by SF Team, 1 September 2014
While our fellowships are for a year at a time, Fellows can apply for consecutive years based on past performance and their idea for what comes next. Whether Fellows exit the programme after one, two or three years, we always hope that both they and us have learnt something useful, contributed a positive change in the world and will be carrying something forward from their fellowship.
During his three years as a Shuttleworth Fellow, Arthur Attwell worked on Paperight, a rights clearance house for literary and educational works to allow distributed, local, on-demand book printing. Access to reading materials is critical to learning in its broadest sense. Arthur’s passion is to ensure universal access, with access including at least legal and physical dimensions. Digital is showing promise, but has not yet resulted in the scale needed, and never will if legal access issues are not resolved.
Arthur has specifically succeeded in reaching innovative agreements on rights access with rights holders. Post-fellowship he will continue to experiment in this area, engaging with content creators and publishers to optimise access. He is releasing the most recent version of the Paperight platform openly and a series on his journey.
“Innovation in publishing is hard,” Arthur explains. “It’s a low-margin business, steeped in institutional knowledge, and run by people who do it for love not money. The only way to bring fundamental change is to invest in an independent team to build something completely new and set examples for others to follow. That’s what the fellowship has done for me and, therefore, for publishing. Ever since the Internet reduced the cost of copies to near-zero, the only real barrier to the spread of books is rights – the cost of licences and the transaction costs of entering into them. That’s why it’s been so critically important that we do this work. Within three fast and hectic fellowship years, we’ve sparked whole new ways of thinking about rights and book distribution in South Africa and abroad. I’m looking forward to building on that in future.”
“The fellowship has also given me and my team a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn and grow rapidly into People Who Get Things Done. Rarely in life are we given simultaneously a challenge, an opportunity and the financial space to make the most of them. Everything we achieve in future will owe much to the wave we’ve ridden these last three years.”
Jaisen Mathai’s two years as a Fellow were spent on developing services for preserving media - both personal and societal - for posterity. It has become so easy to record everyday life through photos and video, but at the same time too easy to loose those records spread across devices that break, get lost or stolen, or becomes obsolete. Jaisen set out to help save media for the future, whether to follow our own history, have that childhood photo of a now important historical figure or be able to experience the 2012 Olympic games, in 50 years, from every participant and spectator’s perspective. You can read a series chronicling his journey.
His primary mechanism for doing that is Trovebox, a service that enables the easy transfer and storage of media between devices and accounts to consolidate records and avoid vendor or technology lock-in. The source code for the Trovebox platform is available via GitHub.
“When I set out to help people and institutions preserve digital media archives for decades into the future I knew there would be bumps in the road,” Jaisen remembers. “We had a number of successes over the past 3 years along with a fair share of challenges. I saw two distinct challenges when I started Trovebox. The first was the technology to ensure digital media archives could outlive even us. This proved to be the easy half. The more difficult half was finding a market that would sustain a continued evolution of the product. In our search for that market we engaged with countless individuals and groups. Groups we spoke to ranged from the University of Southern California to the Internet Archive. We shared common goals with varied approaches; something that’s critically needed in this space. Then there were individuals; people just like you and me. Folks who wanted to preserve their own experiences and lives for future generations and society as a whole.”
“As I exit the fellowship I’m reminded of many things,” says Jaisen. “There’s vital work to be done in this world and anyone can do it. I’m eternally grateful to the Shuttleworth Foundation for helping me do my share. But our work is never done and as I move on I take with me a new perspective on my own life and of the world. The past 3 years has made clear to me just how small the world is and also how big it is. I plan on continuing the work I started with the help of the Foundation as well as researching other areas where the fellowship model can work. I’m excited for this next chapter and grateful for the last.”
Both Arthur and Jaisen paid careful attention to the balance of wanting to make a positive contribution to the world and trying to do so as a sustainable, for-profit business. Starting a new business is hard. Doing so with social change in mind and openness at its core adds an extra dimension of difficulty. Their reflections on their experiences have added tremendous value to our thinking on this. For us, success is not measured by VC investments and IPOs. Shifting thinking in an industry, sustaining change and building something lasting is much more important to us and our fellows.
Watch the Foundation’s perspective on Arthur and Jaisen’s fellowship: