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August 09, 2018

Celebrating 20 Years of Open Source at O’Reilly Open Source Convention

By | Blog, Uncategorized

By Michael Downey

In the technology field, late Summer and early Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere is the traditional conference season — a time for colleagues to pause to reconnect with each other, learn about trends and challenges in the industry, and of course, build new relationships and strengthen old ones. For the past 20 years now, one of the biggest of these gatherings of creators and consumers of open source software has been the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON). DIAL’s Open Source Center team just returned from the event in Portland, Oregon, and once again left informed and refreshed as open source enters its third decade.

As Director of Community for the DIAL Open Source Center, I primarily focus on the power of people to build technology to improve the reach and impact of international development and humanitarian response work, and to bring people in our field together to tackle new problems and find new ways to collaborate. That’s why the Community Leadership Summit, held each year just before OSCON, was particularly valuable this year. An “unconference”, the content of the event is driven by participants. I hosted the “Beyond Fiscal Sponsors” session, where experts honed in on the challenges and gaps faced by open source software projects and how organizations like DIAL and our Open Source Center can fill those gaps and amplify the impact of software projects — not only in the development & humanitarian sectors, but also in all types of open source work.

Two days of tutorials and in-depth workshops followed for the team, on topics from giving better technical presentations, to coaching engineering team members, to technology platforms like Kubernetes, containers, and continuous delivery. Finally, there were two days of keynotes and shorter technical talks, enabling us learn about the work of our open source colleagues around the world as the develop best practices.

Of course, there were many exciting conversations for our team along the way. David McCann, the Center’s Director of Technology, sat down with O’Reilly Media to talk a little bit about the United Nations Foundation, DIAL, and how the Open Source Center is working to turbocharge projects in the international development space. Check out the interview here.

Throughout the weeklong event, the entire team — including the newest member of our team, Heath Arensen, was able to meet and brainstorm with key players in the tech industry about how we might adapt the lessons they’ve learned to build more financially sustainable open source software projects with long-lasting impact. We had great discussions sharing success stories and ideas for how to strengthen this invaluable effort to build even more technology capacity and launch more technology careers for women, people in the Global South, and other under-represented groups.

On the final day of the week, I presented a talk about the DIAL Open Source Center, how open source software is being used in critical humanitarian and development world in every part of the world, and how we’re helping to mitigate some of the risk involved by providing additional resources and services to those projects.

Conferences are major investments of time and energy, but the time spent on forging new relationships and partnerships, as well as teaching others about what we’ve learned, helps to increase the impact of every bit of work we do the rest of the year. Again this year, we were very grateful for the opportunity to be surrounding by thousands of our colleagues for such a vibrant and busy week.

August 03, 2018

Staff Spotlight: DIAL Fellow Rebecca Winokur

By | Blog

When I moved to Vermont, I spent a year working as an AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer on adult literacy, which was a powerful and eye-opening experience into the world of public health and vulnerable populations. It inspired me to go on to medical school, where I learned some important life skills like how to doze off standing up, deliver babies, and how to take on the honor of holding hands with people as they died. After residency I did a fellowship in sports medicine and developed a practice in that field. I continued to practice medicine part-time in urgent care while I moved on to work full-time in the for-profit health informatics industry.

I found the informatics work fascinating, mostly because of the challenges and failures that persisted across practices and hospitals despite access to significant resources and infrastructure. It was surprising to me how much inefficiency and lack of interoperability there was, and most didn’t seem to know how to leverage technology for the sake of better outcomes. There was confusion among the actors around government standards and expectations, even among the governing bodies themselves. While this was my first exposure to challenges faced when integrating tech, it wouldn’t be my last. It’s frustrating to see the potential of technology not be realized in what otherwise seemed like an optimal health care setting.

While I was practicing medicine, I was also starting a family. It was during this phase of my life when my career path solidified. When I first met my oldest son, he was 8 months old and living in an orphanage in Addis Ababa. I’ve since gotten to know his birth mom and her story about making the decision to relinquish him. While my younger son’s story is unique as he was several years older when we first me and from a different region of Ethiopia, his birth family faced similar life-changing challenges. Through our family and our Ethiopian family’s experiences, I was drawn to better understand how it could be that such loving families had to make this kind of heartbreaking decision.

I began volunteering for an NGO that implements programming in Ethiopia, Wide Horizons For Children, focused on reducing maternal and child morbidity and mortality, and empowering families. Many of their projects, which typically focus on health, education and financial stability, utilize digital technology for implementation. This may be in the form of using cell phones to access assessment tools to support health extension workers or data collection for school feeding programs. With limited funding and capacity, this NGO faced some of the same challenges I saw during my time in the for-profit informatics world. On their own, they can’t address their digital technology challenges in a way that would allow them to scale-up, innovate, leverage work from other sectors and reduce redundancy or achieve sustainability.

It’s from my experiences in these diverse settings that I’m so motivated and enthusiastic to embrace the work of DIAL. While here, I’m working on creating public facing documents on what we’ve been calling the Advanced Market Commitment vaccine research. This encompasses the work DIAL did with PATH that investigated the market-shaping mechanisms that changed the way vaccines were procured. It also includes new thinking from DIAL and the Tableau Foundation on drawing lessons learned that can expand access to digital markets. Stay tuned for the release of the research! Email me if you’re interested in learning more at rwinokur@digitalimpactalliance.org and follow us on Twitter for updates on this work and more.

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