The credit goes to BusinessWeek, not me, but it sure got my attention. You can read the full article here if you’re interested. It’s the subtitle that I’m most interested in. “Is getting computers to poor kids charity — or big business”The article starts out by describing the donation of Classmate PCs to an underserved middle school outside of Mexico City. There is a lot in this story, from our efforts to close the digital divide to Intel’s World Ahead program focused on providing connectivity, assessability, and educational opportunities in emerging markets around the world. It also delves into the “competition” between the Classmate PC and the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative. The OLPC and the Classmate have been portrayed as competing initiatives for the last several years. I understand that – it makes better news. But it’s a lot more complex than that. Sure there are differences in the approach. At Intel, we’ve invested years and billions of dollars helping teachers be better teachers. It’s what we call strategic philanthropy, but it’s also good for society and it’s good for business. The OLPC initiative has a simple and noble goal – to get technology to children around the world providing opportunities they never had before. That sure sounds like a good idea to me. The approach is little different. OLPC has a primary focus on children versus teachers and children. OLPC is a not-for-profit. Intel is a publicly traded company. Again, that sounds simple, but it’s not. The Classmate PC and the OLPC are comprised of different components and the many companies involved in making those components compete daily in the global technology industry. Is one approach better than the other? Perhaps. Time will tell. But in the meantime, I say there’s plenty of room to try to do what’s right for society and business. The facts are that most people on the planet have never used a PC and when they do, they won’t use it like you and I do. Is there a market in those several billion people? Are there human rights issues associated with closing the digital divide? Today, CSR is a lot more than writing checks, cleaning up parks and advertising how green you are. If businesses can’t figure out how to address human rights, operate in an environmentally responsible manner, treat their employees well and make products that solve the world’s most challenging problems – they won’t be in business for long. So next time you see a story asking whether companies have a role in the human rights business, I hope you remember that it shouldn’t be a question, it should be a declaration.
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