December 2010

From the Editor-in-Chief

The editorial theme for this issue of the OSBR is Humanitarian Open Source.

In this issue, authors in Canada (Ottawa and Toronto), Sri Lanka (Columbo), and the United States (Brunswick, Hartford, Indianapolis, New York, Portland, and Seattle), draw upon their experiences to show the role of the open source approach in meeting humanitarian needs in the past, present, and future.

We encourage readers to share articles of interest with their colleagues, and to provide their comments either online or directly to the authors.

The editorial theme for the upcoming January 2011 issue of the OSBR is The Business of Open Source and the guest editor will be Michael Weiss, Associate Professor in the Technology Innovation Management program at Carleton University. For upcoming issues, we welcome general submissions on the topic of open source business or the growth of early-stage technology companies. Please contact me if you are interested in submitting an article.

Chris McPhee


From the Guest Editor

In recent years, our increasingly connected world has provided us with a greater understanding of the needs of our fellow global citizens. The devastating worldwide impact of natural disasters, disease, and poverty has been raised in our collective awareness and our ability to collectively alleviate this suffering has been brought to the fore. While many of us are familiar with donating our funds to better the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves, it is often easy to overlook a core component of facing these global challenges: information technology.

The humanitarian open source movement seeks to ameliorate these sufferings through the creation of IT infrastructure to support a wide array of goals for the public good, such as providing effective healthcare or microloans to the poorest of the poor. Achieving these goals requires a sophisticated set of software and hardware tools, all of which work to save and improve lives in some of the most difficult of situations where the availability of electricity, data, IT knowledge, etc. may be low or lacking altogether. It should come as no surprise that the humanitarian open source domain attracts a great deal of attention from software developers, engineers, and others who find that they are able to both solve intense technical challenges while helping to improve the lives of others.

However, to support ongoing humanitarian needs, the communities who produce humanitarian free and open source software (HFOSS) and hardware have increasingly identified the need for business models to support their efforts. While the lower cost of using open source software and hardware solutions means that more funds can be directed to aid and comfort those in need, the goodwill of developer communities and the funds of grantees alone cannot grow the ecosystem sufficiently to meet ever-growing global needs. To face these challenges – poverty, global health crises, disaster relief, etc. – humanitarian open source projects must fully engage the market and provide cost-effective, efficient solutions to the technical aspects of these challenges.

In this issue of the OSBR, our authors from several open source software and hardware projects explore not only the global need for humanitarian open source projects, but also the business cases for humanitarian-focused ICT.

Chamindra de Silva, Director and CTO of the Sahana Foundation, explores the HFOSS landscape as the incarnation of the concept of “software engineers without borders.” His article discusses the synchronicities between humanitarian open source software efforts and the open source software model, while highlighting the specialized requirements of HFOSS development.

Mark Prutsalis, President and CEO of the Sahana Foundation, examines the Sahana project’s service to the global community in disaster-relief scenarios and the need to build a service industry based on supporting HFOSS in order to sustain the ecosystem.

Glenn McKnight and Alfredo Herrera from IEEE Canada's Humanitarian Initiatives Committee describe the IEEE’s Humanitarian Technology Challenge. This challenge resulted in five open hardware solutions to provide reliable sources of electricity, and the authors explore the creation of these new technologies as part of the broader need to create appropriate and sustainable solutions for the issues facing the world’s most vulnerable people.

Adam Feuer, Director of Engineering for the Grameen Foundation’s Mifos Initiative, discusses the effort to alleviate global poverty through microfinance. Feuer elaborates on how the development of the Mifos software package and the nurturing of its community can be used as a model to address other global challenges.

Dawn Smith, Project Coordinator for OpenMRS, examines the role of the OpenMRS medical record system in anchoring a health information business ecosystem. Smith details the project’s success in encouraging the formation of new business opportunities through collaboration and the creation of local capacity for development, maintenance, and service provision.

Ralph Morelli, Professor of Computer Science at Trinity College, Allen Tucker, Professor Emeritus at Bowdoin College, and Trishan de Lanerolle, Project Director for the Humanitarian FOSS Project at Trinity College, discuss the academic Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software Project. In addition to exploring the benefits of using HFOSS development to improve undergraduate computer science education, their article discusses their student’s forays into commercializing one of the applications developed under the auspices of the HFOSS program at Trinity College.

Mike Herrick, Executive Director of the Collaborative Software Foundation, details TriSano, a software package designed for surveillance of infectious disease transmission, bioterrorist attacks, and other threats to public health. Herrick’s exploration of collaborative processes serves as a model for others who are developing first-responder HFOSS technologies while simultaneously providing insights into building an effective business model to best serve the technical and budgetary needs of clients.

Leslie Hawthorn

Guest Editor

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