On Open Source and Poverty Alleviation

While many people and organizations have been praised for their philanthropic work and poverty alleviation, the open source movement does not get the credit it deserves. I would argue that no other work comes even close to what the open source software movement contributed and achieved. How? Let me explain just a few points.

Access of modern operating system for Universities

Before Linux was a thing, a vast majority of universities in the developing world could not afford purchasing expensive multi-user operating systems and the machines they used to run. People remember how expensive Sun, IBM, Vax and other systems (hardware and software) used to be. As a result, it was very difficult for students of these universities to gain modern skills, get high paying jobs in the emerging software industry, and pull their families out of poverty. Linux changes much of it. It was free, it ran on cheap commodity hardware, and it opened a world of new possibilities for millions.

Startups and software development

The open source software packages, compilers like GNU, and other development tools made software development accessible and enabled common people to build software applications and start their own businesses. It made innovation and large scale job creating possible.

Enabling the Internet

The Internet would not be what it is if there were not  the Apache web server, open source databases, and other tools that run the core of the Internet engine. Think about the opportunities and wealth that has been made possible through the Internet, thanks to open source software that runs most of the Internet services.

AI/ML and emerging technologies

Open source software libraries for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are core to the expansion of this field as well as other technologies that fuel IoT, Cloud, and DevOps.

Today a large number of Internet connected devices run on some version of Linux, most of the Internet servers run Linux. Same is true for mobile devices. The credit goes to a large number of enthusiasts building open source software and organizations protecting the movement from legal challenges. The open source software is the engine of innovation, human progress, and wealth generation. Directly or indirectly it continues to pull people out of poverty. More than anything else, it is changing lives for many and making the playing field level for everyone.


Shahid H. Bokhari and Rafeeq U. Rehman,  Linux and the developing world – IEEE Software, January/February 1999, pp. 58-64, vol. 16

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About Rafeeq Rehman

Consultant, Author, Researcher.
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