29 December 2011

Project Cauã

maddog at DebConf 2010
In July 2010 it was my privilege to attend "Debian Day" at DebConf 2010. This annual conference is held in very diverse places around the world, so it was great to have the chance to be there when it came to New York. "Debian Day" is the day oriented to a wider audience than hardcore techs. The event in general was excellent, but the high point for me was getting to hear Jon "maddog" Hall talk about  Project Cauã.

Project Cauã is an attempt at launching a fully sustainable, environmentally-sound means by which the urban poor of Brazil (and then other countries as well) can support themselves as system administrators. Rather than being job training for a corporate position (of which there are few and for which there is great competition already), this project captures the entrepreneurial spirit of the Brazilian people.

When I lived in Brazil I knew people who made candy at home to sell in the street and even saw a man fixing umbrellas in the street downtown. Brazilians in general are quite creative about dealing with hardship and finding ways to make a living. With Brazil's emerging role in the global economy, the government's official support of open source, and the high demand for skilled tech workers, this project makes perfect sense.

As I understand it, the basic idea of Project Cauã is as follows:
  1. Train a person on how to administrate Linux systems and a Wifi network, to the point where he or she can be legally certified, licensed and bonded (this matters a great deal in bureaucracy-heavy Brazil, and I would argue is a vital step in breaking the underlying chain of corruption that exists on all levels in that country).
  2. That person goes to the bank and gets a small business loan to by the hardware, including thin-clients computers that operate on GNU/Linux. These computers, using already-available components, would consume less power by design and be far more environmentally friendly than the usual Windows desktop.
  3. The newly-minted sysadmin takes leases out the hardware and admin services to local users. For example, office buildings in São Paulo are often full of multiple, small companies. A sysadmin could lease services and equipment to users in the building, working from a small office or even the basement. In a residential area the sysadmin would be able to do the same for neighbors.
Figuring in Internet access, payments on the loan and other expenses, “maddog” figures system administrators could make as much as $1800 a month. This might not sound like much to us in the United States, but in Brazil $1000 is about what an entry-level system administrator can expect to make in a company, perhaps as much as $2000 if he or she is particularly skilled.

There is more to this than what I’m describing, but that’s the bare-bones outline. It may seem idealistic, but it’s entirely “doable” and makes a great deal of sense in the context of Brazilian economics and civil society. It should also be obvious how this could serve as a key element in an overall community development strategy. I  believe this is clearly one of the ways open source tech could be used effectively to break the cycle of poverty in a sustainable way in Brazil. 

In the video below, and the ones that follow in the series, maddog explains the need this project aims to meet and how it can be implemented. Perhaps it's a bit awkward to watch, but it's a place to start if you want to know more. Be sure to check out the Project Cauã website as well.