René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for July, 2009

OLPC for Vatsalya-Orphanage: Scope, Focus then Scale

Yesterday, I got this comment to the presentation on Slideshare where I initially outlined the project “OLPC for Vatsalya Orphanage”. I started to answer a few lines and realized that I got drawn into some fundemental considerations which I thought it’s better to share here on my blog. This is the comment as a screenshot, my answer below.

Comment on OLPC Presentation

Thanks for your appreciation of the project. At the same, time I am not convinced that a competitive comparison between “Sugata Mitra” on the one side and “Professor Negroponte” on the other side really addresses the key question. Turning too much to this aspect, in my opinion, distracts the focus from effective deployment of OLPC laptops into a somehow dogmatic debate what in the essence are nuances.

I was surprised to learn yesterday after a phone conversation with Mr. Satish Jha, Head of OLPC India, that there are economic constraints to deliver 11 computers. Therefore OLPC India is trying to bundle at least orders of 100 computers to make it economically feasible. In other countries, the number is rather up to 10,000 minimum units. Point taken, still quite a lot of “foregone demand” in the long tail.

Back to our project at hand: There is no doubt that 50 computers for 50 children are better than 10. This however, means stating the obvious as much as: Everyone will prefer drawing an annual salary of $250,000 instead of $50,000.

The “scarcity of resources” is such a fundamental aspect in economics, that I don’t intend to bore anybody to death detailing it further. In conjunction with the all agreed “law of diminishing returns” we can’t avoid to ask the question: Is 5 times the number of computer with 5 times the capital investment 5 times as effective? I don’t think so. Therefore, after long consideration, I deliberately decided to set this project up in such a manner that we keep it to 10 computers for 50 children (plus one for the teachers to get acquainted.)

Pushing the project ahead, I also started the realize that making this admittedly small-scale project a success, other challenges need to be solved:

  • Bringing broadband internet to the orphanage which is cost effective and does not explode in cost once you come above the in India common monthly data-volume cap (=no flat-rate)
  • Installing some rudimentary furniture for tables and chairs
  • Electricity (it’s there, more rather cabling, so not really a problem)

These adjacent aspects obviously also “scale” with more and more computers, which I had barely included in the funding. (No issues, I’ll get that solved with my own money.) What I learnt as an entrepreneur is following a bold and big vision, but keeping single bits & pieces manageable. The scope of this initial project follows pretty much this path. I don’t rule out, as we move along the leaning curve and finalize this project, to raise additional funds and buy more laptops for the same orphanage.

Given the scenario which is unfolding, we will tightly keep to our initial plan to obtain 11 computers. Mr. Jha yesterday promised yesterday during our phone call that he’ll get back to me in order to let me know if and how he’s able to bundle the 11 computers into a larger lot. First and foremost, this is something we should focus to get solved.

One, for this particular project “OLPC for Vatsalya Orphanage”, but in my opinion also for “hundreds of other requests for small-scale orders to OLPC India” which Mr. Jha mentioned during our conversation.

OLPC for Vatsalya-Orphanage: Meeting the Girls

It is every time a deeply emotional journey to come to Vatsalya for a visit. Today Shashi Malpe, my neighbour and Secretary of the institution took me with her on her almost daily attendances; here she is sitting on her desk interacting with the administrative staff. (The entire picture-set of today’s visit is here on Flickr.)

Shashi Malpe with administation staff

The committed donation have all been received in the bank. I would be happy if I could announce more progress in terms of ordering the OLPC-laptops, but India being India, there are some communication issues with the allegedly responsible for OLPC in the country. I would like to keep this statement as diplomatic as I can and rather work behind the scenes to get the ball finally rolling. Overall, there is not the slightest doubt that we will place 11 computers on the also-yet-to-be-installed desks of the orphanage here:

Upcoming computer Room for OLPC laptops

This room until a few days back had been the dormitory of the orphanage which has been shifted on the other side of the building. Here, a terrace has been repurposed into becoming the new dormitory.

Dormitory of Vatsalya

It is here every morning at 5.30 am that the 50 girls from the age of 5 to 19 years start their day with meditation and prayer before they take responsibility for the cleanliness of their space. After breakfast, school starts at 8.30 am and ends at 3.30 pm – with a lunch break in between. The children take a small rest with tea, before then have another lesson of special schooling with additional teachers from outside. Then homework, dinner and at 10.30 pm the lights go off.

Good bye Picture with the Vatsalya girls

What might sound quite demanding, is certainly a disciplined approach to education. What I always appreciated at Vatsalya, and why I selected this institution for the OLPC-project, that the girls still get their space to be children with dancing, music and painting to play and foster creativity at the same time.

We were happy to announce the OLPC-project to the girls where I felt particularly honoured mentioning my friends from around the world who are supporting this initiative. The girls are really, really looking forward to the arrival of the laptops. I will push as fast as I can to make it happen. Last but not least, a little 1 min-video I put together with the girls to give you a real-life experience. When I see the girls so curious and engaged, then I know that this project is the best thing we could start off.