January 28th - February 4th 2005, Bangalore, India
Asia Source was an eight day hands-on workshop aimed at building the technical skills of those working with NGOs in South and South East Asia. It took place on the outskirts of Bangalore during the end of January/beginning of February 2005.
Asia Source brought together nearly 100 NGOs and NGO technology support professionals working at the local level across the region, together with a handful of field leaders from Africa, Europe, North America and Latin America. Asia Source was a free and open source software (FOSS) event. It's primary goal was to act as a focal point in increasing the practical uptake of FOSS desktop and tools amongst the voluntary sector in South and South East Asia.
This community building event was the first of its kind in the region. Previous large scale FOSS events have been policy oriented events, industry trade shows or Linux User Group Events. Asia Source was the first regional event bringing people together to focus on the practical elements of FOSS deployment specifically within a social context.
Aims of Asia Source
Asia Source aimed to increase appropriate access to technology by non-profits in South and South East Asia. Its primary goal was to act as a focal point in increasing the awareness, integration and adoption of free and open source software(FOSS) desktop and tools amongst the voluntary sector in the region.
The emphasis was on building capacity amongst existing practitioners to use FOSS as a viable option for access, content and communications.
More specifically it aimed to:
- Create a venue for intensive peer learning, skill share and knowledge transfer
- Provide an opportunity for intermediaries working at the grassroots level to expand their practical expertise
- Encourage the localisation and adaptation of FOSS tools and materials to Asian contexts and languages
- Identify and provide an overview of actors working with FOSS and non-profits in the region
- Act as a catalyst for country-level FOSS/NGO events and projects as well as on-going collaboration between technology support providers in the region
- Seed connections and future partnerships across a wider spectrum, between developers, intermediaries and NGOs/activists
- Encourage the strategic inclusion of technology solutions into NGO projects
The event brought together regional non-profit professionals from both the technical and content end of the spectrum. We used this - and subsequent activities - as an opportunity to broaden expertise, forge new ideas and connections, and encourage the creative use of FOSS within the projects and initiatives of social justice groups in the region.
In building up connections between practitioners in the region efforts were made to interconnect with existing regional FOSS activities and networks that are more policy oriented, such as IOSN. This was done by inviting advocates from these networks to contribute, facilitate and participate in Asia Source. We are confident that the community that developed out of Asia Source will be a valuable addition to existing networks.
Free and Open Source Software in South and South East Asia
The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement in South and South-East Asia has been extremely successful in raising the profile of FOSS at the governmental and policy level. This has been evident from mailing list announcements of projects and policy decisions, through to journalistic pieces. Headlines such as, "Malaysian policy prefers open source" Asia Computer Weekly, August 2nd, 2004, and "Vietnam Adopts Formal FOSS Master Plan" Asia Open Source Centre, March 12th, 2004, have become increasingly frequent. As the paper 'License fees and GDP per capita: the Case for Open Source in Developing Countries' by Rishab Ghosh states; " The price of a typical, basic proprietary toolset required for any ICT infrastructure, Windows XP together with Office XP, is US$560 in the U.S. This is over 2.5 months of GDP/capita in South Africa and over 16 months of GDP/capita in Vietnam. This is the equivalent of charging a single-user license fee in the U.S. of US$7,541 and US$48,011 respectively, which is clearly unaffordable. These costs become stupefying if you wish to give at least one computer to each of the 18 million non-profit agencies in a country like India.
Practitioners and thinkers who have been negatively impacted by the current global intellectual property rights regime are also looking at FOSS as a crucial partner in an alternative paradigm. This is becoming increasingly evident during debates and discussions at a national and a regional level. For example People Living With HIV/AIDS campaigning for generic medicine; agriculturalists trying to prevent privatisation of traditional plant species; medical researchers documenting traditional healing practises and knowledge; and artists trying to prevent commercial appropriation of indigenous art, craft, poetry and music.
In parallel there has been increasing interest in the Open Archives/Access Initiative, especially in the context of the growing number of tele-centres and village information centres in the Asia Pacific. Most of these centres face a paucity of useful content. They are now producing and accessing content using licenses recommended by the Creative Commons initiative. Examples include the knowledge centres of MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and the Open Knowledge Initiative promoted by One World South Asia.
Such increasing advances of alternative thinking in this area, have laid the ground for practical experimentation in the application of FOSS. In the last two years this has manifested in a range of open source projects implemented in Asia, and more broadly in developing and transition countries such as: Goa Schools Computers Project (GSCP), Sarai Cybermohalla, Gram Chitra, Ganesha Project, Sakura Project, Schoolnet Namibia, Shuttleworth Foundation TuxLabs in South Africa, Interspace in Bulgaria, Nodo Tau in Argentina, the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation in Guatemala, Schoolnet Uganda in Uganda and many others.
These kinds of projects and initiatives, however successful, unfortunately remain limited in both scope and impact. Little has been done to share, exchange and promote such initiatives at a practical level.
FOSS and non-profits
True freedom is an understanding of the choice, and ability to implement one or the other depending on the needs at hand, and - in some cases - a combination of both may be necessary. Our belief is that FOSS has great potential as a formula for the future of social software development and for the non-profit sector. We view this event, as an opportunity to create a situation of choice for organizations that are low-resourced, low-income and/or are challenged by their immediate infrastructure.
FOSS solutions have the potential to allow non-profits to work with legal and secure software that can be integrated with legacy systems. They can provide models of technology implementation for low-resourced organisations that are using old equipment (refurbished computers). They can provide access to software that is localised in terms of language as well as in terms of the specific context. They can also be adapted to specific organisational or project needs. In the long term, these factors may make FOSS a more sustainable and economically viable model for non-profits in the Asian context.
Despite the fact that many organisations in the region agree on the concepts and factors outlined above, and understand that FOSS solutions have the potential to meet the specific needs of the non-profit sector, its actual use beyond the server room remains scarce.
It is still extremely important to raise awareness amongst leaders and decision makers within the voluntary sector as to the reality and potential of FOSS. However, we are finding through experience, that the immediate stumbling block for progressive and experimental voluntary sector organisations who want to implement FOSS is the lack of local technical expertise available in this area. We strongly believe that the longer-term challenge in the wider adoption of FOSS is the development of local practical implementation capacity. Without this, the use of FOSS - whatever the reason be it economic, linguistic, ethical, security or for customisation purposes - will inevitably remain restricted. A crucial catalyst for this will be the growth of peer exchange and on-going learning amongst technology implementers working with non-profits across the region.
We believe it is an ideal time in South and South East Asia to significantly invest in building skills and strengthening ties at the practical level. These foundations will allow such actors to intersect with other more policy and conceptual oriented networks and will encourage the spread of such technology adoption on the ground.
The event was co-organised by Mahiti.org (Bangalore) and the Tactical Technology Collective (Amsterdam). The event was guided by an advisory group of established non-profit and FOSS professionals from across the region. The organisers were also collaborating with international NGO technology groups such as the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Aspiration.
Asia Source was funded with the kind support of Hivos, the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the International Open Source Network (IOSN)