Share and scale

Say your goal for the next five years is to figure out how to improve the educational opportunities for over 500 million children in developing countries. That’s the challenge that the $100 laptop unveiled at the Silicon Valley Challenge Summit at SCU on Nov. 16, 2006 was designed to address. The laptop was the very first unit off the production line for One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), an organization dedicated to making the laptop available to developing countries—and one of several such endeavors by different companies now under way.

Walter Bender, the MIT scientist who took a leave of absence to serve as president for software development for OLPC, offered the laptop as a way to transform education in the developing world—and, in turn, tackle poverty and disease. The machine was also a clicking, chirping example of the task the summit set for itself and for the thinkers, movers, and shakers attending: how to collectively harness the potential of information and communication technologies in the service of international development.

Organized by SCU’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, the sold-out summit gave participants a look at how Silicon Valley has responded to then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s challenge to “broaden its horizon and bring more of its remarkable dynamism to the developing world.” But the summit set out to do more than issue a report card; the challenge was to find sharable, scalable, and sustainable solutions to assist emerging economies.

Intel Chairman Creg Barrett and U.N. executive Sarbuland Khan provided opening keynote addresses. Participants were also treated to small-group discussions led by Valley luminaries including Regis McKenna, John Seely Brown, and Jeffrey A. Miller. Manuel Castells, one of the world’s leading theorists on economic and social transformations associated with the information technology revolution, put forward the idea of a “project clearinghouse” through which companies could collaborate on, evaluate, and advance international efforts. In finding models that worked, high-tech executive and investor Bill Davidow warned that there is also a need for “creative destruction” in order to “not keep pouring money into failed ideas.” Dan Shine, director of AMD’s 50×15 program, designed to get half the world online by 2015, discouraged companies from simply giving away technology because of the way it can diminish value in the eyes of the receiver. Paul Mountford, president of emerging markets for Cisco Systems Ltd., welcomed the meeting of the minds at the summit and called for serious follow-up collaboration. Jon Guice, vice president of business development for GreenMountain Engineering, was even more optimistic. “In the movement to harness technology and enterprise innovation to solve major global problems,” he said, “this meeting was a turning point.”

Read more about the summit at www.scu.edu/sts. PR

post-image Green is the color of hope: the first laptop off the production line from One Laptop Per Child. Photo: Charles Barry
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