Fishing Lessons

One of the best parts of my role at OpenMRS is teaching people to fish. We don’t hand out poles and bait, but we do share knowledge and tools to help people collaborate on a massive project to build health technology on a global scale. As Confucius said,

Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.

Every year, I’m honored to be able to oversee our internship and mentorship programs at OpenMRS. Through programs like Google Summer of Code (GSoC) and the FOSS Outreach Program for Women (OPW), we’re able to introduce people to the world of free and open source software. In GSoC, university students receive financial support so they can spend their summer doing programming for software projects like ours. If not for programs like this, their summers would probably go to the highest-bidding corporation. We’ve been involved in GSoC for several years now, and have created great legacies in several of our contributors, such as Saptarshi and Suranga who have been students, stayed around to learn and contribute, and then became mentors for students in later years. Every year, this “pipeline” continues to increase.

I’m extra pleased to be participating in the first large-scale summer for OPW. This program attempts to tackle head-on the challenge of getting more women involved in open technology. It started with a single open source group, the GNOME Foundation, and was so successful, several of us (OpenMRS, WordPress, Wikipedia, Perl, Mozilla, EFF, and others) are trying to make it work on a much larger scale this summer. Women are far too under-represented in technology jobs, and it’s completely unfair that it requires so much struggle for them to participate in the field that is most shaping the future. I’m proud to count myself among the early members of the Ada Initiative, an excellent organization working to level the playing field and making sure that women have an active role in leading the next generation. We’ve still got a way to go until we have our fair share of women contributing to OpenMRS, but we’re improving every year.

This year, we have a total of 16 highly talented interns from every corner of the world. Their skill and passion humbles me, but it also energizes me. Even if only a few of these folks stay around after the summer, their energy will really amplify our community of contributors, and it will serve to get even more people involved. I’ve challenged them to tell their stories in blog posts every week throughout the summer. I’ll be highlighting some of them here, and will use that same challenge on myself so you can hear more about my journey along with them.

I have no doubt that they will all be successful at fishing, but I’m hopeful many of them will one day start teaching others to fish, too. That’s how our project remains sustainable and grows, and that’s how we live the values that we hold dear.


Michael Downey

Director of Community, DIAL Open Source Center at United Nations Foundation. LibreHealth steering committee, OSUOSL advisory board, Open Source Initiative advocate circle. He/him.

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