Alasdair, Anasuya and Tarek - New Alumni

by Chris McGivern & SF Team, 1 April 2020

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Created by @mptoyama (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On March 1st 2020, three Shuttleworth Fellows completed their transition to alumni status. Alasdair Davies, Anasuya Sengupta and Tarek Loubani have accomplished much in their respective fields and advanced open thinking further into the mainstream. It has been a privilege to support their efforts so far. We look forward to learning more as they continue to engage and share new experiences with our growing network of fellows.

Alasdair Davies is driving change in conservation technology with Arribada, creating low-cost tools to better monitor and protect the planet. His fellowship began with a broad idea of using open source solutions to unlock the many barriers faced by conservationists, enabling them to work more efficiently, access better quality data, and achieve more impact in the field.

Three years of experimentation and testing has resulted in an impressive array of tangible, useful, open source products. Alasdair has focussed his thoughts to design, build and deploy high-quality low-cost turtle tags, thermal imaging devices, and rugged time-lapse cameras for use in harsh conditions. These are successful innovations in their own right, offering cheaper, better and more reliable solutions for urgent global conservation challenges. But our investment is proving fruitful along other, more systemic avenues.

Alasdair is not just flying the flag for openness, but advancing it into areas commonly commercialised, proprietary and locked, as evidenced by the successful relationships he is building with an array of stakeholders and a growing community. A noticeable highlight of his fellowship is his ability to identify opportunities to cross-pollinate ideas and needs from both commercial and nonprofit entities, bringing people together to work for the greater good. One of these partnerships resulted in the first-ever open source reference design for a transmitter with access to the Argos Satellite System. Another - in collaboration with Luka Mustafa - has given birth to an evolutionary methodology, where the product becomes a platform and an open, continuous resource: the same technology used to track turtles can be adapted to track multiple species.

As a fellow, Alasdair has significantly contributed to the conversations we have around openness, and his willingness to experiment and work off-piste has pushed the dial forward for open hardware. As he moves on to pursue sustainability, the idea is to build on Arribada’s successful partnerships with independent technology companies and continue to provide endlessly adaptable, bespoke solutions, not only for the likes of WWF and National Geographic, but the global communities that need them most.

In the first order, this will help solve urgent conservation problems faster and at greater scale. For example, from Alasdair’s sea turtle tagging project on Principe, researchers could track where feeding was taking place during breeding season. Now, they can use that GPS data to offer better protection for nesting grounds and warn fishermen and local sailors of the turtle’s whereabouts to avoid accidents. It will also extend the benefits of working openly outside of its traditional base, into a more mainstream environment.

Anasuya Sengupta is decolonising the Internet with Whose Knowledge?, a multilingual campaign to centre the knowledge of marginalised communities and re-design the web. The idea is to promote greater depth and diversity of online information, enabling us all to develop understanding and deeper context about who we all are and where we come from.

Over her three-year fellowship, Anasuya has taken significant strides in making online knowledge sound less like a straight white male and more like the diverse world we actually live in. It is a monumental task, but Whose Knowledge? is applying a practical, multi-pronged approach building open, practical tools available for all and developing long-term relationships with a range of marginalised groups, helping them create online archives and develop resilience against censorship and overzealous Wikipedia editors reliant on Western-published research.

She is an exceptional community organiser, mobilising techies, activists, scholars, institutions and media organisations. Together, they work openly and take practical action with the aim of shifting frames of thought and changing institutional practices. With the ongoing Visible Wiki Women initiative, for example, she is making notable women whose photos are often missing from the web more conspicuous.

The ideas behind Whose Knowledge? are radical and transformative, turning structural power, privilege and thinking on its head. Where it succeeds, we are better off in terms of cultural enrichment and understanding of how the world works. Where it stumbles - and there are many frustrating, head-banging anecdotes - it shines a light on the problematic nature of a neocolonial web.

Despite facing a great deal of resistance and misunderstanding, Anasuya continues to pose questions many in the Global North find awkward. But she does so in a way that challenges the status quo with nuance, compassion and empathy. She has been an exceptional fellow, generous with her thoughts and experiences, whose work has shifted thinking about the nature of knowledge and privilege throughout the wider world - and within the fellowship community. There have been many ‘lightbulb moments’ so far. We look forward to Anasuya providing many more in the coming years.

Tarek Loubani is making low-cost medical devices universally accessible with the Glia Project. A Palestinian-Canadian emergency doctor, Tarek is applying open source methodologies to his vocational expertise; primarily to save lives, but also to encourage a culture of independence. He is re-imagining the way we design, make and distribute medical equipment to increase availability in low-resource settings and enable continued development in the aftermath of conflict.

Tarek’s fellowship began with a 3D-printed stethoscope, costing less than $3 to build but matching - or exceeding - the standards of the benchmark model available for the prohibitive price of several hundred dollars. Now, the stethoscope has been validated by Health Canada and deployed in his home country and internationally, with over 500 units printed.

Not only has this improved access to these humble devices where they are unaffordable, but it also gives local communities agency: collaboration between medics and makers means communities can create stethoscopes themselves. More importantly, it validated the Glia processes. This methodology has also been used to develop plans for an open source otoscope, a pulse oximeter - both currently at a clinical trial stage - and an electrocardiogram.

Another significant highlight is the creation of 3D-printed, low-cost tourniquets. Whereas the stethoscope was conceived in Canada and Germany, the tourniquet was exclusively planned and developed in Gaza. The emergency community recognised the need, came up with the engineering, and iterated, deployed, and tested it in the field. It is saving lives. This is a massive win, proving that culture change and a move away from consumerism, patents, profits and dependence is attainable.

Tarek has successfully professionalised the Glia Project, despite a few hiccups along the way. And he has become a mildly reluctant figurehead for this nascent movement, inspiring medical professionals to shift from being consumers of devices to become active participants and creators. The box, we think, is now unlocked. It will be intriguing to see what emerges from it. For Tarek, immediate future plans include an idea to design and build parts for an open source dialysis machine. But there is huge potential for other exciting, equally ambitious innovations in this space.

We are still a long way from reaching Tarek’s goal of putting a permanent end to global asymmetry of care. But his work with Glia is a giant leap forward and is proving that open medical hardware is part of the solution. He has created a solid foundation for his growing team, volunteer community, and others to build upon.

We wish all our outgoing fellows the very best as they continue to seek positive change in the world, and offer our gratitude for continuing to share their knowledge, experiences and learning with all of us in the Shuttleworth community. Thank you, Tarek, Anasuya and Alasdair.

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