Venture Summit East, listening to Nicholas Negroponte talk about One Laptop Per Child. He said that making it a non-profit company gave him two advantages over making the company a for-profit firm:

1) "I was able to attract better talent than I could have even with stock options."

2) "I could meet with heads of state because I had a mission."

He says that what's been weird about being a non-profit is having a competitive impact on large for-profit firms that make notebook computers.

There's been plenty written about OLPC's issues in the market, but panel moderator Larry Weber of W2 Group noted that Hewlett-Packard just yesterday announced a $200 laptop (actually, sub-$500). So OLPC seems to be driving prices down.

Says Negroponte: "We feel very proud that we've dragged them into doing that." By the same token, "we find ourselves 'competing' -- a funny concept for a non-profit. The World Food Program doesn't compete with McDonald's."

Later, though, Negroponte says OLPC isn't really a competitor to companies like HP. "People don't really want to compete with us â€" they don't want to do the rural parts of Mongolia and Afghanistan, so I get pretty annoyed in the press with some of these situations" â€" a reference to the way OLPC has been dinged in the press for some of its problems.

Then he underscores why OLPC doesn't really compete with big for-profit firms directly. The next markets for OLPC: Haiti, Rwanda and Mongolia.

This makes it look like the kind of social business Muhammad Yunus is talking about (see Summing Up Muhammad Yunus "Creating a World Without Poverty").

We'll see if it can continue to prove the concept.

  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.