Service to others is valuable. I’m not sure whether there’s more value to those served or to those performing the service. I’ve seen this in many settings – Service to the American Red Cross, Service providing emergency and disaster communications, and as a board member serving non-profit organizations.
A lot of people understand that part of the open source model is to help others. Even if developers aren’t actively and directly serving others, their work is available for others to use, and this enables a lot of people to do a whole lot with very little investment, either in time or money. For a lot of open source developers and community members, this is abstract and doesn’t matter to them a bit. That’s fine – one of the great things about open source is that the helping part happens whether you actively drive it or not.
I’m a proponent of service. I try to communicate with people about the ways in which they can provide service. I have a talk I’d love to give at an open source conference someday titled “Exception handing in meatspace”, about why you should think about being part of the exception handling for disasters. I also meet a lot of people through open source (and recently through the Ubuntu community) who are dedicated to service. These meetings are exciting because we generally talk about the sort of meta-issues, such as how to connect more service organizations with better resources, or how to help the organizations be more effective.
Now and then there’s a meeting that stands out as having the possibility of marking something bigger – the beginning of a chapter that’s not written yet. I had one of those meetings the last night of the Canonical all-hands meeting in Barcelona. I knew Daniel Holbach. I knew who he was, and had even talked with him about a few things during previous Ubuntu sprints (intense development meetings). We had just never connected on the topic of service. I’m not sure how we got there, conversationally, but we found a common interest. Daniel was going to give a talk on Ubuntu and NGOs, and start connecting people with an interest in using Ubuntu and open source to help NGOs and non-profits do more for less. Daniel has formed the Ubuntu in NGOs group and is off to a running start.
If you are interested in this type of service, please sign up and contribute. There’s a lot to do, including reaching out to find people who can contribute to this and who can benefit from it.