"It is important to utilize the knowledge revolution to join our people and continents with the help of the government, universities and technology centers. Our countries need technology centers with flexible structures to take advantage of the knowledge of the society using tools such as Information and Communication Technologies and Open Source Software to succeed in the information era."
Luis Millan Vásquez de Miguel, President of FUNDECYT
The International Center for Technological Development and Open Source Software (CIDETYS) in Panama is a non-profit organization, promoted by the Panamanian government to harness the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and open source software (OSS) to create social benefits for its population. An important goal of the center is to collaborate with international organizations and become a leader in Central America in the development, use and implementation of ICT and OSS.
This article describes the main activities that CIDETYS will be focusing on during the first years of operations, how this initiative was born, and a story of the implementation of OSS in the region of Extremadura, Spain that inspired the creation of CIDETYS.
Benefits and Challenges
ICT and OSS have the potential to create social benefits in developing countries, where technological development is still inadequate. CIDETYS was created in Panama on March 2008 as a public interest association to promote the use and benefits of ICT and OSS in Panama and collaborate on projects with companies, universities, technological centers and governmental agencies. The main objectives of the center are to: i) foster collaboration between universities, technology centers, companies and the government on projects related to ICT and OSS; and ii) collaborate and assess the government on investments related to ICT and OSS.
The initial activities of CIDETYS are three:
- Create a program of technology literacy. This program is inspired on the success of a technology literacy project implemented in Extremadura, Spain in the year 2002. The goal of Extremadura was to provide a population of 200,000 grade one to twelve students with desktop computers. However, when implementing this program, the government of Extremadura realized that the software licensing costs were too high in comparison with the budget available. This is why the Linux based operating system gnuLinEx was created and installed on more than 100,000 desktop computers in public funded schools in the region.
The goal of CIDETYS is to identify potential implementations of OSS in the public education system as well as in publicly funded Technology Community Centers in the country. Technology Community Centers are facilities equipped with desktop computers and Internet access that aim to bridge the digital divide in the less developed regions of the country. There are currently more than 75 centers throughout the country that have serviced more than 158,000 community members since 2005.
- Create a small and medium technology enterprise incubator. The technology enterprise incubator aims to help entrepreneurs create technology based companies in Panama. It offers facilities equipped with technology and experts to help entrepreneurs thrive during the initial steps of creating a company. The technology includes computers with Internet and business software, telephone and fax. The experts include a lawyer, an economist and university professors with entrepreneurial knowledge that can offer mentoring and advice. The goal is to offer the services of mentoring and use of the facilities to any individual interested in initiating a business.
- Organize workshops and conferences about grid computing and telecommunication networks. Panama is considered a hub in Central America because of its geographic position and connectivity. According to the portal Business Panama: "Panama has four submarine international connections via high-bandwidth, fiber-optical trunk routes. This in turn is already enabling fast and reliable connections for banking, e-commerce and other businesses as well as additional high-speed consumer activity units".
CIDETYS is partnering with the EELA-2 project, a European initiative that aims at building a high capacity, production-quality, scalable grid facility. CIDETYS is planning to organize conferences and workshops to promote grid computing and its benefits, to share experiences with Panamanian researchers in this area, and to encourage collaboration in specific areas. Experts of the EELA-2 project have confirmed their support to this initiative.
About the initial activities programmed by CIDETYS, the President of the Technological University of Panama, Marcela Paredes de Vasquez says: "The opportunities to create projects that bring social benefits are endless. CIDETYS is a noble initiative that has strong support from the government, universities and technology centers in Panama and international technology centers such as FUNDECYT in Spain. There is an opportunity to bring together other initiatives around ICT's and OSS from technology centers, companies and independent organizations in Panama, that can find a common ground and collaborate through CIDETYS".
However, the challenges are numerous. According to the Strategic Plan for the Development of Science, Technology and Innovation in Panama, prepared by the National Secretary of Science, Innovation and Technology in 2005, Panama has a low number of researchers, partially because there is little government investment in research and development (R&D). Panama's investment in R&D as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranks below the Latin American average. In addition, there are few people within the working population with master's or doctoral degrees. From a population of approximately 1.1 million, only 0.5% have master's or doctoral degrees, and from this percentage, only an average of 9% is enrolled in activities related to science and technology.
Despite this situation, the ICT sector has grown steadily during the last decade, partly due to foreign investments in telecommunications. Panama's economy is service based, with 82.2% of the GDP represented by the service sector. Panama's policy on ICT is to develop competencies in the service sector because this is the main area for the application of ICT. Given the impact of ICT on worldwide economy growth since the end of the last century, ICT are considered a determinant factor in the capacity of Panama's economy to compete worldwide.
In 2006, the City of Knowledge, a governmental agency, received a group lead by Dr. Luis Millan Vasquez de Miguel, president of the Foundation for Science Development in Extremadura (FUNDECYT). During this visit, Dr. Vasquez de Miguel presented a conference about the benefits of the implementation of ICT and OSS in Extremadura and the development of the gnuLinEx operating system to be used in Extremadura´s schools. Different groups interested in OSS in Panama, including non-profit organizations such as the Software Libre Fraternity and governmental agencies such as the National Secretary of Innovation, attended this conference. All these groups were convinced of the need to join efforts to formally collaborate and promote the use of ICT and OSS in Panama. FUNDECYT offered to collaborate with the know-how to make this center a reality, based on their experience in Extremadura.
During the next two years the process of defining and creating CIDETYS followed, led by the City of Knowledge. The Technological University of Panama (UTP) was called upon to host the project. The president of UTP, Marcela Paredes de Vasquez, said: "The UTP is pleased to accept the presidency of the board of directors of CIDETYS. CIDETYS is an excellent initiative to join the efforts of different groups inside and outside the UTP focused on ICT´s, OSS and other open architectures. These areas are considered strategic by the university because of the potential to position Panama as a competitive nation in the area of technology innovation".
CIDETYS is planning to start operations on October 2008 and will operate within the City of Knowledge of Panama.
A Story of Success
The implementation of gnuLinEx in Extremadura, Spain was successful and highly publicized. In 2004, the European Commission chose gnuLinEx as one of the projects that best promotes a knowledge society while encouraging regional development.
Extremadura achieved a high degree of technological advancement through an aggressive plan that included two main axes: i) broadband Internet connection of all the cities and towns of Extremadura, covering a region of 41,000 km2 and 1 million people; and ii) technology literacy.
The results of this plan included:
- Extremadura became the Spanish region with the highest rate of publicly available computers per person, with one publicly available computer with broadband Internet connection for every nine people.
- 100% of the primary and secondary schools have desktop computers (1 computer for every two students) and they are all interconnected through a regional network.
- More than 80% of the population above 16 years old has participated in one or more events sponsored by the plan.
CIDETYS is a Panamanian initiative to harness the potential of ICT and OSS to benefit the population and increase the competitiveness of the country. It is starting operations in October 2008 and one of its main goals is to collaborate with international technology centers to share experiences and knowledge. If you are interested in participating and knowing more about our work, please contact Monica Mora or Lydia de Toppin at the Technological University of Panama.
Technology Community Centers in Panama (in Spanish)
Interview with Dr. Luis Millan Vasquez de Miguel (in Spanish)