Refocusing on our mission

It pains me to post this, and we have striven to avoid this over the past few months, but it is unavoidable.  We are streamlining our operations this month, cutting staff and contractors by roughly 50% (from every team) and laying out broad targets for the coming year. 

This will certainly be much discussed at FUDCon this weekend and XOCamp next week; you are all invited to join those talks, near or far (Brian J is helping to stream the sessions).  

Here is Nicholas’s announcement on the upcoming changes:

Like many other nonprofits that are facing tough economic times, One Laptop per Child must downsize in order to keep costs in line with fewer financial resources. Today we are reducing our team by approximately 50% and there will be salary reductions for the remaining 32 people. While we are saddened by this development, we remain firmly committed to our mission of getting laptops to children in developing countries. We thank team members who are departing for their contributions to this important mission.

This restructuring is also the result of an exciting new direction for OLPC. Our technology initiatives will focus on:

1. Development of Generation 2.0
2. A no-cost connectivity program
3. A million digital books
4. Passing on the development of the Sugar Operating System to the community.

With regard to deployments:

1. Latin America will be spun off into a separate support unit
2. Sub-Saharan Africa will become a major learning hub
3. [In addition to Sub-Saharan Africa] The Middle East, Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan will become a major focus

Separately, OLPC will be dedicated to bringing the cost of the laptop down to zero for the Least Developed Countries — the $0 Laptop.

Restructuring brings with it pain for friends and colleagues who are being let go. These are people who have dedicated themselves to the advancement of a noble cause, and to say that we are exceeding grateful for the time, the ideas, the energy and the commitment they have given OLPC does not — cannot — adequately express our admiration or our gratitude. The fact that there are 500,000 children around the world who have laptops is testament to their extraordinary work and is already a key part of OLPC’s legacy.

The future brings with it some uncertainty and difficulty, but also the excitement that comes with the rededication to a cause, and a new path that will allow us to realize the moral purpose of OLPC. I hope that each one of you will remain supportive of OLPC, and its mission of opening up a universe of knowledge to the world’s poorest children living in the most remote parts of the Earth.

— Nicholas Negroponte

Please stay tuned – more updates will follow on the points above.  For now, your comments and feedback are welcome, as always.

78 thoughts on “Refocusing on our mission”

  1. zero cost laptop. zero cost connection. give me a break. I would prefer you be honest and admit the commercial IT world refuses to support you, so you are going broke.
    Leave the spin to Apple and MS. stay in the real world.
    This was a noble cause which, unfortunately, was badly managed. I tried to buy a unit but it was literally impossible.

  2. “This restructuring is also the result of an exciting new direction for OLPC. Our technology initiatives will focus on:”

    This reminds me of Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth of “Futurama” who often started his monologues with the catch-phrase “Good news, everyone!”, frequently followed by very bad news or a semi-suicidal mission [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professor_Hubert_Farnsworth] 😉

    Are the 50% who are leaving scattering to the four winds, or is there hope for that concentration of talent to be “repurposed” rather than diluted?

    Good luck to the surviving project.

  3. How is olpc planning on achieving no-cost connectivity?

    It looks like most of the people laid off will be software developers. So who is going to create the software?

    Regarding ARM for X0-2: I understand it is being designed by Pixel Qi, and Mary Lou Jepsen’s idea is to make the cpu circuits part of the display. ARM would be a lot more suitable than Atom for that.

  4. Microsoft can simply make Windows 7 to be compatible with ARM Cortex processors. That would solve the “Windows-proof” aspect of moving to ARM processors.

    Anyways, reaching the $100 and below with 20h backlight battery time as quickly as possible should be the priority. And I believe the reaching of that can only happen using ARM and basing the core software around Google Android would help also save costs on software development and optimizations.

    Simply pick one ARM chip provider among Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Marvell or Freescale and go at it, target to implement WiFi Mesh, the Pixel Qi screen, same Green recycling and so forth standards, same waterproofiness and sandproofiness, target the immediate integration of Google Android and bring the Sugar interface towards being a layer on top of the Google Android OS. I’d say in 6 months the XO-2 could be ready and shipping for $100 soon after that.

  5. Charbax,

    ARM would make the laptop completely Windows-proof. Many orders were based on being Windows-compatible and an ARM-based OLPC would be a problem in this scenario.

  6. I’m surprised that there aren’t any comments yet about the $0 cost target! I think that the ambitions of the project are laudable and congratulate the team on driving the industry in this direction. However, the original $100 target has still not been reached so why move the goal post even lower now?

    $0 means donations and subsidisation which is a model which simply can’t scale to meet the demand. Even if the costs are around $100 (say) then pushing 10 million OLPCs into Africa requires a $1 billion subsidy. If it were my donation, I would rather it be spent on basic education to teach people to be self-sufficient and setup basic businesses, rather than giving them a computer for free. If the focus stays on reducing the actual costs to <$100 then those who could benefit from a computer will be able to afford one.

  7. Lawrence,

    Your site does look interesting. You can give laptops directly via http://tinyurl.com/olpcg1g12 , if that is what you mean; but you should say more about what you are doing.

    How did you try to contact us three months ago? I see an email from you to our giving@ address, which is a fine place to write. That is only two days old, however, and reads like a first-contact email. We have been a bit busy this week and are admittedly behind in some correspondence…

    As for the “we have started negotiations with Intel to buy Classmates instead” — I hear this regularly, often as a threat!, from people who as far as I can tell never proceed with their projects. If you find a way to help give children access to computing and collaborative environments, any way at all, more power to you.

    But the Classmate project does not provide laptops to needy schools or children… it is a reference design sold by third-party vendors with no follow-up. If you can point me to a single active deployment of Classmates in the developing world (perhaps a blog or school website? any independent media at all), I would be *overjoyed*.

  8. Doesn’t surprise me at all.

    I run a non-profit organisation which make computers, sells them and uses the money to buy OLPC laptops. Except that I can’t buy any. I’ve been trying to contact the organisation for over three months now with no response from anyone. We have now started negotiations with Intel to buy Classmate laptops instead.

    Given that OLPC can even be bothered to read their email or answer the phone, I’m not really surprised that they need to cut staff, as it would seem you can’t even give them money.

    If anyones interested we can be found at http://www.revolutionarydynamics.com , and no I’m not joking about any of this. Three months of trying to give them money without any response.

  9. Aaron : no, the cuts were based on what was needed for the focal projects, not primarily on contractor v. other status.

    Wayan : I would answer even if I didn’t feel like it – that’s what this blog is for, after all (though I’m sure you can find questions I can’t answer if you try!) – and I would maintain the blog either way. I am staying, many friends from the Cambridge office are not.

    Ethan : the changes were made abruptly in part to move to a new equilibrium that can continue for some time. We will be posting more about what each change means and how it will continue over the next few days.

  10. SJ, glad to see the that focus is on continuing projects that can impact beyond the XO device itself, like a project focused on digital (free? open?) books. And the decision to devolve more control on rollout and distro to regional groups – even if made for reasons of lack of funds – seems like a good direction. This does seem sudden and abrupt, though – is there a sense that this is a round of cuts and that more might be coming? Or is there confidence that OLPC will be able to continue activities for some time to come in the wake of these major changes?

  11. So that means the contractors are leaving and the fully employed are staying?

    So, SJ, who is leaving ? Who can be hired?
    Kim left, right?

  12. You have done a great job so far, revolutionizing Moore’s Law for X86 computing, initiating the industry wide rush to selling Netbooks in the developped countries, thus accelerating the shift for cheaper and lower power computing..

    The next step I think should be shifting the PC and Laptop to the ARM architechture, this would lower cost and lower the power consumption further. And it would accelerate also the industry wide shift from the wasted CPU cycles and empty processing of X86 to the optimized embedded process and the complete removal of all bloatware from computers. How soon could XO-1.5 or XO-2 be ready with an ARM Cortex A8 core, running some Linux OS with a Sugar interface in collaboration with Google Android as software platform?

    Does this restructuring of OLPC equate to about the same type of thing that companies like Google are doing? Where Google is saying also that their staff is not being laid off, that they stop hiring new staff but that they are cutting off contractors?

    Anyways, I believe OLPC should be run by the Governments as well, or mostly by Governments. How do you get the Obama administration to fund a country wide OLPC deployment in the USA and to start funding it by all countries for all the children in the world?

  13. Lionel, very painful indeed. That’s an excellent idea, I’ll see what we can do; at OLPC I’ve been privileged to work with some of the best people I’ve ever encountered.

    Wayan, That’s 50% of all staff and contractors. We probably made it to 25 staff, but had another 40 tech/learning/international contractors of various flavors.

  14. Could we Latinamericans please have a chance to participate in what is being decided for us? I’m sure that the intentions are always the best, and two-way communication would help assure those intentions become a success.
    Anyway, I do welcome change for Latin America, and especially awareness of the very different realities that make up the world south of the Rio Grande

    Thanks

    Yama Ploskonka

  15. Oooch. It’s a painful news 🙁

    I suggest that each leaving guy could post its curriculum on mailing lists. May be some volunteers could help them to find a new job.

  16. Oh I have so many comments, but for now I am intrigued that a 50% cut in staff leaves 32 people. For the longest time, Nicholas spoke, no he bragged, that OLPC was 23 people + volunteers. How did staff magically balloon to 60+?

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