AVOIR (African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources)

Prof. Derek Keats
AVOIR (African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources) Project, University of the Western Cape

This project is a network for capacity building for software engineering in Africa. He contrasted the concentration of ICT activity in the developed and developing worlds, but argued that scarcity is not absence. The Internet allows us to cast a wider net to bring together the scarce skills that do exist, and to focus them on collaboration to develop, deploy and support Free Software.

AVOIR seeks to create world class innovative software within a socio-technical ecosystem that promotes innovation. Ultimately AVOIR’s mission is the creation of human capital. Their manifesto confines them to free software. Also, their software is created within a unifying applications framework (KINKY in version 1, Chisimba in version 2) that they designed and built. They welcome IT students to work on projects as interns guided by professional developers, and collaborate with Monash South Africa in this way – there is ‘an awesome potential in student projects’. They create replicating nodes of AVOIR – e.g. most recently at Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). Their core business is software creation, and their largest product to date is the KEWL.NextGen e-learning system (learning management system), but there are currently more than 20 different systems that can be created using the modules developed in AVOIR. They are gradually becoming self-sustaining by supporting institutional processes.

One new application area is parliamentary processes. They are best known for their e-learning software, but have also developed software for hospitals, and an excellent online survey package. Their network is growing globally – the Afghan Equality Alliances Program based at Kabul University is a recent example. While they design for interoperability with Microsoft and other proprietary software, their priority is the GNU/Linux application stack. They believe that proprietary software tends to be product oriented, whereas Free Software tends to be process oriented. They are building the cadre of software developers who can make it possible to go out and do effective ICT with communities: making an ideal win-win relationship between software engineering and development informatics.