U.N. Backs $100 Laptop for the Developing World


The idea of a $100 laptop for the developing world is not news.

But what IS news is yesterday’s announcement: U.N. Lends Backing to the $100 Laptop. The involvement of the United Nations seems a significant milestone.

The United Nations on Thursday lent its support to a project which aims to ship inexpensive, hand-cranked laptops to school-aged children worldwide.
Kemal Dervis, head of the U.N. Development Program, will sign a memorandum of understanding Saturday with Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of One Laptop per Child, on the $100 laptop project, at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting.

The program aims to ship 1 million units by the end of next year to sell to governments at cost for distribution to school children and teachers.

UNDP will work with Negroponte’s organization to deliver “technology and resources to targeted schools in the least developed countries,” the U.N. agency said in a statement.

How is this a “business ethics” story? Well, the $100 Laptop is a project coming out of MIT’s Media Lab, but a research institute like the Media Lab isn’t going to fabricate a few million computers itself. So it’s got corporate partners, including Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Brightstar, Google, News Corporation, Nortel, and Red Hat. For those companies, contributing to a project like this is likely to be counted as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility Programs. These laptops will not be sold in developed nations, so this project is unlikely to be a major source of profit. All indications are that this is an attempt to do something positive by making use of these companies’ core competencies (i.e., they’re making the world a better place not by throwing cash at a problem, but by doing what they’re already good at, namely designing and building information technology).

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