Uganda will next week host Information Communication Technologies (ICT) experts and support staff working with Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) on the continent in a hands-on workshop aimed at building the technical skills of those working within NGOs, writes Balancing Act's Uganda correspondent Esther Nakkazi.

The workshop Open Source II will focus on how technology particularly Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) can be integrated in the project work of NGOs, bringing together over 140 NGO support professionals, staff and software experts. A handful of field leaders from Europe, Africa, North America and Asia will also attend.

Mark Shuttleworth, from South Africa, the first African to go to space and a leading entrepreneur will attend the function. Shuttleworth a respected philanthropist is an African entrepreneur and loves technology. He is the brain behind many ICT initiatives in South Africa including Ubuntu open source software for schools.

“Participants will have an opportunity to develop their understanding of open source software that is relevant to their needs-is more main stream and explore how technology can best serve the non-profit sector in Africa both in terms of access and content “ said James Wire Lunghabo, the Managing Director, Linux Solutions, a data network company.

FOSS is affordable, free of cost, versatile and it is a kind of software that can be developed by communities with collaborative efforts using the internet.

The participants will examine how ICTs and FOSS can strategically impact and build civil society organizations on the continent, said Lunghabo. The workshop will take place in one of the most beautiful parts of the Kalangala Island on Victoria Lake during the beginning of January 2006. Besides new ideas, skills and contacts that participants will gain, they will also leave the workshop equipped with an event specific version of NGO-in-a-box, a toolkit of FOSS and materials specific to the NGO sector, said Marek Tuszynski an official from the Netherlands Tactical Technology during a press conference held in Kampala last week.

However, officials said access to hardware, connectivity, lack of human resource and support from some african governments are some of the challenges they face in implementing FOSS in the African context.

“We are also faced with a belief that something free which is not developed in the West is not good. We are trying to overcome that supersition among FOSS developers in Africa,” said Tuszynski.

Africa Source II will build on the previous Africa Source event held in Namibia last year which brought together African FOSS developers working in the social sector. It will in contrast work at a different level, concentrating on bringing together those working with NGOs and technology at the practitioner and intermediary level.

Participants will have experience working with computers and the internet and a project or initiative planned in the future incorporating technology for the non-profit sector.

Open Source II is sponsored by the Association for Progressive Communication APC (regional network), Fantsuam Foundation (Nigeria), Schoolnet Africa (regional network), (South Africa), Women of Uganda Network-WOUGNET (Uganda), Creative Commons South Africa, Aspiration (US) and The Tactical Technology Collective (the Netherlands) will collaborate to organise the content of the workshop and to build strong relationships between the participants.

The project partners are committed to examining the challenges of implementing FOSS in the African context, stretching its potential to fit the needs on the ground, and building local capacities to realise this. Our local partners and hosts are the East African Center for Open Source (EACOSS), Linux Solutions and WOUGNET.

Previous source events have taken place in Croatia - September 2003, Namibia - March 2004, India - February 2005, and Tajikistan October 2005. In 2006 an event will be held in the Middle East.