Category Archives: WomenInTechnology

Dreamfish: An Open Global Work Cooperative Creating Local Jobs

In a recent conversation with Nnenna Nwakanma, one of Africa’s leading open source experts and community lead for Dreamfish, Nnenna shared her experiences, passion and ideas on this exciting on-line community. In her own words, Dreamfish is an open and friendly community which balances software development with human interaction and best of all converts project work into jobs and real income for its members. Here is what Nnenna had to say.

Q. Tell us about your involvement with the African open source community and your experience in growing the local ecosystem.

Nnenna: My passion for openness, I was born with! So my engagement with open source is natural. In 2002, we started the Open Source Task Force for Africa. In less than 100 months, open source in Africa has grown far more than we had initially expected. I have seen the rapid growth from the Task Force to the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA). The community has grown and is no longer spreading by additions but by multiplication. I have learnt that hard work, dedication and good leadership are key to growing any ecosystem.

Q. Tell us more about Dreamfish. How does its mission of building community, using open source and creating jobs resound with local communities.

Nnenna: The Dreamfish story is a unique one. The work cooperative is built on the sheer will of its members. People who rise above their difficulties and challenges and with the help of one another, achieve ideals that even beat their dreams. People who are discovering how their work matters by contributing, who are open and collaborative on ideas, projects, dreams and ambitions. You need to read it here.

I am yet to see someone who is not interested in Dreamfish! Dreamfish is more than creating jobs. It is about building community, communication, friendship, continental ties, global knowledge base, experience sharing and life-long learning. Dreamfish members are being coached in project management, software development, leadership skills, personal management and a whole lot of other skills are monetized, within and outside the Dreamfish platform. Every member who joins gets a friend in not more than 24 hours. Dreamfish is the one place where, every time you sign in to chat, you will find a community team member there to open the door for you. Dreamfish is office, it is work, it is friendship, it is family, it is a life-long school. It accepts our present and inspires our future. Dreamfish is work for all in us that is human. Here is the community’s Humanifesto.

Q. How did you get involved with Dreamfish and how do you plan to grow its community further.

Nnenna: I am a community fish. I was looking for a community that balances software development with human interaction. I was also looking for something that has been missing for some time for me – an interface where an online community translates into project and cash for its members. I also was looking for doing lots more and traveling less. Dreamfish gave me the answers I needed – Community, Collaboration, Global Reach, Learning Opportunity, Humanifesto, and my personal dreams.

As Community Lead, I am working with the wonderful Community Team at Dreamfish. Our objectives now are to build capacity. We expect hundreds of thousands of people in no time. So, now, we want builders and leaders in enabling new open source projects to get started in empowering and human environment. We are expanding our successful Fellows Program to experienced software technologists and designers, who want to mentor open sour projects in Dreamfish and build Dreamfish. Dreamfish is recruiting developers who want to further our mission and teach others to fish.

Q. What is your message to the global community. Why would an Indian developer, a Malaysian student or a Brazilian professional join Dreamfish.

Nnenna: All three can be hired, all three are welcome to hire. But beyond work… you can actually find true friends, share experience and make your dreams come true. When we remove the ‘national’ tag, what we get is students who have learning opportunities, developers who can have enough code-writing to keep their minds challenged on a permanent basis, the professional who can meet and collaborate with others on his and their projects.

Here is what you need to do.

Let me also use this opportunity to invite you to our Global Meetups on Eventbrite. The next meetup is scheduled for July 7, 2010 3PM GMT. We will be covering a very important topic – Communicating Across Cultures. Join in at

Q: How does one join Dreamfish? Do they need to lurk on a mailing list or can they participate right from the start?

Nnenna: That is the interesting part of Dreamfish. You can use Dreamfish for exactly what you want and say ‘no, thank you’ to what you don’t want. You don’t even need to join any mailing list. Feel free to sign up, walk over the chat, create a project, join a project, take a bus tour, make friends.. and if there is something you don’t like about any thing.. well you just change it! Everyone is a leader in Dreamfish. Contributors are all equal owners of the cooperative.

When you arrive, we will be there to open the door, welcome you and support your dreams. That is why we call it Dreamfish!

Thanks, Nnenna. Wish you lots of success. See you on Dreamfish.

ICT to the rescue in Bangladesh



I recently read a compelling story about how women are creating waves in rural Bangladesh using netbooks, GSM mobile phones, blood pressure monitors and other gadgets to help Bangladeshis and, at the same time, provide them with an opportunity to break out of poverty.

The story shows how a good idea along with some resources and local effort can solve real problems using information and communication technology (ICT). Even though this idea seems simple, there are few projects in the Indian subcontinent which utilize ICT successfully to educate and empower people in rural areas. Currently these netbooks run a version of Windows. It would be great to see projects like this get even more mileage by using FOSS and open knowledge repositories like Wikipedia.

Highlights from the article:

“Akhter belongs to a motley band of “InfoLadies,” who are piloting a revolutionary idea – giving millions of Bangladeshis, trapped in a cycle of poverty and natural disaster, access to information on their doorstep to improve their chances in life.

“…An InfoLady’s netbook is loaded with content especially compiled and translated in local Bangla language,” says Mohammed Forhad Uddin of D.Net, a not-for-profit research organization that is pioneering access to livelihood information.”

“…It provides answers and solutions to some of the most common problems faced by people in villages.”

“…In Bangladesh this means nearly three-quarters of the nearly 160 million that live in rural areas. From agriculture to health, sanitation and disaster management, the content follows simple text, pictures and engaging multimedia animations to include all users, many of whom are illiterate.”

Poll : Why Women Matter in FOSS?

Open World Forum

Open World Forum

The free and open source software world believes in freedom, openness, access and collaboration as some of its core values. Yet, the number of women in FOSS is minimal. Why? And how can this be changed?

April, a leading non-profit organization in France which promotes free and open source software is conducting a poll to better understand the role of women in FOSS. Researchers at one of Paris’ main universities – Paris Descartes University, will be analyzing the poll results. The analysis will be presented on September 30th in the Diversity Summit, at the Open World Forum in Paris.

If you’re involved in the FOSS community and care about this issue, express your opinion by taking a few minutes to complete the poll at:

Today is International Women’s Day

International Womens Day is March 8

International Womens Day is March 8

International Women’s Day on March 8 celebrates the many achievements of women all over the world. This day symbolizes the positive changes that are happening in every walk of life for women – in education, in healthcare, in business, in government, in politics and in technology.

But more needs to be done. I’d like to see more women participate in open source as users, developers, contributors, catalysts, managers and educators. More women should develop software, design software and promote its use for social change or for success in business.

Here is a list of women in open source that my friend Kirrily Roberts at Geek Feminism started last year. All women in open source are welcome to join.

In this coming year, let us try harder to get our women colleagues, friends, sisters, daughters, wives, mothers and grandmothers to learn more about open source and how it can be an agent of change in our communities.

GNUnify 2009: Community Support Matters

GNUnify 2009

GNUnify 2009

I’ve been supporting GNUnify in Pune for many years now. And every year it has been great to see the deep support of local organizations like the Pune Linux Users Group (PLUG), Pune Tech and others.

GNUnify has come a long way. It started off as a small college festival in 2003 and has blossomed into a full-fledged technology conference today that represents the diverse and talented free and open source community of Pune. In an earlier era, while I was organizing LinuxAsia in Delhi, I was happy that I could help Harshad Gune, the key mover behind Gunefy, er… GNUnify, to grow the conference by having key players in the global open source community participate, speak and mentor at GNUnify. I’m proud to have been able to get many of my open source colleagues and friends including David Axmark of MySQL, Brian Behlendorf of Apache, Louis Suarez Potts of OpenOffice, Danese Cooper of OSI, Zaheda Bhorat from Google, Bob Adkins of Technetra, Matt Barker from Ubuntu, Chander Kant of Zmanda, Tony Wasserman of CMU and others to participate locally and help GNUnify grow. In addition, India’s FOSS community poured in their support in the form of speakers, participants, and mentors. That’s why I consider GNUnify to be a serious community contribution to growing open source and collaboration.

This year was another step in the right direction. I was excited when I met with Seth Bindernagel at Mozilla HQ in Mountain View and he agreed that it would be great to pull together a Mozilla Camp at the conference. Seth and his colleague Arun Ranganathan came all the way from California to deliver a fantastic Mozilla Day at the conference. It was also an opportunity for members of Mozilla’s India localization volunteer team to meet, discuss and make things happen for Firefox.

Another project that I was happy to see participate this year was Fedora India. The Fedora Activity Days (FAD) at GNUnify were a high energy effort that pulled together India’s Fedora team. I thank my friends at Red Hat, especially Sankarshan, for making this happen. FAD mentored and inspired developers and students interested in learning and participating more in the Fedora project.

It was also good to see the diversity in the technology program at the conference this year. Other workshops and talks that I thought were well done included Bob’s workshop on “Ruby from Basics” which had more than 70 hands-on participants (wow!), Rajesh’s “Programming with” workshop, Bain’s talk on git, Namita’s talk on ext4 filesystems, Dexter’s talk on WordPress tips and tricks “Blog A Way”, Pradeepto’s “Hello World – the KDE way”, and Navin’s talk on FREEconomics: the economics of free open/source. My talk on “User As Contributor: Best Practices For Growing Open Source User Communities” had lots of interaction on how and where FOSS users can contribute to growing the adoption of open source in their local communities, using local languages and locally relevant applications.

A new session at GNUnify this time was the Frequently Used Entries for Localization (FUEL) session which brought together a small but dedicated group (Rajesh Ranjan, Sandeep Shedmake, Sudhanwa Jogalekar, G. Karunakar) working on accurate translations for Marathi localization.

Another new program at GNUnify this year was “FOSS in Academics“. The session perhaps could have been better organized and better attended, but then this reflected the reality that technology education in India is by and large FOSS ignorant and unaware of many of the changes sweeping through the software world. As the need to provide FOSS-ready talent to the Indian IT industry grows, the urgency to incorporate FOSS in education is expected to follow. Its good to see GNUnify try its hand at FOSS in Academics. It might start a trend!

OSCON 2008: 10 years of Open Source, Open Web Foundation, and Microsoft joins Apache Software Foundation

OSCON2008 rang in 10 years of the Open Source Definition along with the 10th anniversary of OSCON. Open Source has come a long way in the last decade. The flag bearers of open source – Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl, PHP, Python – have matured and are now mainstream. This wealth of open source tools, technologies, and applications was well represented in OSCON’s sessions and discussions.

Sessions I liked

There were some excellent talks highlighting the adoption of open source models and technologies in education, political campaign and voting software, media such as NPR and BBC. The sessions on education, IPR & FOSS economics and women in technology were of special interest to me.

The panel discussion on “Changing Education… Open Content, Open Hardware, Open Curricula” presented initiatives from Africa such as African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources (AVOIR) and Chisimba. According to Derek Keats of the University of the Western Cape, Chisimba, a local open source project was specifically launched to teach communication, collaboration and coding skills necessary to participate effectively in global open source projects as well as support local requirements. I feel India’s universities could significantly succeed in their goal to produce effective contributors to FOSS, if similar models were adopted. Without having the need to support local requirements (i.e. itch to scratch), it is difficult to develop any open source software locally or produce significant contributors.

I enjoyed Pia Waugh’s talk on “Heroes: Women in FOSS” where she presented the typical stereotypes that women face in technology jobs and best practices for motivating young women early on (grades 8-12) to get into programming and science in Australia. She talked about OLPC being a great platform to get kids to learn to develop using FOSS.

The panel discussion on “Open Source, Open World” provided an unfiltered view of FOSS adoption across the world. Open standards and open source have been intertwined in the past year as the politically charged ODF / OOXML battle has pulled almost every country into the debate at ISO. Nnenna Nwakanma of FOSSFA Africa talked about how bitter the open standards battle has been in Africa with tremendous pressure from large corporations to get OOXML ratified by ISO. Rishab Ghosh of UNU Merit provided an excellent overview of the EU evaluation of open standards and adoption of open source in government. Bruno Souza of Brazil provided an update on pressures imposed on the government ministeries to influence the OOXML vote. I presented a brief report on the tremendous pressure put on committee participants and central government ministeries in India as it voted against OOXML. Another key area discussed was FOSS in education. I talked about FOSS in college curricula being critical to successfully build a sustainable open source ecosystem to create contributors and software. This panel was one of those rare discussions at OSCON that provided a global perspective on real challenges to FOSS adoption. After this panel discussion, I ran across this map showing participants at OSCON to be mostly from the US and Europe. And it seemed to reflect the reality of many lop-sided discussions that happen in technology (even in open source) with minimal representation from the rest of the world.

Tectonic shifts

A key announcement at the conference was that of the formation of the Open Web Foundation (OWF). This non-profit foundation aims to protect and help development of open, non-proprietary specifications for web technologies. David Recordon, a founder of OWF outlined the foundation’s goals in this presentation.

And to do its open source good deed of the year, Microsoft announced its platinum sponsorship of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) by pledging to donate $100,000 every year to support Apache development. Sam Ramji, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Platform Strategy had an announcement on his blog. ASF put out the following statement on -

The Apache Software Foundation welcomes Microsoft as a Platinum Sponsor
At OSCON, Microsoft announced their sponsorship of The Apache Software Foundation, joining Google and Yahoo! at Platinum level. The generous contributions by Sponsoring organizations and individuals help offset the day-to-day operating expenses to advance the work of The ASF.”

Here is what Michael Tiemann of the OSI had to say about the announcement and on what Microsoft should can do for open source. I agree with him about what they can start with, namely:

  1. Pursue the abolition of software patents with the same zeal they showed in their (Microsoft’s) efforts to get OOXML approved as a standard.
  2. Unilaterally promise to not use the DMCA to maintain control of their Trusted Computing Platform.
  3. Transition to 100% open standards (as defined by the OSI, IETF, W3C, or the Digistan).
  4. Stop trying to maintain their monopolies by illegal, anti-competitive means [1] [2].

Actions demonstrate intent and direction. Let us see what Microsoft will do positively with the open source community in action. Let us see which way the wind blows.

Why Bloggers (Even Non-Programmers) Benefit from Participating in Open Source Projects

BlogHer 2008BlogHer 2008, is an annual conference that brings together bloggers from all over the world to confab under one roof. This year it will be held July 18-20 in San Francisco. Over 1000 women bloggers will gather together at this forum to talk and blog live about a lot of topics – from political opinion commentary to parenting, green eco-consciousness to travel, good blogging techniques to open source technology and blogging tools. Pretty cool, huh!

I’ll be one of the speakers at an exciting panel this Friday on “Why Bloggers (Even Non-Programmers) Benefit from Participating in Open Source Projects“. My fellow panelists include Mozilla’s Chief Lizard Wrangler Mitchell Baker and Freebase community director Kirrily Robert. This panel will discuss why and how bloggers, programmers and even non-programmers can participate in open source projects and the benefits of participating in the open source community which shares a lot with the blogging world. Participation begins with an itch to scratch or a problem to solve and can be challenging as well as fun in open source projects . This interactive discussion promises to be interesting and I’ll blog more on my experience later.