Bridge-building, Philippines-style: linking Free Software and non-profits
GOA, INDIA, 02 October 2005
The Philippines is moving fast ahead in the task of building bridges between non-profits and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). LinuxWorld Philippines 2005, held in mid-September, is the biggest and only nationwide Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) event in that country.
In September 2005, APC member Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) coordinated the civil society participation in the LinuxWorld Philippines event, held at mid-month in Makati City, MetroManila. LinuxWorld Philippines is the biggest and only Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) event in the country.
This three-day event aims at showcasing and discussing GNU/Linux and other free and open source solutions that the government, private sector, academe and civil society may tap for various purposes, Al Alegre and Nina Somera of FMA said.
"The good news is that we have been successful in convincing -- the organizers Media G8Way, the top publisher of ICT publications here, affiliated with the IDG group, (http://www.mediag8way.com/events) -- to have a separate track for public interest and policy concerns. This would be aside from the usual event tracks: business applications, technical and systems, workshops," FMA organisers told APC News while updating us on the event.
The Public Interest and Advocacy track consisted of sessions that tackled the policy issues around FOSS (which is also called FLOSS, or Free/Libre and Open Source Software); the use of FOSS in different sectors such as education, health, and environment; and the implications of FOSS on gender and intellectual property regimes.
Similarly, it looked at FOSS-based tools which non-profits can deploy for advocacy, secure online communications; FOSS migration cases and many more.
FMA's participation in Linux World is basically a follow up to its on-going Policy, Praxis and Public Interest forum series. Framing FOSS as a development imperative, FMA organized a forum on the political and social implications on FOSS in last year's conference, then called the Philippine Open Source Conference.
FMA also organized one of the first FOSS training-workshops for NGOs in October 2004.
Track 4, focussing on Public Interest and Advocacy, was organised at the Dusit Hotel Makati from September 14-16. It was aimed at the people who want to go beyond business applications or technical competency.
Aiming to get the traditional GNU/Linux and FOSS crowd interested in public policy and advocacy, it also targets a potential new emerging constituency -- the nonprofit/NGO crowd, who are into GNU/Linux and FOSS for its social and political implications. Organizers extended to NGOs (non-government organizations) and government personnel a discounted rate, to encourage their full participation.
Key sessions at this event looked at FOSS@PH (The State of GNU/Linux and Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) in the Philippines). It then looked at FOSS@GOV.PH (GNU/Linux and FOSS in government, featuring interesting cases, highlighting learnings from current initiatives, and pinpointing challenges faced by FOSS advocates in government).
The aim was to look at government in different levels -- national agencies, local governments, government corporations, and the enabling institutions such as CICT/NCC Commission on ICT- National Computer Center); and e-government applications using FOSS.
FOSS@EDU.PH was a session focussing on FOSS in education, as its name suggests. This session targetted covering different aspects of the Philippine educational ecosystem: basic public education & private education including curriculum development, teacher training; nonformal education; FOSS migration experiences within schools; use of FOSS in education and learning technologies.
FOSS@NGO.PH, on the other hand, looked at FOSS in non-governmental organizations. It aimed at giving a report on the state of FOSS initiatives in associative organizations, feature interesting cases and experiments, highlight learnings from current initiatives, and pinpoint particular challenges faced by FOSS advocates in civil society organizations and NGOs. Civil society organizations using FOSS in different development sectors (e.g., health, environment, media, rural development, etc.) were asked to share experiences.
FOSS, GNU/Linux, and Gender was another session. Groups like the APC member Womens' Hub and Isis International-Manila have drawn attention for their work on this front.
Besides this, the organizers also worked to have a policy forum/dialogue which looked at policy dilemmas and development imperatives, with the participation of key ICT policymakers.
"This session will pose one of the most crucial (and controversial) issues in FOSS advocacy in the Philippines. It aims to present an overview of FOSS policy initiatives undertaken in different countries, and its implications in terms of policy options for the Philippines. It will put FOSS advocates in dialogue with policy makers to explore possible recommendations. A multi-stakeholder panel (government, private sector, civil society) will be convened," organizers announced prior to the meet.
There was a wealth of angles from which this issue was looked out. One can sense how deep the Philippines has ventured into the task of building bridges between non-profits and FOSS simply by looking at the issues being tackled there.
Legal issues in FOSS was another focus, looking at licenses and licensing (OSI, GPL, FreeBSD); legality and enforceability of FOSS (i.e., contract law, IP Code/TTA provisions, international precedents); and some interesting cases (for example, the SCO Case). A session on open standards and open content (alternatives to 'intellectual property' and the public domain)was likewise held.
Other sessions looked at FOSS for advocacy, introducing public interest organisations to basic software tools to fulfil one of the basic functions of development organisations as well as tools anabling secure computing and online communications. FOSS tools for creative professions were also presented.
There was also a focus on the FOSS business models for small, marginal and medium enterprises; FOSS in the creative professions (writing for GNU/Linux, and GNU/Linux for writers); adopting a GNU/Linux lifestyle; nurturing and sustaining the Philippine FOSS ecosystem (understanding what needs to be done to promote FOSS in a strategic and programmatic way); and working on an action plan.
Track 4 culminated in a session, "Nurturing and Sustaining the Philippine FOSS Ecosystem" whose objectives are to map the prerequisites in mainstreaming FOSS and to design a strategic and programmatic approach in addressing these needs.