Removal of OLPC donation program rattles observers

OLPC's removal of the "Give a School" concerns observers that a change in focus to larger deployments is on tap.

One Laptop Per Child's removal of a program that enables small-scale XO laptop deployments has rattled observers, who are concerned that the nonprofit is changing its focus to large-scale deployments.

A program for donors to employ between 100 or more laptops for small-scale deployments, called "Give a School," has been removed from the participation page of the nonprofit's Web site. The nonprofit is now offering options to directly donate laptops or to make corporate purchases.

Designed for use by children in developing countries, the XO laptop has been praised for its innovative hardware features and environmentally friendly design. The Give a School program was defined as a "special program that allows donors to choose the country where the laptops go."

The change was first noted by Morgan Collett, who blogged about it. OLPC's changed focus could affect XO laptop deployments in South Africa that were purchased through the program, he wrote.

"This is a blow to future small deployments in South Africa, as we have over 600 XOs deployed in South Africa through this program with more that were planned," Collett wrote. A nonprofit organization was being set up to raise funds and coordinate deployments, but that will be to "no effect" unless laptops from other vendors are used, Collett wrote.

OLPC's grassroots focus through small deployments generate excitement for the nonprofit's larger efforts, wrote Wayan Vota, an OLPC observer in a blog entry on OLPC News.

"It's pilots that give us guidance for national rollouts. It's the OLPC movements in South Africa, Oceania, and South Asia that are giving OLPC is real successes. And to discount, or outright abandon them, is foolish," Vota wrote.

OLPC officials did not comment on removal of the "Give a School" program, but President and Chief Operating Officer Chuck Kane said OLPC is committed to small-scale deployments. "Would you like to purchase 1,000 computers and change the world?" Kane asked in an e-mail.

He did not provide further comment.

Rumors of OLPC's change of focus started after a message on OLPC's Web site said the nonprofit removed the Give a School program to refocus its efforts on larger deployments.

The authenticity of the e-mail could not be verified, but the Give a School program has been removed by OLPC, which led to concerns among observers.

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