Technology Innovation Management Review (Nov 2010)

Editorial: Humanitarian Open Source (December 2010)

  • Leslie Hawthorn,
  • Chris McPhee

Journal volume & issue
no. December 2010


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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.