No Child Left Offline
In the race to put low-cost laptops in the hands of children around the world, Intel's (INTC ) rival—and would-be collaborator—is Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte. A co-founder of MIT's famous Media Lab, he started promoting an idea known as One Laptop per Child (OLPC) in 2003, and he has been on the road or in the air promoting it ever since.
On any given week, he might start out in Argentina or Brazil, jet over to Pakistan for a quick meeting, and finish off in Hong Kong or Thailand. Equally at ease in the tent of Libyan President Colonel Muammar Qaddafi or with Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in the Thai royal family's palace, Negroponte has kept the OLPC venture afloat by sheer force of will. "What is our marketing and sales team?" he asks. "You're looking at it."
In fact, Negroponte brings powerful personal ties to the mission, as well as passion and charisma. He grew up in a wealthy family and attended boarding school in Switzerland. One classmate was Michael Kadoorie, the billionaire scion of the Hong Kong family that controls the posh Peninsula Hotels chain. Negroponte, now 63, went on to MIT, helped start Media Lab in 1980, and for the next two decades proselytized for the digital revolution from his perch in Cambridge, Mass.
He gained further renown as a venture capitalist, served on the board of Motorola (MOT ), and now has a team of MIT profs working with him on OLPC. He can also count on guidance from his brother, Deputy Secretary of State and former National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte, who was the first person Nicholas told about his laptop project. John has helped Nicholas navigate hotspots around the globe as he forges contacts with leaders. "He's my closest adviser," Nicholas says. If Intel and OLPC eventually pool their global efforts, as some people predict, powerful friends and families in both camps may do a world of good.
By Bruce Einhorn