An open source national economic development model inspired by WordPress

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This guest article was authored by Prosper Chikomo, an internet entrepreneur and author of Turning Iron into Gold: Golden Opportunities: How to Spot Them, Create Them, Make Money from Them, and How Not to Miss Them (Available on

Several years ago I got my first taste of open source software and it has been one heck of a ride and learning all the way. When I started I knew no programming at all, and the best I could do was Frontpage and other “html” programs, but through delving inside open source software I started to learn a lot of things bit by bit and to expand my knowledge. I have benefited from using and studying open source software tremendously. I became a WordPress fan because I was able to easily change a lot of things in WordPress with no coding experience at all.

Free yet profitable

What impressed me about the “WordPress” project was how it was organized and how it was able to survive for so long offering a world-class product for free.

I found it fascinating that Automattic, the company behind WordPress is completely virtual, has employees scattered throughout the world, and makes millions of dollars. I loved the model of Automattic’s organization.


If you were ever a victim of Operation Murambatsvina you will understand why I loved the model, and why I consciously avoid brick-and-mortar business.


Although the Zimbabwean economy is now stable, several companies continue to close and the unemployment rate as we know it is still over 80%. While open source mostly refers to software, I believe it can also apply to economic development programmes and that such programmes can play a huge role.

In my case, I am in favour of a technology-based and export-led economic development programme (Programme) simply for reasons of higher value addition and the promise of higher paying jobs, unlike in agriculture and mining.

Open source elements

Here’s how I envisage it would work. Just like in open source software projects, people can volunteer to participate in the Programme, offering skills and time. Volunteers can participate or leave the programme at any time.

Unlike with open source software projects, in the case of an economic revival and development programme (Programme), a range of skills will have to be involved. That means volunteers can be from different sectors of the economy and different professions, and not just from a single profession e.g., software engineering.

Open source benefits

Working with WordPress, I started to understand code bit by bit and learned new skills in the process. And if you are a contributor to the project, you also get to learn from the WordPress community as well, which adds to your skills set.

The same will be true for an open source economic development programme, in which case anyone and from anywhere in the world, will be able to contribute and participate, and at different levels. Participants will be able to learn from other participants and the input of others.


The WordPress project produces WordPress software and other products like BuddyPress and Akismet.

The Programme, just like it is with WordPress, can also produce products and opportunities that community members and other participants can benefit from, even financially. You can volunteer (unpaid) but what the Programme produces or even the production process itself may benefit you or somebody else somehow, even financially.

The Programme can develop a technology businesses incubator (technology factory I call it) that is run and maintained by volunteers, resident start-ups, and/or paid employees, while providing funding for infrastructure. The Programme can also provide funding for resident businesses and non-resident businesses using money that is saved through volunteering etc…

(On non-resident start-ups, believe me, technology hubs or technology parks cannot accommodate all promising technology start-ups. Some start-ups are based in homes, in bedrooms and garages. I do not believe that those must be ignored, but rather, they should become non-resident Programme participating start-upsThey should get just as much support as technology-factory-based start-upsSo long as they are not hardware businesses that can be destroyed by Operation Murambatsvina Tadzoka Zvakare (Part 2))

Think of which is run by paid employees of a virtual company. It is free for anyone to use, but some things (upgrades) are paid for. Then there are third-party plugin and theme developers who code free and paid open source and proprietary plugins and themes for WordPress. Many even run businesses offering WordPress services.

Then think of, the home of the open source software, where unpaid volunteers contribute code and time.

Why volunteer to be part of an open source software development project?

Contributors who volunteer in the co-production of WordPress do have benefits, even though not financial, otherwise there would not be any contributors. Contributors volunteer in the production of WordPress for all sorts of reasons. Besides the ability to download a better WordPress product, some do it for recognition, like when your name is mentioned in the WordPress code for having contributed code. Prospective employers will be chaffed to read in your CV that you are one of the officially acknowledged WordPress contributors and they even find your name in the software.

Many contributing volunteers use their participation as a way to demonstrate their skills like when someone pastes a whole page of code in the WordPress community to fix something without getting paid for it. It will clearly show that the lady can code, and how well, judging by the quality of her code.

Some plugin and theme developers do it to show prospective employers their initiativeability to work without supervision, and project management skills. This happens in many ways like when you develop your own theme or plugin, which you continuously updatehow fast you upgrade your project to the latest WordPress release, and how fast you respond to bug fixes etc.

Telltale signs of your communications skills will also be easily verified. If you respond to questions from newbies or customers using only expletives, it will be hard for any recruiter to be convinced it was a one time or five time thing that will not happen in the company. Imagine what hiring you or such a person would do for the company.

Recruiters looking for WordPress skills can scrounge the WordPress community for potential employees. I can imagine how easy it is for Automattic to recruit that way. Visibly participating in the WordPress community can also show whether you can work as part of a team or not.

Others volunteer in the WordPress production effort to learn new skills while others do it to develop their skills. In the WordPress community, you can ask questions and get answers etc., developing your skills by learning new things.

Some do it for the love of it, like a hobby, for leisure, fun. Others do it to connect and network with other coders. Some non-coder entrepreneurs join the community to hunt expert coders they can hire for their WordPress projects or WordPress-based start-ups etc. The reasons are too many to mention.

What can an open source economic development programme offer a volunteer?

Well, since it has never been done before in the way I imagine it, just like, there are no guarantees, but I can imagine the networking potential, personal satisfaction, marketing opportunities, talent demonstration opportunities, learning opportunities, even money-making opportunities, and even funding opportunities (if you join the Programme’s “start-up stream”).

It all really depends at what level you will operate. For example, on the Facebook page, you will read the progress going on and even participate, just like you do with any of your favourite Facebook pages. There is the serious leisure element, the intellectual stimulation element from the hundreds of posts that will come in, and the usual jokes and opportunities to laugh that litter Facebook.

A career-marketer who volunteers to mentor start-ups in the areas of marketing may at the same time learn about starting and managing a start-up for example, thorugh mentoring the start-ups. A student on attachment or a volunteer may also learn how to start a technology business by studying start-ups that will be incubated and funded by the Programme.Start-ups can get marketing support, and mentorships, the whole shebang through non-financial contributions from volunteers.

The opportunities to network with like-minded people and even those with complementary skills will be many. The whole Programme will be a win-win entrepreneurial ecosystem that has unlimited potential. The opportunities that can arise are many.


In Zimbabwe, there are people who left formal jobs at the height of fuel shortages in 2002 to join the informal sector who have a 10-year “formal employment” gap. To get these people marketable in the formal sector, they can volunteer to work in the Programme at office level or other appropriate level and establish a recent work track record and references, get some experience, and make connections in their industry that can get them back into formal employment. The same will be true for a university student with no experience etc.

Just like with any open source software project, benefits are many and varied and depend on what you volunteer to do. I cannot mention all benefits. It is entirely up to you how you will benefit.

Can this work?

It depends what one calls a success of a national economic development programme that is not of the government, is not government-sponsored, and does not involve the government. As far as I’m concerned, if the Programme builds even one technology factory and nothing more, it would have more than succeeded. Everything else will be built on top of that. The only challenge I see is just building the infrastructure, everything else will be easy.

The more the merrier

From my studies in the last four months of 2012 I learnt that “large” open source projects with just 50 000 participants or less than 100 000 members are hardly successful and that those with 100 000 or more participants stand a greater chance of succeeding and having a meaningful impact. You can succeed with a ten-lady open source project, but there is a scale that gives the project momentum and a long life.

WordPress has many contributors and users and that is why it is a success. Because of its sheer size, even venture capitalists and potential acquirers knock on WordPress’s (Automattic’s) doors.

Now, if the Programme should succeed in getting the attention of venture capitalists throughout the world, and should venture capital start knocking on the Programmes’ doors, it would be a relief to start-ups of many young Zimbabweans who have no hope of ever getting venture capital at all at the moment.

If the Programme should command a huge following, it would have the clout to raise funding from investors, unlike if it has just 50 000 or 80 000 followers/participants. This means it would be in the best interests of potential beneficiaries and participants (e.g. start-ups, entrepreneurs, mentors, employees, volunteers etc.) to spread word about it, giving the Programme more muscle and ultimately for their own benefit. Another reason to volunteer.

Funding the programme

Whenever open source is mentioned, things like donations, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, and anything “crowd” start to visit one’s imagination. In my view, open source project funding does not have to mean “donor-dependent”. WordPress is open source and not donor-driven, yet it is self sustaining although it offers its software for free.

Funds for an open source economic development programme can be raised the same way traditional companies raise funds. That means the Programme can raise funds even from the stock market, competing against “for-profit” companies for investment.

I especially favour this approach because it holds the greatest promise. If you look around, there is more money in the for-profit circles than in the donor circles. The total amount of money that is donated throughout the world does not compare to the massive amount of capital that is available from stock markets and other “for-profit” sources.

You can only raise up to a certain amount from donors, and with conditions attached, unlike when you raise funds from the stock market. There is a reason why there is no single project that was crowdfunded to the tune of US$20 million when US$20 million is very heard of in “for-profit” circles.

On the stock markets, however, where there are big institutional investors like pension funds and asset management companies that have billions of dollars to invest, billions of dollars can be raised.

The money raised on the stock market can then be used to venture fund a lot of start-ups and a lot of activities. Ultimately, the stock market is the way to go. Listing on the stock exchange, even abroad, say in London, has the ultimate benefit of marketing the Programme and its activities to investors and raising the profile of the Programme.

Forces of gravity

WordPress is open source and because of its huge following, Automattic has managed to get venture capital funding and even the New York Times is now an investor in WordPress. Fortune 500 companies are now also doing business with Automattic and one of the reasons why is because of WordPress’ higher profile.

A huge open source economic development programme for Zimbabwe that has over 100 000 participants/contributors – and that does not have the participation of a government that is under sanctions – is certain to make noises and get the attention of the world, who will wait to see what it does and what comes out of it. (Or what will be done to it. (a laugh))

If the Programme should succeed in launching start-ups and a few noticeable world-class products self-funded, it would have set the stage for venture capital to flow into Zimbabwe. The world’s finances are attracted to places where big things are happening. Think Kenya, M-Pesa, and the rise of Kenya’s venture capital industry. You could also think of Silicon Valley, Silicon Roundabout, the Cambridge Phenomenon, and the rise of the venture capital industries associated with those places. Then obviously China which it is said is now the factory of the world.

Conclusion: You can be the development you want to see

You – yes you – can be the development you want to see in your country, in Africa, or anywhere.

According to legend passed on from generation to generation, and as said about Matt Mullenweg (the founder of  was not satisfied with b2/cafelog and the limited things it could do. He wanted a better blogging software, and he decided to fork WordPress out of it. That is how WordPress got its start. He became the change he wanted to see and he can see it. Today WordPress reportedly powers over half of the websites on the web.

I believe an open source and open access economic development programme will work. If open source software projects can create value, I don’t see how an open source economic development programme can fail to do so.


  1. TechZim or WebZim says:

    These FOSS, WordPress, Joomla! and website-development oriented articles are too much. Handina kana kutozomboiverenga nyaya yacho. @L.S.M.Kabweza, is this what “Technology Zim” is all about? Data bundles on that operator, christmas deals on that ISP and then Joomla! again every other 3 articles (hyperbole) I wonder if Technology in Zimbabwe is that limited. No wonder you have comments and the articles themselves from those same people, Time, Tinm@n, Chiponda, Shoko, Swart etc. It feels like walking into a facebook page of a group that deals with a specific topic. Some of us are Technologically minded too, in any case lets rename the site to Webdev Zimbabwe.

    I truly hope this sounds like constructive criticism. If not, tough.

    1. tinm@n says:

      Some of us are Technologically minded too, in any case lets rename the site to Webdev Zimbabwe.

      Webdev is a registered company. Not sure about WebZim. May I suggest DevZim or something thereabouts. But rebranding from TechZim to DevZim may not be the best thing to do, as one stands to lose mileage gained. Or,maybe, we could setup a poll and VOTE!

      1. TechZim or WebZim says:

        Yes, WebDev is a registered company, i know. I’m sure my point of this being renamed to something more website oriented must have come through, which was my intention in the first place.

        Poll? yeah, why not. Rest assured, Its just like the voter apathy situation on the zim political front where an opposition party hopes to gain mileage from voters that have since got fed up and left and as a result won’t vote. Voters in your poll tinm@n will be largely sampled from the web-dev industry. they are the ones that visit this blog in drones and masses.

        1. tinm@n says:

          Just kiddin. From my understanding, TechZim is open to relevant content, so if you wish to rescue us with more variety(suggestions and an actual contribution), am sure both the community and TechZim would appreciate it. Personally, I would like more infrastructure-related stuff.

        2. Violet Machoko says:

          @Prosper Chikomo: This is informative L.S.M. Kabweza Thanks Bro TechZim or WebZim Look for a website with your taste.

    2. Tapiwa ✔ says:

      Your comment would have been more constructive had you suggested topics you’d like to see covered. TZ also accepts tips at

      The articles & editorials on this site are still about technology, they might not be your cup of tea, but sometimes all you can do is close the tab and move on with your life. I certainly don’t agree with the style and/or substance from certain authors here, but I’ve learnt to live with it. Suggesting that they rename is certainly over the top, almost as bad as me saying “ is available for registration, if you think you can do better”.

    3. macdchip says:

      We live in an open idea world, if this site is not according to your taste, l guess you can always find comfort in other sites.

      But you can always contribute with your technical mind and bring diversity to articles shared here. I kinda understand your claim bt pple contribute what they know best and it seems we have a lot of participating contributors with web development background.

      Why not be the ”first” to contribute something technical!!

    4. We do have a leaning on connectivity, the web and startup opportunities around that.

      I really encourage you to read this article though. it’s one of the great articles on the site.

      Thank you for the frank feedback. Much appreciated.

    5. Be the change you wanna see my friend! submit tips, articles, stories, news anything….

      Technology is broad and from my understanding, Techzim is built and centred around internet, web, telecomms, startups, software etc. TZ can correct me here.

      If you want articles like “How to install a solar panel” or “How CCTV works” or something like this, i guess you are on the wrong site. Better still start your own….!

  2. wengai says:

    its too academic prosper. I have great respect for you and most of your accomplishments I just think perhaps techzim should have a link on their website for workshops or knowledge corner. Your articles in my view fit more of those categories. They are well researched and so fluent and perhaps nothing is wrong with them. Its just that when I get to main page i look for the “MG Siegler” like of articles, fast paced, emotional and opinion splitting. I want to read your articles perhaps when I want professional stuff or when in “research mode”. I must say I do enjoy most of your articles, truly!!

  3. Violet Machoko says:

    @Prosper Chikomo: This is informative @kabweza:disqus Thanks Bro @197f9cd49f36787673820c31a4d4b319:disqus Look for a website with your taste.

  4. Chanyane says:

    Good article. The kind of ecosystem the writer describes already exists and is thriving in the Zimbabwean consultancy scene. I sometimes collaborate with the Institute of Rural technologies ( on such “Open Source ” initiatives (we obviously do not call them open source because they not software initiatives). Most of the issues raised by the writer are true and they do happen in such ecosystems. Another example would be the Trans Limpopo Spatial Initiative Committee that runs in Byo. The only differences with these and the true Open Source projects is their reach. They are limited by the fact that they operate in physical world and not in cyberspace. The article’s greatest contribution is in sensitizing the techies of the importance of such ecosystems. So well done on that front.

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