Source AP ©

Mexican billionaire Slim to donate quarter million laptops to Mexican children

Carlos Slim, one of the world's richest men, said Thursday he would donate 250,000 low-cost laptop computers to Mexican children by the end of the year and as many as one million in 2008.

The Mexican billionaire is listed by Forbes as the world's second-richest man with holdings worth US$53 billion (EUR 38.79 billion), but some financial analysts say he may have overtaken Microsoft founder Bill Gates as the world's richest.

Speaking to a small group of foreign correspondents on Thursday, Slim said the ranking meant little to him.

"That's water off a duck's back to me," Slim said. "I don't know if that (the ranking) is correct, if I'm first, 20th, or 2,000th. It doesn't matter. It's all the same."

He also expressed no interest in competing with Gates in philanthropy, saying he hoped their efforts would "complement each other." The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has focused its efforts on reducing hunger and fighting disease in developing countries.

Slim said he wants to focus on building specialized preschools, handing out laptops and supporting health care efforts, in the belief that "digital education" holds the key for Mexico's poor.

Slim said he would devote about US$70 million (EUR 51 million) this year to the low-cost laptop program.

With an estimated costs of US$250 (EUR 183) to US$300 (EUR 220) per machine, Slim would have to devote US$300 million (EUR 220 million) to reach a goal of one million per year, but he predicted that costs for the machines would fall further.

Slim, who controls Mexico's largest fixed-line telephone company, Telefonos de Mexico, or Telmex, said the plan would initially put the laptops in libraries and schools, which would eventually give them outright to students.

"The scheme in public libraries would be for them to lend them out, like books," he said, noting his companies would help set up wireless networks for the machines to connect.

He said that within four years, he wants to build about 100 "early stimulation" preschools to give poor children training at a young age in math, language and computers. That plan could cost about US$3 million (EUR 2.2 million) per facility.

He said the world economy was experiencing "a stage of world euphoria" of easy credit, and that Latin America should take advantage of that to invest in infrastructure.

Slim said there was no conflict between his role as businessman - in which he has been criticized for holding a near-monopoly control over the telephone market - and philanthropist.

"The best investment one can make is to reduce poverty," he said, noting that wealthier citizens are better consumers.

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