2020/2021 in Open Source at UNICEF Innovation Fund

Open Source is a means to collaborate and solve common problems; during the COVID-19 pandemic, open data and tools proved useful in quickly tailoring and deploying life-saving services. How has the UNICEF Innovation Fund kept up with latest Open Source innovations?

The UNICEF Innovation Fund invests exclusively in Open Source technology – with today’s rapidly evolving innovation landscape, Open Source software, hardware, data, and content not only create value and generate revenue, but also ensure greater collaboration and impact. This reflection is a look back at Open Source activity and participation stemming from the UNICEF Ventures Team from June 2020 to date (July 2021).

By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of the evolving and forward-thinking approach to Open Source taken by the UNICEF Office of Innovation.

This article looks at a few aspects of Open Source engagement at the Innovation Fund:

  1. Support models
    1. Legal & policy
    2. Building and leveraging from the community
  2. Case study: Cloudline and upstream engagement
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Committee risk: A governance challenge for Open Source

Community participation and engagement in corporate Open Source projects is valuable, yet difficult to foster. Many companies supporting popular Open Source projects develop diverse communities across different employers, nationalities, genders, educational backgrounds, and more. Increased diversity brings perspective about who finds a product useful. It also gives you the opportunity to help your product be more useful for that audience. But if you’re building a diverse community around your enterprise project, where do you begin?

Many have started on this same path before. Several communities form a committee as a governance model for important decision-making. Usually committee membership is chosen through an election process. Paid employees, or sometimes, members of the community comprise the elected committee membership. This meritocratic approach is believed to bring in diverse representation and participation of highly-engaged people. After all, who better to represent contributors of a project than a committee of folks elected by their own peers?

Sometimes, committees do accomplish this lofty goal. My argument is that sometimes they don’t – especially if your committees are designed in a way to disable participation.

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What if Open Source dependencies weren’t software?

I often wonder how to best measure and communicate Open Source value. The collective focus of the industry goes into quantifying dependencies; that is, how one software relies on other software in order to complete its primary function. The vocabulary to measure dependency usually includes words like “imports,” “licenses,” “bugs fixed to bugs open,” and other machine-oriented terms. Yet the unique value proposition of innovative Open Source involves a community of people around a software. This led me on to the next question: why do we bias towards machine-oriented terms instead of human-oriented or community-oriented terms to describe Open Source communities and division of labor?

However, this question only led to more questions. Much of the existing Open Source discourse on sustainability centers on defining, tracking, and understanding “dependencies.” Yet when we say dependencies, people typically mean source code, software packages, and license compatibility. So, how do we describe the value proposition of people and the impact of cross-pollinated communities?

So, what if Open Source dependencies weren’t just software? Furthermore, what if Open Source dependencies could mean people… or simply, human beings? In this blog post, we’ll walk through this thought experiment.

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A proposal for the end of accommodations

Language is powerful. Words are subtle building blocks to how we imagine the world around us. So, with the goal of pursuing more equitable language, I propose the end of accommodations.

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Përshëndetje nga Tiranë 🇦🇱

Përshëndetje nga Tiranë, or in Albanian, hello from Tirana! I am residing for a short time in Tiranë (pronounced Ti·ra·na), Albania. After a previous visit in June, I decided to make Tiranë my home for part of my remote work contract. I moved in this past week.

The most common reaction I received from friends and family in the United States is surprise and curiosity. Admittedly Tiranë is not a typical place for an American to end up. But I am no stranger to this city. I have a long history in Tiranë. I fell in love with the culture and the people, and made good friends that are still in my life today. Some even helped me relocate. (Thank you!) So while it may be unusual for an American to end up in Albania, it is not unusual for me to end up here.

But how did I make the jump? Or why leave the United States, especially while the world holds its collective breath amid a global pandemic? It was not an easy decision, so it will not have an easy explanation.

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Introducing UNICEF Open Source Mentorship

This post was co-published on the UNICEF Innovation Fund blog.

2020 saw the launch of a formalized Open Source Mentorship programme for the UNICEF Innovation Fund, built up on two years of work from RIT LibreCorps expertise and consulting.

The Open Source Mentorship programme includes five modules about Open Source intellectual property and communities delivered across twelve months. UNICEF grantees are matched with an experienced Open Source Mentor to guide them through the modules. The mentorship takes an interactive, guided approach to understanding the unique context that each team and product exist within. The assigned Open Source Mentor provides specialized advice and training:

  • Tailored feedback based on business models
  • Existing local user communities
  • Best practices for collaborating together with others on similar challenges.

The geographic diversity in the UNICEF Open Source Mentorship programme is unusual for technology incubators or accelerator programs. All funded projects come from UNICEF programme countries. The UNICEF Innovation Fund provides equity-free funding for Open Source solutions from local innovators and entrepreneurs solving local problems. To date, the Innovation Fund has invested in teams from over 57 countries. Argentina, India, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, and Rwanda represent the most recent incoming cohort in July 2021.

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Computer human.

Recently a Spotify playlist curated into my feed. The playlist was a perfect match for my soul when I needed it most. This led me to wonder, who or what curated this playlist? What caused it to appear in my feed that day?

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2021 OSI Board of Directors statement of intent

This first appeared on the Open Source Initiative Wiki. In light of the election update this year, I am republishing my statement of intent on my personal blog.


No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.

Mahatma Gandhi

I believe in the value of upholding the Open Source Definition as a mature and dependable legal framework while recognizing the OSI needs to work better with works that are not Open Source. My ambition as a candidate is to support existing work to enable a more responsive, more agile Open Source Initiative.

Twitter: @jwf_foss

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What is Freedom?

When I first saw the letter asking for Richard Stallman and the FSF Board of Directors resignations with merely five signatures, I knew I had to sign. Not because I knew it would be the popular thing to do. But because it was what was true in my heart. Only in a sense of deep empathy could I understand the reasons why it had finally come to this. I signed the letter because as much as I have personally benefited indirectly by the legacy of Mr. Stallman in my life, I feel his continued presence is harmful and more damaging at the forefront of the movement.

I don’t say that casually either. I have involuntarily found Open Source as my calling. Or my people. I contribute to Open Source because I love to collaborate and work together with other people. This challenges me. It humbles me in a way that I know I can always learn something new from someone else. For this, Open Source and Free Software have enriched my life. They have also given me, again involuntarily, an odd but productive way of coping with my own mental health issues, anxiety, and depression.

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Three predictions for Free Software in the 2020s

From January to May 2020, I completed an independent study at the Rochester Institute of Technology on Business and Legal Aspects of Free/Open Source Software. This was the final credit for my completion of the Free and Open Source Software and Free Culture minor.

That semester, I traveled to different international FOSS conferences (before COVID-19), analyzed contemporary changes and trends in Free Software, and reflected on where I think we are going. I am sharing an edited version of my final report here, as a look into my “crystal ball” for what is coming to Free Software in the 2020s.

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