Business, Finance & Economics

Bringing technology to the developing world

It is easy to take the computer access and the internet for granted.  People all across the globe don't have any access at all.  Numerous start-up companies and non-profit organizations are tackling this problem.  Perhaps the most well known project is the One Laptop Per Child, or OLPC Project.  As the name implies, the idea is to get a low-cost laptop into the hands of every child in the world.  

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But, the OLPC model is not the only one out there.  The non-profit organization Inveneo's goal is to bring low-cost, sustainable internet access to developing countries.  Early on, the project realized that computer hardware and software were only part of the solution.  Many rural communities didn't even have the electricity needed to run computers.  So, one of Inveneo's first innovations was a bicycle-powered desktop computer.

Three years ago, the situation was different.  Advances have been made in the computing world in an area important to Inveneo:  power efficiency.  "The computer only takes/requires 8 watts of power at 12 volts, so it can actually run on a car battery," says Bob Marsh, one of the organizations' co-founders.  Most of Inveneo's computers in the field are now powered by solar cells.

The organization is pursuing desktop computers instead of laptops, more popular with their competitors, because sharing a smaller group of desktops is cheaper and easier than trying to provide a laptop to every child in the world.  

"People like to focus on laptops because they are shiny and fancy and we think about taking them to a meeting and we think about taking them to our community and showing off the technology.  Often times the shiny, flashy thing is not the most appropriate for an environment," says Wayan Vota, who  joined Inveneo earlier this year.

Vota himself is an integral part Inveneo's business model.  He heads a new program that trains local businesses in how Inveneo's technologies work.  Then, these local partners resell those technologies, then offer ongoing service to users.  That franchise model is different than the OLPC model, or than any of OLPC's competitors, which simply seek to sell laptops without any training or other assistance.

To date, OLPC has distributed some 300,000 computers.  Inveneo only has a few thousand in the field at selected sites.  Ten of those are in a school in Uganda; they were purchased by the Ugandan government.  Due to the location of the school, internet access is not yet a reality, but plans are in place to provide access within the next year.

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