And these are just bits and pieces of an incredible movement happening over the past decade. There's so much more to it than what I could communicate here. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it and to now be in a position to materially support it. And companies in the Bay Area should feel lucky that this movement has created an enormous pool of developers who can help them fill engineering positions during a time when quality programming help is very difficult to find, especially at a good price.
The reason for the strong foothold is very practical. First, there are issues of sovereignty and security. Would the US government use a secret and proprietary software platform from another country to organize themselves? Of course not! Second, before open source, businesses/governments in Latin America were either paying for licensing or exposing themselves to liability by running on pirated software. For a developing nation facing issues of class stratification and extreme poverty, paying Microsoft millions of dollars for a piece of paper that gives them the "right" to use their software just doesn't make sense.
In addition, it's important to keep in mind that this generation of Latin Americans were just little kids when the dictatorships of Latin America started to fall apart. My wife was 6 years old when the military dictatorship in Brazil ended. It is this generation, mentored by leaders like "Lula" da Silva who fought and suffered in opposition to those repressive regimes, who are now shaping the future of their countries. There is a real sense of open-ness in Latin America - a sense of "never again will we let that happen here" - and the underlying philosophy of open source is a natural fit into that way of thinking.
I can't predict what will happen with free software in Latin America as the years go on. I see it becoming very institutionalized within society and I hope that means there isn't going to be some kind of reversal. All I can do is participate as much as I can to help the movement. If I can provide US business with access to this incredible resource of top-quality programmers while at the same time supporting this movement, then I'm going to do everything I can do to make that work.
At the same time, I hope I can export some of this movement back here to the United States. I go to Ohio and I see schools that are falling apart and don't have the money to educate kids properly and I have to wonder how Brazil can offer advanced technology training to 52 million students but schools in Ohio are running Windows 98, filled with spyware.
What can the rest of the world learn from Latin America's experiences of adopting open source?
The rest of the world is learning. For instance, Brazil recently co-operated with South Africa to host Brasil Tech 2008 in Johannesburg, a conference with talks such as "How Brazilian technological advances can be adapted to South Africa's needs" ... so, the Latin American model is spreading to Africa, and India is starting to show the beginnings of a similar movement and even Europe is starting to take advantage of free software. It is difficult to argue with the pragmatic logic of what's happening with free software in Latin America and it only makes sense that it will be copied around the world.
How do you hope North-by-South will evolve in the future?
Our immediate goals are to expand our Developers Network to 100 people by January 2009. We want to take on more projects and involve more people. In August, we've been invited to a regional summit of governments in Brazil who are gathering to discuss free software and we're honoured to be involved in that. We'd love to do work with governments in Latin America.
So, we hope to just keep scaling out our model, working with more businesses in the SF Bay Area, helping more businesses leverage not only free software but also the top-quality Latin American programmer community. It isn't easy to build the kind of relationships necessary to make a network like this work and we see ourselves as being in the unique position of being able to do it. We're a unique combination of skill sets, experience, and relationships and we're the ones who can make something like this work and so far, that has proven to be true. And we're excited to scale it out as much as possible!