he One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project comes in for a lot of criticism for being, among other things, “centralised and top-down”. Critics also argue that academia and philanthropy should not be interfering in areas where the market is clearly in a better place both to innovate and to sustain new technologies in the marketplace.
I think it is worth pointing out that even if the OLPC is a wrong-headed initiative, it has had the very important effect of attracting computer manufacturers into the low-cost laptop market. Since the announcement of the OLPC, there have been at least a dozen new low-cost laptops announced in the market, and some such as the Asus Eee PC seem to be selling in quantities which indicate that the low-cost laptop has come to stay. This is good news for developing countries.
Equally, the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) project, which has sparked so much controversy around ownership and access models, appears to have unleashed a flurry of undersea cable initiatives. And while the EASSy project has ended up with as complicated an ownership framework as it is possible to imagine, the public debate around Open Access that it engendered arguably has been a spur for other cable initiatives such as SEACOM, to choose a transparent, Open Access ownership model.
The lesson: Sometimes doing the wrong thing with technology is better than doing nothing. Sometimes.
P.S. The “OLPC effect” is a term I dreamt up for a commentary I was asked to write on a paper by Alberto Escudero-Pascual on Tools and Technologies for Equitable Access. Alberto was pretty much bang on in his paper so I had to think up something new. 🙂 These are part of a series by the APC on Equitable Access.