That meant, for practical purposes, finding Linux-based solutions became a necessity for the Geekcorps.
“As a U.S. Government funded program, we cannot condone the theft of intellectual property,” says program manager Wayan Vota. “We’ve found that open source software has reached a level of maturity where it can offer the functionality that rivals the proprietary systems. In addition, the total cost of ownership profile is perfect for developing countries”.
Open software also relieved the burden that some volunteers faced when they would be implementing solutions from rival companies. The message of Geekcorps is community solutions, not global competition. That means volunteers who enjoy their tours with the support of home businesses leave their brand loyalty at the airport. The projects they take on are designed for, created by and maintained by the locals, which arguably keeps local qualified technicians in work and in their homes.
“One of the main reasons that we chose open source tools is that we wanted the product of our work to be replicable,” says Ian Howard, program coordinator for IESC/Geekcorps in Mali. “We are spending a lot of time adapting technologies for Mali, and we want others who don’t have the luxury of US funding to be able to pick the fruits of our labour.”
Community outreach programs are essential in the success of local business applications to the program. The resulting unique digital solutions are made available to the whole district by trained employees after the Geekcorps leaves. Demand is indeed great, and the development of sustainable, unlicensed systems means that technologically-imposed needs can be met within the self-generated constructs of the community.
The move to open source projects, though, is still in its infancy. Of the ten countries IESC/Geekcorps volunteers are assigned, Mali is the only one that is “almost completely” open source.
Other countries remain reliant upon cross-language and operating system fertilisation. However, the current emphasis on open source demonstrates a confidence in the tools and the realisation of the digital libertarian message. While internationally the digital divide threatens to engulf developing nations, on a local scale Geekcorps aims to narrow gaps between rich and poor in respect to information, health and education.
“We are explicitly attempting to close knowledge gaps through out work,” explains Baldwin. “I can’t think of anyone who would argue that there is a downside to broader access to information.”