Is that a great headline, or what? — “Intel Inside the Third World.”

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.

11 Responses to Is that a great headline, or what? — “Intel Inside the Third World.”

  1. Lord Volton says:

    Ultimately I think the free market will prevail. I realize it’s all coming from the heart, but I get the feeling that it might be more about Negroponte and his ideology than the goal itself.
    If the goal is simply cheap computers all we need to do is create a graph (takes maybe 10 minutes) and chart out when PCs will be $100.
    Let’s see… around 1984 a TRS-80 model III cost approximately $1300-$1400 in non-adjusted dollars. I got 48k of RAM, two floppy discs, and a black and white attached screen.
    Oh, and an attached keyboard too. Back then they didn’t realize how bad of an idea an attached keyboard is when it comes to fixing bad keys.
    Not to mention the hernia you got from taking the computer to Radio Shack.
    Today for $500 I can get a laptop that blows the doors off my faithful Model III. That’s in today’s inflated dollars.
    So performance is going up and price is coming down. There is no question that one day Intel and its competitors will make available a chip that can be placed in a sub $100 computer.
    And when that day comes I have confidence that a sub $100 computer will blow the doors off the single core Intel I’m writing this on. By then there will probably be no such thing as a single core computer.
    A more relevant question is what are kids in India and China going to do with these PCs?
    And that is where efforts like the one highlighted in an earlier Intel blog become paramount. The Berkeley videos are both fascinating and instructive.
    Intel can do far more good for far more children by simply doing what it does best: increase performance, lower costs.
    What else can Intel do?
    Well, it would be great if Intel partnered with Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and other top schools to make sure that all of their classes are also made available via webcast.
    How about getting the top high school teachers online?
    Then a kid with a cheap computer can simply go to http://www.intelteaches.com and have access to the one thing a computer all by itself cannot provide: knowledge.
    A broadcast quality camera costs a few thousand bucks. That one camera can be used to record top algebra, biology, chemistry, and physics teachers.
    I bet some of the Intel staff could even teach these courses.
    I believe web based content is the future of the internet and not simply hardware or broadband speeds. The application of that hardware toward something useful is what will really open doors for kid overseas and locally.
    I’ll probably watch them myself!
    P.S. If you guys need any help on this initiative let me know since I already own all the equipment. We just need some guinea pigs willing to teach some courses. ;-)

  2. Brian Landberg says:

    I think MIT is already doing something like this. Now any kid in SriLanka or San Francisco can access and learn from MIT courses (some with video and materials, others only) for free. No credit, mind you, but the learning is free. One only needs a PC, network connection, and enough time to work through what is avialble! (English skills also required, of course). Check it out…
    http;//ocw.mit.edu/index.html
    By the way, to the author: “Intel Inside the 3rd World” sounds like a self-centered and self-serving headline, IMHO. “3rd world” is a derrogatory term, to begin with. What nation wants to be identified by this term?

  3. Dave Stangis says:

    Thanks for the comment Brian – but to be fair, neither I nor Intel came up with that headline – the writer at BusinessWeek did. I don’t know if he’ll see your comment or not.
    Thanks for reading
    Dave

  4. Abhinav Sharma says:

    It is true that giving computers to poor children helps them with education and upliftment. In most 3rd world countries even a $100 laptop can be a huge luxury for the poor. But basic human rights goes far beyond providing better education. It also involves basic things like right to life, freedom and free speach to name a few. However, companies like Yahoo, Google and Cisco have a disappointing record when it comes to supporting such basic human rights in countries like China. This is because business often takes priority over everything else. It is good to see that Intel’s “role in the human rights business” is positive in this particular case.

  5. Garrett Herschleb says:

    Words are weapons, and this article is launching literary hell fire missiles at the values that made America (and Israel) the economic superpower that it is.
    First missile salvo: From the link name “The business of human rights”. This choice of words, with the picture of little kids getting keyboards handed to them, wants us to believe that free computers are a human right. Maybe the author wants us to believe it’s only a human right if you’re poor.
    Second Missile salvo: “Corporate Social Responsibility.” This implies without saying it directly that corporations (especially the ones doing well) have a resonsibility to give money to the poor. While it might be acceptable in some cases to help others by choice, it is morally wrong to say some MUST do this.
    Unearned money corrupts the sole. You don’t have to look farther than life long welfare recipients, or trust fund brats to see what horrible things free money does to people. Proliferating opportunity is good. Giving away free stuff to poor people brings humanity lower.
    So what exactly do you think is our responsibility?

  6. Mark Seamans says:

    I’m proud to be a part of a company that is helping to bridge the digital divide. That said, I am uncomfortable with Intel’s and other major corporations continuing to invest heavily in China, a country with a government that has an abysmal human rights record. I have heard all of the arguments along the lines of “…you can’t ignore a fifth of the world’s population”. From a business standpoint; that is absolutely correct. It is a huge market for our products. And there is the premise that exposure to western goods means exposure to western values. I get that too. But we are collectively ignoring the plight of the Chinese people, especially anyone with the courage to speak out against the practices of this regime that tolerates no dissenting opinions. We make products that are advancing the the free flow of information including diverse points of view all over the globe. What really is the the bottom line here?

  7. Alastair says:

    Through TSLRP I suggested to Intel a software application that would serve as an interactive, intuitive mentor, teaching established corriculum from recognized institutions around the world.
    A key capability of the program provides for direct interaction between student and mentor. This is achieved by optional video link, whiteboard interaction and with the added bonus of allowing the teacher to remote-control the student’s machine (both to demonstrate solutions and record the tutorial for the student to review later).
    The system uploads a roll-up summary of student interactions (with the system) together with an analysis of the students understanding of the subject. This helps educators to adjust and refine their material, lesson content and technique.
    The program would require a substantial amount of processing power which I believe is inline with Intel’s concept of a more powerful OLPC.
    The solution was rejected without comment, so I am left to speculate that Intel doesn’t understand how to execute software, or even the reasons it must have growth and divergence as corporate goals.
    Ten years ago I was inspired to help a student I met in the British Consulate library in Harare. She was teaching herself to sit the ‘A’ level exams needed to enter British Universities, and despite learning from books that were out-of-date, and despite having no teacher familiar with the corricula, she succeeded in gaining a place at a top-tier University in Britain.
    I thought I would like to help, and if you likewise believe that people inspired to learn are deserving our help, then maybe you can help me bring this program to fruition. There is nothing remotely like it on the market! Contact me!

  8. Adrian Arce says:

    Perhaps in a few years ahead, we the people of the poorest countries can receive virtual classes from MIT or Hardvard. Remember we dont need money, we need education and knowledge first to grow as persons, perhaps that would be the best inversion that the richest countries of the world can do.
    Cheers from Ecuador, South America

  9. Nils says:

    I think the opening sentence of the article says it all:
    Middle school #156 in Malinalco, an hour and a half drive from Mexico City, is so strapped for cash that it can’t even keep the lavatories stocked with toilet paper.
    Why is Intel giving computers to schools who aren’t able to provide for the basic hygiene of their students? Give them the equivalent amount of money so the kids can use the bathroom properly.
    The primary purpose of business is to make money. Intel does do great things in the community, but they are all designed to improve Intel’s brand image, & thereby the marketability of their products. I would be really shocked if Paul approved a charity/community initiative that was detrimental to Intel’s image, even if is completely the “right” thing to do for the community.

  10. Jennie Morris says:

    So it is nice to read Business Week’s latest article, about Intel and OLPC “making peace.” (http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8QBU4DO0.htm)
    In general, competition is a good thing for driving down consumer prices. But in this endeavor, different rules apply. Some of the children OLPC targets are in desperate need of clean water and basic medicines. If teachers can be educated and equipped to address these issues, the kids might just live long enough to benefit from laptops.
    The MIT Open Courseware project, mentioned in another reply, is wonderful for those prepared to take advantage of it. But I know of an MIT researcher who is struggling to get a simple water filter (costing $10 or less) to a billion people in need. It’s a bit baffling to imagine how a computer (more costly by an order of magnitude) could achieve greater benefits, in terms of individual impact. Intel, after all, relies on healthy customers.
    -JM