Laptop Program to Intel: Good Riddance

Those are examples of top-down. But then there's a lot of bottom-up. We just did about 100,000 bottom-up machines that we're going to be distributing through the "give" part of the Give 1 Get 1 program.

TR: What was the purpose of the Give 1 Get 1 program?

WB: Our purpose was twofold: one was to enable us to jump-start laptop programs in places that couldn't afford to start them themselves. So we're trying to jump-start Haiti, Rwanda, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Cambodia.

The second point is that we want to broaden the base of participation. There are a lot of people who want to participate in this program, who want to be part of this global-learning movement. So the number of people who are engaged in our mission has increased dramatically over the last month. We're finding that the community is really jumping in in ways that are beyond our expectations. So for example, now we've got 40 volunteers manning a phone bank, around the world.

TR: It's customer support?

WB: It is customer support. But it's customer support from the community instead of from us. Part of the reason we can make the laptop inexpensive is that we're not building those kinds of things into the cost structure. We're cutting all those corners. And the way that we can cut them is to design this so that people can have local ownership of the problem. And so, for example, quite literally--you can go to YouTube and see this in action--a nine-year-old can replace the motherboard on the laptop.

When the backlight in my Lenovo laptop dies, I have to send it back for factory repair, and they replace the whole display. And if it wasn't done through warranty--and the warranty costs me more than one of our laptops--I'd probably toss the laptop and buy a new one, because it wouldn't be worth it. If the backlight dies on our laptop, it is ten screws and a two-dollar part. And not only is it ten screws and a two-dollar part--that a nine-year-old can do the field repair on--but even without the backlight, the laptop still works.

TR: With natural illumination?

WB: Yeah. And that broken display that someone's going to toss in a landfill somewhere--the one I have from Lenovo has mercury in it. The one that we make doesn't. So we've thought about this stuff. This is not a hack. It's not an academic exercise. It's serious stuff, and it's stuff that we're doing better than anybody else right now. And we hope that the rest of the world learns from what we're doing and does better than us. But right now they aren't. But they will. And that's part of the plan.

TR: Does that mean you plan to license your technology to other manufacturers?

WB: That's something we've been struggling with. We need an economist to help us figure this one out. It's not clear to me that we wouldn't be better serving kids to make everything we've done be available to anybody for any purpose. And that might get more laptops to more kids faster.

TR: So from your perspective, this could still be a success even if you stopped manufacturing laptops and the technology found its way into a dozen different laptops ...

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