Being TYPO3 at a Seminar on Locally Led Development in Civil Society Partnerships

Categories: Event Report, Community, Association Created by Mathias Bolt Lesniak
Three people sitting on a small stage with a fourth person on a screen behind them.
There are a lot of unequal partnerships, exploitation, and hidden structural racism in the world. Locally-led projects are the solution. Photo of the seminar's panel discussion, featuring Peace Direct's CEO, Dylan Mathews, general secretary of the Norwegian Red Cross, Anne Bergh, and Norad’s director general, Bård Vegar Solhjell. Photo: Mathias Bolt Lesniak (CC-BY)
Well-governed, free and open source projects like TYPO3 can help put international development cooperation back in the court of real, fair collaboration.

In this article, I refer to international development cooperation as the collaborative efforts of countries, organizations, and institutions to work together to promote sustainable development and improve the quality of life for people in developing countries. Foreign aid is superficially similar, but in the international discourse development cooperation expresses a more balanced relationship.

 Mathias Bolt Lesniak attended a Seminar on Locally Led Development in Civil Society Partnerships, in Oslo, Norway, 14th February 2023, as part of the Meet TYPO3 initiative. The seminar was organized by Norad, the Norwegian development cooperation corporation. Mathias is a member of the TYPO3 Association Board. See upcoming Meet TYPO3 events.

You might ask why I found myself amongst foundations and non-governmental organizations involved in development aid, but I think the TYPO3 Association has a role to play in this context.

Decolonizing Development Aid

After breakfast and an opening statement by state secretary Bjørg Sandkjær from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the floor was given to Dylan Mathews, CEO of Peace Direct.

Peace Direct believes the international development sector needs radical reform. It has a history of being top-down and external. Dylan Mathews explained that it was not until the Black Lives Matter movement kicked off in 2020 that organizations started looking at themselves in a new light.

The international development sector must decolonize themselves and get rid of overt and structural racism because it reinforces inequities. The future is to take the ability of local partners seriously and work in equal partnerships.

The seminar continued with presentations of locally-led initiatives by Liv Kjølseth, the general secretary of the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee, and Kaj-Martin Georgsen, National Director CARE Norway. The seminar ended with a panel discussion featuring Dylan Mathews as well as Norad’s director general, Bård Vegar Solhjell, and general secretary of the Norwegian Red Cross, Anne Bergh.

Decolonizing Digital Infrastructure

You might say that the need for local project leadership is all obvious and that colonialism and racism should have been addressed long ago.

But we are not immune to colonial, racist, exclusive, or xenophobic sentiments in the TYPO3 community either. It can be easy to look down on beginners, frown upon what's not invented here, disregard accessibility, or to see other community members as competitors.

At the same time, we represent a community that depends on equality and collaboration to succeed. This means the TYPO3 community can contribute two central things to the development sector:

  • We are a not-for-profit civil society organization within the technology sector. This is a sector where aid is often colonial in nature: Establishing markets for foreign business, rather than free and open collaboration.
  • NGOs lack experience with technology. Their projects are often related to health, food, and (offline) basic infrastructure like water. Our model for development cooperation describes digital infrastructure projects that are compatible with their values.

TYPO3 is Civil Society

Civil society partnerships are closely related to open source and TYPO3. As a not-for-profit membership organization promoting collaboration and contribution to a common good, the TYPO3 Association is a civil society initiative as good as any.

Civil society organizations promote citizens' interests and can be a training ground for consensus-driven decision making and an independent source of values and opinions.

Even though you may be doing business with TYPO3, you and your business's membership in the TYPO3 Association and active contribution to the TYPO3 community is not a business relationship, but a civil society engagement.

Open Source as an Enabler

We're accustomed to thinking of the state or private sector as the places where things get done. Depending on which way you lean politically, you might prefer something to be state-run or left to private enterprise. A free and open source community is different.

In this setting the project organization, collaboration, and sharing lives in the civil society realm. Like we have seen with TYPO3’s project in Rwanda, both the state and private sector can contribute to strengthening civil society and the development of an open-source product. It is mutually beneficial for them because it supports democracy and leads to local employment and buildup of expertise. The effects go beyond the initial scope.

Forgetting What Drives Our Growth?

The power of a free and open source project like TYPO3, is that we can see our community and equal-opportunity-based adoption of our software as a goal in itself. We're not dependent on revenue from licenses, and instead we win when people use and contribute to our system.

We know that more adoption can lead to more contribution and a better product. A better product leads to increased competitiveness and boosts the business supporting our livelihoods.

In the stress of normal life, I'm not sure we always remember that our software's central difference to proprietary, closed-source software is that it's based on contribution and collaboration, rather than financial exchanges.

The Role of TYPO3 in Development Cooperation

There are a lot of unequal partnerships, exploitation, and hidden structural racism in the world. Well-governed, free and open source projects can help put development cooperation back in the court of real, fair collaboration.

We have a role to play. We can generate value for ourselves—but also for others—by creating real equal opportunity with independent local business and expertise. This requires openness, long-term thinking, and remembering who we really are.

After many engaging conversations I came away from the seminar with new energy and a better understanding of the role of open source.

Additional contributors for this article
  • Reviewer : Daniel Homorodean
  • Copy Editor : Felicity Brand