Friday, March 09, 2007

How to Start a Grassroots OLPC Organization

I intend this to be Part One of a multi-part series on how to build a grassroots organization for OLPC. We at OLPC Nepal are ourselves still figuring out how to build a grassroots organization. I have put down some of our ideas and some of the problems we face. Nepal's government has yet to commit to OLPC but we are working hard to change that.

Disclaimer: OLPC as yet does not have an official policy or guidelines on how to create a grassroots organization for OLPC. The ideas presented here are my own. Before starting a grassroots organization I highly recommend you e-mail Lindsay of OLPC.

OLPC has created the OLPC foundation specifically to foster grassroots organizations. You can submit funding proposals to OLPC Foundation for specific initiatives.

I have created a wiki page on this subject in the OLPC Wiki. I will try to include some of the ideas on the Rollout and Community Building entry.

One Laptop Per Child is a huge global initiative with many aspects. A number of people criticize this project because it lacks this plan or that feature. Where is the testing engine? Recycling Strategy? Digital curriculum? OLPC has a full-time staff of only 15 people. They are doing a damn fine job by the way. If you think OLPC is a sound concept, it's time for you to roll up your sleeves and contribute. Got a good idea for OLPC? As they say in the Open Source world, Show me the Code. I believe that Grassroots organizations are a good vehicle for people to contribute to this project.

What a Grassroots Organization can't do

Grassroots organizations can't implement OLPC in a given country. Most children attend government schools. Most teachers are employed by the government. If you want to affect change on a mass level you are going to have to work through the government, no matter how effective you believe your respective national government to be.

If you try to go it alone you may alienate the Ministry of Education and actually slow the adoption of OLPC in your country. You may get lucky and implement OLPC at a few schools in your country-- if OLPC will provide you w/ XO's--but you won't succeed in changing your country's education system.

A successful campaign for OLPC in your country will require diplomacy. If you tell the education authorities in your country that they are idiots if they don't accept OLPC, you could set back OLPC in your country indefinitely.

What a Grassroots Organization can do

  • Promote OLPC in your country/region to the press and community groups
  • Contribute to software and curriculum development
  • Contribute to hardware testing and peripheral development
  • Educate your Ministry of Education about OLPC and its benefits
  • Software and Content Localization -- People didn't believe that the XO could support devanagari script until we implemented it and showed them.
  • Contribute to pedagogy and curriculum development
A lot of the above activities are non-technical. In fact, most of them are Marketing and public relations. Most early enthusiasts, like myself, are techies w/ no marketing background or savvy. You need someone on your team who understands marketing. I intend to cover this in a future post on Team Building.

Whew! It took me an hour and a half to write this introductory post. In future posts I hope to cover:

  • Organization Structure: Volunteer community or become a non-profit?
  • Promoting OLPC -- How aggressive should you be?
  • Team Building -- Curriculum team, technical team, marketing, etc.
  • Fundraising -- ugh -- we're still working on this part
  • Building the int'l OLPC community -- I've got some wacky ideas on this, but mostly I like Ubuntu's structure for LoCo teams
Here are some links on Community-Building for OLPC

OLPC mailing Lists
Tuquito -- GNU/Linux group in Argentina
OLPC Spanish America
OLPC Foundation


Special thanks to Rafael Ortiz Guerrero of OLPC Colombia. An e-mail conversation w/ him inspired many of the ideas in this post.

24 comments:

Martin said...

You are starting on a long yourney! Your first hours on this introduction are well spent though, because I would like to get this kind of thing going too... but then how would it work from within a rich country? Something like adopting a poor country?!

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You can definitely get it working in a rich country. The process will be the same. Educate your local/regional education authorities on this project, get the parents excited about it, and focus on how it could solve nagging education problems in your area.

It will be harder to sell this project in rich countries because teacher's unions are very powerful. They will be suspicious of this project. I suggest you focus on really downtrodden school districts that are looking to make a big change, for example the Los Angeles Unified School District or New Orleans.

School Districts in less dire straits won't be willing to make the radical changes that this project requires.

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