Have you heard of OLPC?

Well, if you haven’t, you should. OLPC stands for One Laptop Per Child and there’s a whole community working night and day behind the scenes to make sure their mission is accomplished.

If you’re not familiar with the MIT’s OLPC project, start by visiting laptop.org. The OLPC mission isn’t just to develop an extremely affordable and flexible laptop; it’s to provide children around the world (primarily third-world countries) an opportunity to be exposed to the technology and information we have today.

Over the past few years, I’ve been following the program through the various spurts of media coverage it gets and after a year living here in Boston, I decided it was time for me to try and get involved … so I did.

There are actually a couple of MIT graduates here at PowWeb who were kind enough to put me in touch with Walter Bender, President of One Laptop Per Child Software and Content and former director of the MIT Media Lab. Walter then passed me on to SJ, OLPC’s Director of Content; both I might add are extremely nice and generous guys for giving me an opportunity to circumvent the normal volunteer process.

So yesterday, I took off from work a little early so that I could meet up with the team to brainstorm about community building and OLPC awareness. Traffic after 5pm is terrible on 95 horrible and finding parking in Cambridge is next to impossible, so I opted for taking the T.

Kendall Red Line Stop

For those of you who’ve never ridden on the T, it’s a pretty cool experience and one I can appreciate after having lived and used Los Angeles’ public transportation. Even if you were willing to get over the smell of urine and the dimly lit pathways, there were only like 3 stops on the whole thing…and even those 3 stops dropped you off in obscure non-helpful locations. You’d think that one of the nation’s newest subway systems, in a town with probably the worst traffic situation, would have utilized a little more brain power in the overall design.

After hopping off at the Kendall stop, it wasn’t long before I was in an elevator on my way up to the 10th floor of 1 Cambridge Center.

The first thing I took note of was the ceiling.


Yes, those are laptops hanging from the ceiling. In case you are wondering why those laptops are hanging from the ceiling, like I was, it’s because they are a part of a working XO (name of the current Laptop) mesh network. Can you count how many are in this picture? I see 9.

When SJ arrived, he pulled out a laptop and pushed it towards me. It was tinker time (yes, I said tinker time). Naturally, the first site I went to was the PowWeb Blog. Why not? We just launched the darn thing that day!

It was pretty neat seeing the PowWeb Blog on these laptops, especially after having only heard about them for the past two years. Actually, seeing them in the flesh (or plastic casing if you will) was a lot like seeing one of your favorite bands up close and personal for the first time.

So after my star-struckeness (is that a word?) began to wear off, it was off to the brainstorming. Mainly, I just listened. I’m still in the learning stages of how the organization is structured, what their available resources are, and where I might best be of assistance.

One thing I noticed as I walked away was this intense effort from the OLPC crew to grow the program through organic community involvement. There was no talk of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing in an effort to solicit money to support the program. The focus was plain and simple: let the community do all of the work.

It seemed to me that those managing the OLPC program (or likely any program that revolves around the OpenSource community), have the principal job of facilitating community growth. They provide the framework and structure, the rest of the world does the rest.

It’s great to see it’s popularity trending upward. And just in case anyone is questioning whether this community philosophy will extend beyond the immediate “tech community”, who do you think the “tech community” will be in 10 years when millions of kids all over the country have access to current technology?

2 Responses to “Have you heard of OLPC?”

  1. Have you heard of OLPC? | Pilka Says:

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  2. Craig Worden Says:

    Nice work…

    I have a friend here in Ontario, Andy Walker, who has started up a site http://littlegeeks.org that give computers to underprivileged children so that they too can get involved in technology.

    Check it out…it currently is only for the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area but will soon branch into the US.

    Glad to see so many giving back to the less fortunate.


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