Activism being a broad area, we intend to highlight and promote generic concepts that can be used across the board, specifically to highlight the limitless possibilities with the use of technology. More specifically we aim to promote Free Software as an empowering agent for Social and Environmental Activism. It is not just Free Software but we would also like to make use of the concepts and philosophies that underly Free Software in the areas of social and environmental activism.
The Free Software Movement has successfully harnessed the power of technology aided collaboration and micro-contributions towards building a massively distributed community that has grown big enough to challenge established monopolies across the world. This movement has much to teach the Activist movements in other areas. We would like to take the best practices used in the Free Software Movement and use these to empower and connect activist individuals and organizations and to help them improve their efficiencies and scales of operation.
Some of these aspects that we would like to bring to the Social and Environmental domain are
1) Open Information - Information has to be open if it has to benefit the masses. Making information available for others to use it is one of the basic aspects of Free Software and this has enabled the movement to spread its reaches from a few educational and research organizations to nooks and corners of the world. Making information open reduces the cost on the total system. A person preparing an operational manual for an organization needs to invest time to prepare this. Now if he makes this information available to another person in another organization the second person can save the time in figuring out the same operations. Additionally the second person could even improve upon the original manual and share it back and ultimately the system improves with lesser total effort than if it would have been otherwise.
2) Publishing & Sharing Information - Once information is open it has to be shared with others so that they can use it. This sharing can take both passive as well as active forms. This is distinctly different from the openness aspect. For example when you prepare an RTI guide for a small RTI organization and maintain the policy that other people can borrow it - the information is theoretically open. Now this guide can be utilized by masses if it is published over the internet - this is sharing. But this sharing is passive. Now if somebody asks a question about the guide online and one of the people in the organization answers the question online the sharing becomes active. For effective utilization of information - it has to be open and it has to be shared.
3) Disconnected Collaboration - The traditional way of people working together always involved physical restrictions. Even with modern communication systems like telephone and older means like post, the system is still restricted by how much and how effectively people could collaborate with each other based on how far they are separated physically. Now with the advent of internet and mobile communications this restriction can be completely taken out, provided you are willing to embrace technology. Add this on top of the concept of open and shared information you have a killer solution. Organizations and individuals does not have to be limited by locally available resources in terms of manpower and information to take up any kind of operation. An environmental activist in Kerala can work with the best Research Faculties in the specific domain anywhere in the world easily over the internet and another activist in say Tamil Nadu can learn from the shared information from the first transaction for his local operations thereby effectively collaborating with each other without consuming too much resources.
4) Micro Contributions for Macro Scale Operations - Our lives are being commercialized without us even knowing or realizing it. This is the fact and we have to accept this. People are finding less and less time for contributing towards social and environmental causes. If there are systems where these people can contribute whatever time and resources they can contribute in the quantity and manner convenient to them they would still be able to contribute to causes. This is the place where micro contributions come into the picture. Contributing to a cause does not have to mean dedicating a lifetime or even a few years or even a few months. It could be any where from a few minutes to whatever is convenient for the person. Contributing does not even have to be in money or manpower. It could just be good will and spreading the good will. Free Software movement has capitalized on this aspect heavily. No free software group contains all full time activists. In fact there wouldn't be any with majority full time activists. Each contribution is valuable and the contribution is not valued based on the amount but rather it is valued based on the fact that there was a contribution in the first place. A similar strategy can be used across the board in activist organizations to harness the power and capability of today's youth.
5) Distributed Operations - Scaling up operations is an aspect which even commercial entities find difficult. Free Software communities has done this beautifully well and that too with little or no funding. The key is the ability to build up geographically distributed communities by reaching out to larger number of people over cheaper channels of communication. Building up distributed operations with the help of the four aspects above has ensured that the operations are very scalable. Similarly activist organizations can utilize these channels of information exchange and embrace the above concepts of Open and Shared Information and build Distributed Systems where larger number of people can contribute in small quantities to grow in their reach and effectiveness.
6) Using Open Technologies and Free Software - To be able to successfully use the above aspects there must be tools that are readily and openly available and that can be used without any restrictions - on their use and on their ability to procure it in the first place. Free Software and Open Technologies fill in this gap perfectly well. They allow people to embrace technology without any restrictions on their Freedom to use it. On top of it they allow people to modify and share whatever they use so that others in the same domain can use the results of these efforts without any additional cost on them or on the system. So every bit of little effort and money being spent on Free Software are effectively multiplied several times over and given back to the system. Additionally Free Software inherently promotes communities around them and the members of these communities are generally very passionate about our society and this nurtures local activism.
What is in this for Activist Individuals
1) Highlight their operations in their local areas and meet with other individuals from their local areas.
2) An individual does not have to be alone in their operations any longer. They can connect with other individuals and organizations who work in the same or complimentary areas. They can utilize opportunities to collaborate with other individuals and organizations through this project.
3) Individuals could get to know Free Software tools and technologies that they can use to increase efficiency of their operations. They can also get help from the Free Software community to get to a position where they can teach themselves to use these on their own or get professional help with these systems.
What is in this for Activist Organizations
Organizations have three distinct opportunities available through this program.
1) Highlight their activities in their local areas of operations and at the same time using this channel - Freedom Walk - to highlight their activities to a global audience.
2) They have the opportunity to connect and collaborate with similar and complementary organizations across the state.
3) Get an opportunity to interact with the Free Software community which is very eager to help them with their technology needs. An awareness of the possibilities of technology can be acquired through the project and at the same time open up opportunities for them to embrace these technologies. Additionally this would build and grow Free Software communities around these organizations leading to strong symbiotic relationships between these organizations and the Free Software communities