Some How-Tos for Building and Supporting Open Source Science Communities in Africa and Latin America

Central to open science and open source is the idea that everyone, no matter where they are in the world, should be able to contribute to, engage with, and benefit from the development of science and technology.

In the fireside chat “Building and supporting open source science communities in Africa and Latin America”, developed at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) Open Science 2022 Annual Meeting, five leaders of open source science initiatives who have worked extensively with African and Latin American communities shared what they have experienced and learnt. The entire Fireside Chat video can be viewed with captions in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.

In this post we focus on short-, medium- and long-term actions that funders, researchers, and others can take to remove some of the barriers to participation, based on the contributions of the panelists and moderators of the Fireside Chat:

Thomas Mboa - Mboa Lab + CEIMIA

  • We must address a diversity of approaches to open science. Resources to make materials accessible should be developed and distributed in languages different from English.
  • It’s good to have collaboration and networks to create open science but we need to be sure that we can rely on local infrastructure. We need to take the right action to make open science projects effective in our diverse contexts and develop capacity building.
  • We also need to think about funding open science projects with communities like ours in Africa. When you aim at collaborating with Afrincan or Latin American communities, you have to learn from us first and understand what we need to develop innovation and collaboration projects.

Anelda Van der Walt - Talarify & Talarify Foundation

  • In the short-term, I hope that people from diverse contexts such as Latin America, Africa and other emerging regions join the conversation.
  • There is a lot that we as Africans can contribute - we don’t always have to be seen as people who have to be trained or funded. Persons working in the Global North can find an opportunity to attend an African-led community event or conversation in your field of interest and don’t attend as speaker or expert, but as a participant. You might be surprised about what you will learn. If you can’t find an African-led event of interest, ask yourself why it doesn’t exist, and see if you can connect with Africans in your field and help them set up a meetup or event to bring the local community together.
  • The impact of predominantly having Open Science resources, training, and software documentation available in English is hugely underestimated. Let’s purposefully consider what we will do about the language issue, starting with languages where larger communities could benefit and contribute. Fund projects to create localized training materials with examples and data sets that people from other contexts can relate to. Fund projects to translate their manuals, training materials, etcetera, into other languages.
  • Not only keeping open science to STEM researchers but also really engaging with social sciences, humanities, linguistics, to think about the things that we may not have the skills to do.

Selene Fernandez-Valverde - CABANAnet

  • Immediate actions: While Latin Americans and Africans must keep and increase efforts to continue sharing knowledge generated in our regions with the rest of the world, the whole international community should also use and cite the high-quality resources generated in the Latin American and African regions.
  • Encourage current and former trainees to share their knowledge in these regions through workshops and participate in translation efforts to make some of these resources more accessible to underrepresented communities. Find the key players that can build and maintain the community by doing the work; support them through resources and guidance.
  • In the longer-term, it is mandatory to fund training and open science projects in Latin America and Africa, particularly when led by local leadership or jointly led with researchers and developers of other regions. We also have to liaise with the local and international government sectors to promote funding for open science endeavors in these regions (and globally).
  • Raise awareness on the importance of having open access resources in these regions (e.g., epidemiological surveillance, capacity building, science diplomacy, etc).

Fernán Federici - Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile + iBio Millenium Institute

  • One immediate action: we need to engage with communities that have already thought about these issues, that have ideas about how to map individual contributions within collective initiatives, and already have a gender agenda and training in cooperative work.
  • Universities promote individualistic narratives such as “protect your idea,” patent-based innovation policies, etcetera; but science is a collaborative, collective activity, based on shared knowledge, as iterations of a continuum process. In our regions, we should encourage the adoption of open source technologies that enable more fluid and frictionless models of technology development and transfer, and look for legal mechanisms that better adapt to its collective nature.

Angela Okune - Code for Science and Society

  • All science is (and should be) situated in its context, in its time, in its location, and in its world view. We need to pay attention to power relations in knowledge production.
  • It is important to recognize the contributions to science from regions of the world historically marginalized and to invest in those usually excluded from participating in science, whether “open” or not.
  • Participation is just a starting point. Not the end goal. We need to work towards investing in infrastructures that help shift power and create multiple centers of power around the world.
  • We need to double down on efforts to invest in human and social infrastructure in addition to the technical infrastructure. Too often technology gets foregrounded while the people building it get backgrounded. Recognize all the various kinds of labor and care required to make science and technology and invest in the aspects that are often invisibilized and undervalued.
  • In the longer-term, scientists and funders that care about social and economic development need new ways to build and distribute power locally in more decentralized ways. We need more creative ways to organize people, create and manage capital, and steward community assets.

References and extra resources to learn more about these important topics:

Thank you for reading until here! Now we invite you to share and comment them to continue expanding the power of these ideas and all these urgent changes we all must work on as soon as possible.


  • Anelda Van der Walt
  • Angela Okune
  • Emmy Tsang
  • Fernán Federici
  • Laura Ación
  • Laura Ascenzi
  • Selene Fernandez-Valverde
  • Thomas Mboa