can open source software solve the problems of developing countries?

A good friend of mine recently asked me – What role can open source software play in solving the problems of developing countries?
FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source software) or propreitary really does not matter as long as a piece of software is delivering value to the right set of masses.
I believe firmly that software and technology can in fact add significant socio-economic value to the industry (yes, I am refering the development segment as an industry). It has been proven that may it be information or transaction, people in the developing areas are eager + curious + willing + dedicated to adopt/learn something new even if it shows them a glimmer of hope to raise themselves to the next level (in terms of knowledge, income or lifestyle.) So, there are more and more early adopters of any new technology/service in this market segment.
Typically people build open source software to solve their own problems or to get kudos from the so-called "community" of FLOSS developers. My personal gut feel is that open source developers will have less incentives to develop sustainable software solutions for the developing areas/segment.
However for-profit/ "proprietary" software vendors have higher incentives to develop solutions to increase the knowledge/income of people in developing areas at a lower cost or free of cost and then hope that when people become more literate/knowledgeable/wealthy they’ll use the proprietary software due to brand loyalty and familiarity. More and more large software companies including Microsoft/Google/IBM are working actively to address this market. Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid is starting to get more and more lucrative.
Regardless of the incentives, I believe firmly that technology is indispensable for developing areas in many ways.

You may find these two videos interesting:
Iqbal Quadir on using mobile phones for poverty alleviation: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/79

Let’s do something about poverty.

-Kintan

Technorati tags: FLOSS , poverty , open source , developing countries , FOSS , technology

5 thoughts on “can open source software solve the problems of developing countries?

  1. You are right, Kintan. Poverty should be decrease the the maximum state. Open Source is one of the media for helping “underline” people to work and play like “aboveline” people.
    Like GIMP or Linux, it’s a good fight back to photoshop and Vista. Poor people won’t get the change to enjoy them. But Open Source comes to rescue anyway…

  2. In the development sector, a piece of software might deliver its true value if it’s accessible to all. The cost of licensing for propreitory software by itself makes it inaccessible. Technology should address needs of the people and work backward to the product- that is, what are the technologies that make products affordable?
    Why should a community be forced to adopt a technology which doesn’t cater to their needs? Will farm labourers get the type of jobs they could do? Infact they need gainful employment that reinforces their growth process.
    Yes people are eager to learn something that promises them to elevate their socio-economic status but not at the cost of surrendering their culture or succumbing to the material accumulation typical of industrialized west. Worldwide knowledge could be blended with local skills and low cost services could be brought to farmers’ doorsteps provided community involvement and empowerment is used with commercial insight to create sustainable improvements and most importantly- knowledge is made open and not propreitory. Monopolistic companies are not interested in making small profits by developing softwares for small markets. It won’t be “cost effective” for them. Such practices deepen the digital divide.
    These so called free of cost/ low cost propreitory software, I believe is just a vendo’s ploy to generate a fake requirement and expand their market. Even for a second if we don’t debate about the cost effective technology – the simple fact that I have to buy 10 CDs of the same propreitory software if I were to “legally” install in all 10 computers in my office by itself makes it an impractical solution. The fact is that the copyright system makes a bad fit with digital technology. It’s like- first propagate proprietary softwares, get them hooked and then sue them for adapting it to their needs.
    Software has always been complex and technical realisations, but their adoption and diversity of use has never been more flourishing, leaving behind those who cannot adapt.
    Nasty monopolists

  3. Some of these are valid points. Software distribution and design both can be simplified.
    But I’m in favor for a self-sustainable model for designing software that caters to the needs of everyone and that needs some aspects of for-profit.
    I also believe that Creative Commons (CC) and other similar initiatives are positive efforts in the right direction.
    thanks much for sharing the thoughts.

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