From theorising about the media to coalition building around free software
DHAKA, BANGLADESH, 19 May 2006
The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) was one of the groups that pushed to have a community-focussed track at the latest Linux World Philippines. The programme listed themes like free and open source software in government, health and education. The FMA then helped create an open coalition. More recently, this APC member has also backed up a bid to set up a regional node of the International Open Source Network (IOSN).
The Philippines-based non-profit has recently been focussing on the challenge of connecting FOSS people together. One toehold came through the Philippines Linux Users' Group (PLUG), whose vice president, Dong Calmada, has been a non-governmental organisation worker.
Last year, latching onto an opportunity, FMA was one of the groups that worked to have a community-focussed separate track at the Linux World Philippines event. This track specifically looked at themes like FOSS in government, health and education. "It became possible to outreach to various communities," says FMA’s Al Alegre (44).
The FMA then helped set up a bukas (‘open’) coalition. This term also means ‘tomorrow’, if pronounced differently. "We took that name as a coordinating body for the civil society-advocacy-public interest track," Alegre told APCNews, during the April 2006 APC-sponsored ICT policy consultation in Dhaka.
Finally, another offer emerged in the set up of a regional node for the International Open Source Network (IOSN). This network is linked to the APDIP or the Asia Pacific Development Information Programme, and the United Nations Development Programme.
"The IOSN possibility came to us in the middle of discussions, and we felt we should bid for setting up a regional node in the Philippines. We said FMA is weak on the technical side, and we're already doing so much. But we thought we all could submit a bid as a consortium," says Alegre.
"The idea is to spin off APDIP's IOSN into three sub regional notes. It's venture philanthropy in my view. They're looking to support it for a year to a year-and-half."
One of the members of the consortium, the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Public Health, has been doing work on FOSS and health. In fact, one of this college’s projects made it to the finals in the Stockholm Challenge award 2006 -an ICT awards event.
The College of Public Health offered to play the role of institutional bidder, with the understanding that the coalition comes with it.
"In the end, the Philippine bid was in the final two. We all felt we couldn't do it alone. So we had a few meetings. Government, and in particular our ally in the ICT Commission, came in. Commissioner Emmanuel Lallana, who was doing extensive work on FOSS and education, heard through the grapevine (about our attempt)," narrates Alegre.
"It's still an informal consortium. Our understanding was that we would all just strengthen the UP bid. Not in a way that would make it the be-all and end-all of FOSS in the Philippines," he says. After all, something coming in to the country would help boost other FOSS initiatives in the Philippines.
"They told us 'FMA has the network in Asia, so please help us'. Then, the Government of the Philippines got in contact with the e-Asean track, so it could put us in contact with governments all over Asia," Alegre adds.
In August 2006, along comes the upcoming Philippine Open Source conference and Linux World Philippines is scheduled in October. "We have also been offered to have a public interest track in that," says Alegre.
Commissioner Lallana is handling human capital development. So, if we can't expect big policy, their goal is to focus on schools, colleges, and building centres of excellence "in places where there already is knowledge, computers, professors who could influence young people".
"That's going well. The question is how we support and link up with FOSS in private education efforts," says he.
Photo: Al Alegre from the FMA.
Photo by Frederick Noronha, April 2006, Dhaka, Bangladesh.