One Ecosystem Per Child: Walter Bender and OLPC Reunite to Enhance Learning and Grow Economies in Developing Nations

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done a nationwide deployment of laptops, and, Bender says, “established a baseline for many of the systems necessary for such a deployment, including call-center support, volunteer corps who visit schools, software engineering, documentation, curricula planning, et cetera.” In the capital of Montevideo alone, a team of more than 200 people is working on various aspects of the project. The Uruguayan effort is led by LATU (Laboratorio Tecnológico del Uruguay). And, adds Kane, “Our hope is that this same organization can be utilized in other deployments throughout the world.”

Paraguay is also emerging as a leader. Laptops have been deployed en masse in just one region, but Bender says the country has built an outstanding technical team to shape or adapt the Sugar software and auxiliary software, including a logistics support package, to meet local needs. “The most up-to-date packaging of Sugar is done in Paraguay and is being used in OLPC deployments in other countries,” says Bender. “Likewise, their logistics tools are being deployed globally.”

This kind of engagement, he says, “means the local communities really are taking responsibility for driving this forward, and that’s the only way to scale. It’s really starting to take form in a tangible way.” Computer makers might also create jobs in the developing world, “but those jobs tend to be screwdriver jobs,” says Bender. “The thing that’s happening is that there are [jobs] being created through OLPC deployments, but they’re not screwdriver jobs. They’re jobs in software development, they’re jobs in developing curriculum pedagogy, they’re thinking jobs, they’re jobs that lead to growth.

“That’s why this holistic approach is so important and why it’s so great to be working with Chuck and Rodrigo and the whole team in Miami,” he says.

So where next, I asked? Bender says that a new release of Sugar—Version 0.90—has just been released. It has a number of improvements, including dozens of new learning activities, support for ad-hoc networks, a more stable collaboration experience, and a new Home view configuration able to display more activity icons. None of the changes is dramatic, Bender says. “Our goal is steady improvement, without requiring schools to make any major changes to their current Sugar processes.” And look for a new version of Sugar on a Stick later this month as well, he says. This is a version of Sugar that fits on a thumb drive and makes it easy to boot any PC—not just an XO—into Sugar, dramatically widening its potential reach.

Finally, Bender adds, under the hood Sugar Labs continues to work both upstream and downstream with others in the open source community. “We’re in a position where we’re better able to leverage other projects in the GNU/Linux community,” he says. “It means it’s just going to be easier and easier for people to adopt Sugar and make it their own.”

For his part, Kane is especially excited about the growing support for OLPC among university students. He has made a big outreach on this front, speaking at scores of leading business schools around the U.S. and in parts of Europe. “The rooms are always packed…kids want to get involved,” he says. So last summer, OLPC launched an internship program where about 50 U.S. business school students went to Uruguay, Peru, and Rwanda and participated in deployments and educational initiatives.

“I think that there’s an opportunity to expand that in a big way at some point in the future,” Kane says, “because this generation of students really want to get involved in social entrepreneurship. They’re willing to forego the Wall Street angle and they really want to get involved in projects that give back to the global community.”

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Bob is Xconomy's founder and chairman. You can email him at bbuderi@xconomy.com. Follow @bbuderi

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One response to “One Ecosystem Per Child: Walter Bender and OLPC Reunite to Enhance Learning and Grow Economies in Developing Nations”

  1. .

    build an iPad for $75 is impossible and all current designs are wrong

    that’s why I’m trying to design a new concept of low cost computer:

    http://www.mylowcostpc.com

    but, unfortunately, I haven’t found, so far, not even the funds to start

    .