12,322 km, two non-profits, one project
It's a Long Way to Tipperary, as an old song tells us. It’s an even longer way between Toronto and Karachi, especially if stopping in Dublin, Ireland (not far from Tipperary indeed); Milan, and Prato, Italy. If Google Maps (as per screenshot) doesn’t lie, it is a 12,322 km trip, as the crow flies.
It took more than a year to create a project that brings together two non-profit organizations about which I am pretty biased and to connect those dots on the map: The Citizens Foundation, via its Italian chapter, Italian Friends of TCF, and the Linux Professional Institute (LPI). This post tells the story so far: stay tuned on these digital pages for the following chapters!
Supporting non-profit organizations
My involvement in LPI started in 2015 with the Italian branch, and my role has grown over time. I have always been enthusiastic about LPI’s mission: to promote the use of open source by supporting the people who work with it. I have defined myself in a previous post as a diversely nerdy individual. I am very far from being a programmer (the only command line I actually master pretty well is the cheat console of my favorite video game, Skyrim), but the principles and objectives of Open Source are extremely close to the values and purposes at the core of my vision of the world.
These principles are among the most powerful tools we have to address equality, climate change, and the challenges thrown at us by a world that is growing ever smaller and more interconnected (pandemic, anyone?). Being part of an organization that enables individuals worldwide to have better jobs, a better life, and better communities through Linux and Open Source is, for me, just something to be proud of. It’s that priceless working-for-the-good-guys feeling, you know?
The beginning of my involvement in LPI was quite random. It started from a contact back with someone in Florence with whom I had worked at the end of the previous century. A friend, an ex-colleague of mine, proposed that I send my CV to Daniele Cirio, the Account Executive of LPI in Italy. I discovered that Daniele—whom I didn’t know before—had an amazing record of supporting the IT infrastructure of NGOs, and in doing so through free and open source software (FOSS). That priceless feeling, again…
I didn’t even meet my colleagues in Prato, Italy, for a while, after I started to work remotely from Dublin. And it took until 2017 before I could meet my international bunch of colleagues face-to-face at an LPI summit I didn’t even have to take a flight to, as it was a 30-minute drive from Dublin city center, in Malahide, County Dublin.
The Citizens Foundation Pakistan
The beginning of my involvement with the Italian Friends of The Citizens Foundation (IFTCF) non-profit, the Italian chapter of TCF Pakistan, was even more random than my connection with LPI.
The very existence of IFTCF is a spirit-lifting story: It starts in 2010 when an American philanthropist living in Milan, Italy, Gretchen Romig Crosti, moved so profoundly by the news of floods in Pakistan, hears for the first time about TCF and immediately decides to act, devoting her time, resources, effort, to TCF’s cause: bringing even to the poorest areas of Pakistan high quality education, starting from building schools and going on to provide all the infrastructure and workforce to maintain them actively. I didn’t know The Citizens Foundation before, frankly (It just happened I was in the right place at the right time). My bad. Because the now 27-year legacy of The Citizens Foundation is —I can’t find a better word— impressive.
The Citizens Foundation (TCF) was established in August 1995. In 1995, as TCF’s site read, “Six friends come together and agree that education is the key to solving a wide range of social problems.”
Pakistan deals with the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world. Those six friends put their mind —and their money— toward tackling this dismal state of affairs, setting up a wholesome organizational structure for building, managing, and manning well-designed schools and providing their pupils with a high-quality, international standard education.
I wrote manning, but I might write womanning, as 100% of the principals and teachers in TCF schools are female, and a balanced gender-ratio in the student body is guaranteed. (We won’t have that amazing ratio in the first batch of LPI students, but we have some female students, and I do hope we’ll get to parity as the project grows).
The TCF journey started with the objective to build 1,000 schools in the poorest areas of Pakistan: in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods and in the remotest rural areas as well.
Today —citing March 2022 figures— TCF has 1,833 school units for 280,000 students. Meanwhile, the Aagahi adult literacy programme and the construction of filtered water depots make the positive impact of a TCF school in an area even deeper and stronger. It’s only in 2019 that IFTCF’s path and mine crossed. It was again, immediately, that priceless working-for-the-good-guys feeling.
In 2019 my position in LPI had just started to change. While the Italian FOSS environment was still the core of my involvement, my commitment had begun to have an international perspective. In late 2019 Marta Righetti joined IFTCF as general manager. Marta had international experience in the non-profit (NGO) environment already: I started thinking that, probably, she could have found it interesting to start a conversation about how TCF could have been interested in adding the LPI certification framework to the curriculum of their college. It would have been great to start that conversation immediately, but COVID-19 had different plans for all of us…
The past couple of years have been quite tough for everybody.
TCF had to deal with the unprecedented emergency launched by the pandemic, which made the already difficult context of teaching in the poorest areas of Pakistan even more difficult. We put that conversation we wanted to have in the icebox: until a better time. Until now.
Finally connecting the dots
And it is with those better times we all hope to have ahead that we—finally!—started the conversation between IFTCF and its Pakistani headquarters to evaluate whether TCF would find the LPI’s certifications panel of interest for the organization.
With TCF already having a keen eye for innovation, thanks to a wonderful team of skilled IT teachers in its college in Karachi, the answer was the expected one. Inside LPI, I started working with Evan Leibovitch to make TCF a partner.
At the same time, the concept of bringing LPI to Pakistan was exciting. Training the first group of TCF LPI courseware teachers-to-be was more challenging, but more exciting as well. And I didn’t have to look too far.
LPI had been working with Andrea Polidori for a few years now, on projects such as translation and editing of the LPI’s Learning Materials. I know Andrea’s laudable commitment to the FOSS community and to initiatives of social justice and inclusion: He immediately jumped on board. We had our teacher trainer!
What is happening
All the chess pieces were on the board, finally. It was time to start playing. Hammad Khalid, TCF’s Head of College, selected a group of teachers whose backgrounds fit the skills and knowledge set needed to become a great LPI Linux Essentials Trainer.
Starting in June 2021, on the occasion of the EMEA Partners Meeting, we have been experimenting using LPI’s Mattermost as a kind of a social interaction channel. I thought Mattermost could have been the right tool again: All the people involved in the project are now, almost literally, on the same page, on a dedicated, project-oriented Mattermost Channel.
While I am writing this post, thanks to Evan, the chessboard is being set up. It’s almost time for the chess match!
What is going to happen next?
The trainers-to-be have just started getting familiar with the Linux Essentials Exam objectives and topics through the Learning Materials on the LPI’s Learning Portal. Andrea will start the online lessons soon.
IFTCF is now an LPI Academic Training Partner. Through IFTCF, six people will be trained to take the Linux Essentials Exam in the TFC College in Karachi.
The only TCF college, it also offers opportunities in STEM disciplines. A technology oriented college, more than 50% of its students are girls. Being so, and “doubly” involved myself, I wanted to add something personal and factual to this long string of connected dots: I wanted to cover the first year of TCF’s Partnership with a donation.
In a few months, the TCF College in Karachi will have the first group of LPI Linux Essentials certified trainers. From then on, TCF will be able to provide high-level, certified IT training to its students and prepare them for high-quality careers working with Open Source. This initiative will benefit not only the students but the environment around them. One of my favorite quotes from Malala Yousafzai is: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” It will be intriguing what we, with TCF, will be able to do with 1,833 schools, six trainers, one Learning Materials repository and a command line…