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May 2008 was a really great month at the Foundation. We went through what seemed like a spring clean of our thoughts, processes and communications.

We spent some time going into the next phase of our theory of change and, helped by our trusty designer Eugene, have started to make real progress on how we express what we do and why. We also went through the website, and whilst all are agree that we we need a thorough re-design, to help include all the information, developments and achievements of our partners and projects, we identified some low-hanging fruit to pick.

Most excitingly, we released the first of our ‘How we work’ papers, specifically looking at how we use/protect freedoms and try to ensure our money is spent in a enduring manner through licensing. We are no where close to perfect, but we are trying to get there!

In our last quarterly trustee meeting, we had a debate about results and timing. A lot of our work does not have the satisfying feeling of tangible results. When you build a school, you see the foundations, the bricks, the fixtures and fittings and eventually, the learning that happens inside. When building the foundations for an open knowledge society, driving innovation in education and technology, the results are not always as obvious.

This month I was incredibly heartened to see some of our labour bear fruit. Due to the diligent work by Karien and Andrew, we have been part of a process of South Africa standing up for what it believes in and appealing against the ISO in the OOXML debate. We also saw UNESCO state publicly that the Cape Town Declaration Open Education was a milestone and significant contribution to OER’s.

Whilst none of these have a PR photo opportunity, I believe the placement of these foundations can and will (and in some cases already do) have a significant impact on society and people’s ability to participate in the knowledge economy.

Having Mark Surman in Cape Town from his usual Toronto haunt, always adds an extra sense of silliness and productivity. As both Mark and I are not permanently based in the office, we very proudly left our Mini-me bobble heads for the team to find on Monday morning. They have a recording device, if you want to know what we are saying, you will have to drop in!

On 22 May 2008 the South African Bureau of Standards appealed the process by which the International Standards Organisation adopted OOXML. Andrew Ren blogs on it here and in the news here. The participation of the Foundation in the local OOXML process, and consequent media campaign had already profiled the Foundation in the media to speak on the appeal.

Once SABS had sent the letter the Foundation was able to both voice its support for the appeal and to place the appeal in context for the press.

Andrew Rens was also interviewed by journalists from three separate publications (ITWEB, Tectonic, Financial Mail). He explained that the reasons for the appeal lay in the flawed processes adopted in the fast tracking of OOXML. Andrew was able to point to the Microsoft announcement highlighting that it will not be compliant with OOXML until an unspecified date in the future but will support ODF from 2009 to suggest that coupled with the appeal, it would be best if OOXML be withdrawn. News of the appeal spread quickly around the world and Brazil, India and Denmark followed South Africa’s lead and also appealed.

From 27-28 May we participated in a workshop on alternative publishing models, held under the auspices of the National Book Trust of Uganda. The workshop was part of the PALM Africa project and we were able to provide training, and consult with participants on the strategic use of Creative Commons licensed material in emerging business models.

I feel like it is a David and Goliath month this month.

Technology trends shows that the digital divide between rich and poor countries is growing. While developed countries are expected to reach a broadband penetration rate of 28% in 2008, the corresponding rate for developing countries is just 3%. That is the reason why I am so excited about the Village Telco project that Steve is currently working on.

Also, Alexander Ponosov, the Russian schoolteacher who was put on trail for using Microsoft’s products illegally, even though they were pre-installed when the school bought them, has launched a campaign against.

We are helping to rally against the adoption of the OOXML standard and are imensley proud of South Africa and especially Geraldine FRASER-MOLEKETI for ensuring that Open Standards prevail.

The road to ‘open’ is a long one, but we are getting there.

What we do in this area:

“Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) were originally instituted to encourage the creation and invention of public goods for the benefit of society by allowing creators and inventors to protect their intellectual property. However, IPR has become overly restrictive in recent times as corporate interests have led to an ever increasing demand for lock-down on rights.


The Shuttleworth Foundation supports initiatives that call for the establishment of national and global IPR regimes that seek an appropriate balance between encouraging innovation and benefiting society, the original purpose of creating the rights. “

This month’s highlights:

South Africa’s standards making body sub-committee on open document formats again rejected OOXML as an ISO standard, a decision in which the Foundation’s participation was decisive. OOXML was however still approved as a ISO standard through a fast track process at ISO this month

The decision comes despite it being rejected by some of the worlds most populous and economically developing countries, various concerns about the technical quality of the standard and amid rumours of irregularities in national voting processes. Mark Shuttleworth commented on the process in his blog and on the results in the media, as did Andrew Rens.

We commend the South African standards making body for adhering to the decision of the sub-committee and supporting a single document standard. Perhaps it is time to have a Southern (BRICS) voice, an answer to the west when they demand and decree standards and IP regimes that do not work in the developing world.
Andrew Rens, IPR Fellow at the Foundation, participated in the EDGE IP Research Network and a
workshop in Hong Kong, where he presented a paper on ‘Treaty Provisions on Minimum Exceptions and Limitations for Education’. The paper, which focusses on substantive changes to international copyright law in the interest of education, will be published online in June.

Andrew also went to the Yale A2K Academy Planning Meeting in New York. The meeting, at which Southern researchers were well represented, explored ways to develop a forward thinking, pro-active global research community around Access to Knowledge (A2K) issues. This is a promising initiative and we will follow post-meeting developments closely.

Participating in these events has raised the necessity of increasing A2K research capacity in SA, and importance of co-operation with Brazil and India.

What we do in this area:

“Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) were originally instituted to encourage the creation and invention of public goods for the benefit of society by allowing creators and inventors to protect their intellectual property. However, IPR has become overly restrictive in recent times as corporate interests have led to an ever increasing demand for lock-down on rights.

The Shuttleworth Foundation supports initiatives that call for the establishment of national and global IPR regimes that seek an appropriate balance between encouraging innovation and benefiting society, the original purpose of creating the rights.”

This month’s highlights:

In a courageous and hugely impressive move, the Minister for the Public Service and Administration Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi set the Minimum Interoperability Standards for Information Systems (MIOS) in government, which will mean a move to Open Source Software. We believe that the implementation of this standard will greatly enhance interoperability and document management.

We are actively campaigning against Microsoft’s proposed OOXML standard and believe that the ODF, being a current and working standard needs to be maintained. ODF essentially means that no matter what document writing software you use, the actual content will not be lost over time by interoperability issues. South Africa voted in opposition to the proposed standard in September, and we are now in an appeal process.

We enabled Nnenna Nwakanma from FOSSFA to attend the ISO ballot resolution meeting on OOXML in Geneva as part of the CODINORM, the Standards Board of Cote d’Ivoire, delegation. She has been fantastic in helping us understand the African debate and see where the pressure points with other African nations are. Nnenna’s preliminary feedback has been that the meeting did not cover nearly all of the discussion points on the table and that there is a great deal to be done in sharing information between vote-entitled African countries in the 30 days before the final vote is due. She is leading a group discussion and initiatives on this.

Andrew Rens participated in an interview debate for Brainstorm Magazine with Microsoft representative David Ives on OOXML and open standards. The interview will be published in the April edition of Brainstorm.

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