olpc india satish jhaTargets will be targets will be targets, but much like the telecom ministers dream of 500 million Internet connection by 2012, it’ll be a pleasant surprise if the One Laptop Per Child initiative is able to reach its target of 3 million laptops in 365 days.

I spoke to Satish Jha, President & CEO of OLPC India, who said that for shipping to begin in India, they need to hit the magic number of 1 million XO laptops, and they’re counting on support from corporates. “If a country can take 8 million cellular phones a month, they can take 3 million laptops in a year.” If only…

The OLPC foundation has launched the G1G1 (Give One Get One) initiative in India, as per which, a customer can purchase one laptop, and the OLPC foundation will gift another laptop to a child in a developing country. The XO costs around $210 to produce, so you’ll be paying for two (around $400) under the G1G1 initiative. What’s not palpable, is that the Indian government is charging an import duty of 10.2% on the laptops.

Some readers might remember that a couple of years ago, India had rejected the OLPC at a national level. Consequently, the OLPC foundation is talking to governments at the state level in India – Jha said that they’re currently talking to 9 state governments, who are interested in the project. “Education is a state subject anyway. It’s a leap of faith for them, but I’ll talk about them only once we close a deal.” But how do they intend to reach the target of 1 million laptops? “I have my strategy and we’re moving in that direction. One industrialist said we’re looking at 700,000 students, another says 200,000, yet another says 10,000. We’re looking at the aggregation of those numbers. We have 120 million children who need it. To get the one person we have to prove to them at every step of the way – with support and responses.”

The OLPC has been doing pilots in India, covering 5 schools and 150 students across the country right now, in UP. The laptops connect to each other without WiFi, and only needs a service provider for Internet connectivity.
More on distribution, competition and what needs to be done

Distribution
OLPC is not setting up a distribution channel yet – Jha said they’ll start worrying about it once they get the scale, though they’ll be dealing with institutions. “We look at the most cost-effective way of reaching out.” In case corporates want to donate the laptops as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative, they’ll be delivered the laptops, and they will have to take it forward.

On Competition from Intel’s Classmate, Reliance’s Free Laptops, Novatiums Thin Client
When I asked about competition from Intel’s classmate laptop, Jha said that Intel is targeting middle and higher schools, while the OLPC is targeting primary schools – “they treat the child as a small adult, while we’re treating a child as somebody who will become an adult. Many Intel executives still support us, they like our machine.” He said that they’re not competing with Novatium and Reliance’s offer of free laptops with wireless connections. “The world is too large for us to compete.”  The OLPC had tied up with Reliance around a year ago for a pilot project, with a rather high target of covering 25,000 towns and 60,000 villages. After the pilot project at Khairat, nothing happened. I asked Jha about why the project hasn’t taken off, and Jha said that Reliance had approached them for the pilot, and the onus was on them to take it forward from there.

What the OLPC Needs
For the OLPC project to succeed in India, they need a number of pieces to come together –  first and foremost, they need buyers – for corporates, schools and governments to buy laptops. They need content providers for providing localised educational content, and in my opinion, they need to tie up with an telecom operator for Internet connectivity.