What I discovered in Tirana, Albania

The past few months have brought many changes for me. I traveled throughout Europe to experience some of the open source conferences and communities across the continent. Along the way, I met incredible people with powerful stories about their own communities. However, there is one community that I knew about before I came to Europe. The Open Labs Hackerspace in Tirana, Albania is a special community that I was fortunate enough to discover and meet. Together, they have helped set in motion the open source way in their own city.

If you’re outside of the Mediterranean region, the Open Labs Hackerspace might be one of the hidden secrets of the region that you never knew existed. Free software and open principles build the community’s foundation. In their hackerspace, they support various open source projects with time, energy, and activism. Members work on various open source projects, ranging from Fedora, Mozilla, Nextcloud, Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, and more. But the open source way goes beyond the software. The hierarchy of this Albanian non-profit organization is flat and open too. The hackerspace places a strong emphasis on empowering others to have a voice and to take part in the governance. No question is ever dumb, and anyone who wants to learn is able to find someone who will help guide them in the right direction. The combined effect of open software and open culture has helped Open Labs grow over the past five years.

Why Open Labs?

There are many hackerspaces in the world, but why does Open Labs mean so much to me? They love free and open source software and believe in the open source way… sure. That’s definitely part of it. But beyond the mission, beyond the activities, Open Labs fosters an inclusive and empowering culture. This culture has the effective of motivating others to understand that their voice matters and that they can have an impact on something far bigger than themselves. The hackerspace helps give young people in Tirana a platform to stand up and share their ideas. But beyond that, it provides them with the resources and community to help turn the ideas into reality.

So, what is the secret? Simply… the people.

Everything that the community here does, they take their unique passion and energy into those tasks. They invest their own personal resources into building solutions to answer complicated problems, inside and outside of Albania. Some of their work is best demonstrated in events that happened earlier this year. In March, Open Labs helped coordinate the first-ever 48 hour hackathon for United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Later in March, they organized Linux Weekend, an introductory event to help introduce Linux to students. This was done by demonstrating what can be done with Linux and open source and then connecting students to professionals from Tirana and abroad. The organic energy that came from these events is almost immeasurable. Even an event report is hard to convey how inspiring that energy was.

This past weekend, from May 13-14, 2017, the community organized the fourth edition of the annual Open Source Conference Albania (OSCAL) in Tirana. This is the largest open source event in Albania and one of the most notable in southeast Europe. No event report for this yet, but you can expect one soon.

Fedora Project community meet-up in Tirana, Albania for Open Labs Hackerspace's OSCAL 2017
Fedora community meet-up for OSCAL 2017

Why part of my heart is at Open Labs

Whenever I visit Albania and visit Open Labs, I learn something new. There’s many different types of things I learn. Sometimes it’s something about an open source project or community. Other times, I learn about events and opportunities happening in the local Tirana area for open source. And then other times, I gain unique insight towards some of the unique challenges and problems that citizens face here. Every time I visit, my perspective is always broadened in a way that I wouldn’t be able to normally find. It’s exhilarating.

I am privileged and honored to be an official member of this community. However, I am mostly an observer in my role. The passion and interest are at the heart of the hackerspace. The members from Tirana have invested so much of themselves into this community, its mission, and its values. From reading, visiting, and talking with the people involved with Open Labs, you see many of their hearts dedicated to what they’re doing. And when you see someone else who invests their heart into something, it’s challenging to not lend some of your own too.

And in today’s world, where the hearts of many people close with borders and the world shifts towards coldness, the warmth that radiates from Open Labs is refreshing, inspiring, and powerful.

Discover Open Labs

You can learn more about the Open Labs Hackerspace on their website. Additionally, you can also follow them along on Facebook and Twitter to see what they’re up to. You can also see their Discourse forums to say hello and take part in any discussion too.

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