IGF 2021 WS #106 Open Source Collaboration for Digital Sovereignty

Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (08:30 UTC) - Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (10:00 UTC)
Conference Room 6

Organizer 1: Peter Cihon, GitHub
Organizer 2: Paula Grzegorzewska, OpenForum Europe

Speaker 1: Abhishek Singh, Government, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Nataliya Langburd Wright, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Laurence Moroney, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Mike Linksvayer, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 5: Jeremy (Zhihui) Liang, Technical Community, Asia-Pacific Group


Paula Grzegorzewska, Civil Society, Eastern European Group

Online Moderator

Peter Cihon, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Peter Cihon, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Panel - Auditorium - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

Digital sovereignty: What is meant by digital sovereignty? What implications does it have for the global nature of the Internet, for Internet governance itself, and the effectiveness of the multistakeholder approach? From an opposite angle, what are the implications of the Internet and digitalisation for national sovereignty?

This session addresses an important, yet often overlooked opportunity in the digital sovereignty debate: open source collaboration. The internet enables globally distributed communities of developers to collaborate on open source software projects--projects that power national economies. Digital sovereignty raises concerns of local control and local benefit that open source collaboration can help address. Governments use open source projects in their tech infrastructure, benefiting from low costs and their ability to trust and directly verify the source code. The development and use of open source more broadly builds skills and companies that power national innovation. This session explores the impact of global open source collaboration on digital sovereignty, drawing from diverse stakeholder perspectives in government, the private sector, civil society, and academia.



Targets: This session will discuss policies for and projects in global open source software collaboration, and how they further the goals of national governments, especially in economic development. The themes discussed directly address infrastructure to support development (9.1, 9.a), enhance technological capabilities of and access in developing countries (9.5, 9.c). Open source software collaboration also addresses cooperation goals in technology and innovation for sustainable development across sectors and stakeholder groups (17.6, 17.8, 17.9, 17.16, 17.17).


Political leaders around the world have used “digital sovereignty” as a short-hand for ensuring that the products, services, and data generated in the digital economy respect the sovereignty of national laws and provide local benefits. This session discusses an important but often overlooked channel for the open internet to enhance digital sovereignty: through open source collaboration.

This session will be moderated by OpenForum Europe and feature panelists from GitHub, Harvard Business School, Google, the Government of India, and the China Open Source Promotion Union to share their research and experiences with open source software and its role in the digital sovereignty debate.

Open source is ubiquitous, powering infrastructure, from browsers to servers to applications, that is essential to the functioning of the internet as we know it. One of the most prominent open source projects today is Google’s TensorFlow, a software library for machine learning that powers AI research, development, and deployment around the world.

Open source software is the product of globally distributed developer communities, who collaborate online to build and maintain it. Individual open source contributors benefit from their participation, learning skills that can help them land jobs and build companies. These skills spill over for both national and global benefit, with a more highly skilled workforce and innovative economy. Recent academic research has quantified these benefits in an international comparative study from Harvard Business School and a European Commission study conducted by OpenForum Europe. Collaboration on open source brings national benefits that support governments’ digital sovereignty aims.

Beyond skills, the code that developers contribute similarly spills over: open source licenses can make code a public good, freely available across borders without concern of being depleted. Governments, businesses, civil society, and other stakeholders alike can use the software free of charge and build upon it, creating virtuous cycles that improve the lives of communities around the world. The Chinese OSS Promotion Union leads these ecosystem efforts in China, working to unite Chinese and international open source communities in order to promote China’s open source development.

Governments’ focus on digital sovereignty extends beyond local benefits to national control. The Government of India’s embrace of open source and other open methods in their e-Governance projects offer a powerful example of channeling open source projects and contributors to serve the needs of government directly. Open source collaboration offers governments secure and low-cost innovations that can catalyze national ecosystems. It also offers opportunities to build international trust through transparency in source code, enacting the old adage “trust but verify” in a time of international tech competition.

In order for open source collaboration to support governments’ digital sovereignty goals, governments and software developers alike need access. GitHub, the world’s leading software development platform, works with policymakers to ensure that access to open source collaboration and the tools that enable it are available to developers regardless of where they live in the world.

This session brings together a diverse panel of experts to discuss an important yet often overlooked topic in the digital sovereignty debate: the power of open source collaboration to enhance national benefits and control over tech innovation. The discussion and Q&A will draw out policy recommendations and best practices from the panelists’ diverse experiences with open source collaboration around the world.

Participants include: - Paula Grzegorzewska, Senior Policy Advisor, OpenForum Europe - Mike Linksvayer, Head of Developer Policy, GitHub - Nataliya Langburd Wright, PhD Researcher, Harvard Business School - Laurence Moroney, Head of AI Developer Relations, Google - Abishek Singh, Head of eGovernance Division, Government of India - Jeremy Liang, Deputy Secretary, China Open Source Software Promotion Union

Proposed agenda: - 10 minutes - introduction from the moderator - 20 minutes - introductory remarks from each speaker - 30 minutes - moderated Q&A - 20 minutes - open Q&A from the audience - 10 minutes - concluding remarks from each speaker

Expected Outcomes

This session will offer an often-overlooked aspect in the digital sovereignty debate: that software development enabled via the open internet can enhance digital sovereignty. The session will give prominent stakeholders the opportunity to share their perspectives on the subject. Also, the moderator and rapporteur will seek to draw out from the panelists and the discussion policy recommendations and best practices on how open source collaboration can support digital sovereignty. After the event, the organizers will publish a blog that summarizes the discussion in order to share it with a wider audience.

The session will be hybrid and include both in-person and remote panelists, and so we have thought how to make this hybrid approach work well for both speakers and the audience. Session organizers will use slides to introduce the session, available directly online and also projected within the in-person venue. Insofar as panelists wish to use visual aids, organizers will similarly ensure that they are available in both remote- and in-person-friendly formats. During the audience Q&A, the in-person moderator will alternate with the remote moderator to ensure that both types of participants are given equal opportunity to engage the panelists.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: In introducing the topic of the session, the moderator will use slides with written text to aid those in the audience that may not be native English speakers. Panelists will be similarly invited to use slides for their introductory remarks. To facilitate accessibility, the moderator will use the platform to invite audience input both through spoken questions and typed questions. We aim to increase participation by having the different organizations running the session promote it in advance on their social media accounts, and inviting the speakers to do the same.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)
Panelists agreed that collaboration on open source software supports digital sovereignty. Responses had a theme of the positive sum collaboration, where OSS contributions support local benefits in new startups, skills, and GovTech but also support global benefits.
Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Mr. Abhishek Singh issued a call to action for a global partnership for OSS adoption, where GovTech OSS innovations can be shared around the world.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

Panelists agreed that collaboration on open source software supports digital sovereignty, with each elaborating on different aspects in their initial remarks.

Moderator Paula Grzegorzewska, Strategic Partnerships Director at OpenForum Europe, shared findings from a European Commission sponsored study on the economic impact of open source software (OSS) and hardware for the EU. It can be found here: https://openforumeurope.org/open-source-impact-study/

Mike Linksvayer, Head of Developer Policy at GitHub, described opportunities that OSS provides for digital sovereignty, including boosting local capabilities, as well as risks that digital sovereignty, particularly a perspective that tech adversarialism, could cut off open source collaboration communities and lead to underinvestment in the global commons of open source software. He presented a model of evolution companies have undergone from (1) ignoring/fearing open source, (2) to consuming open source, (3) to releasing open source in an ad hoc way, (4) to holistically contributing to it, particularly upstream to where projects originate outside specific companies, to (5) embracing open source innovation as a path to digital transformation. He compared this model to a similar process that governments are taking, albeit more slowly due to their large scale. Initially governments (1) ignored open source, (2) then began to procure open source as users, (3) then experiment with developing open source applications, (4) embracing policies to foster open source ecosystems, to finally (5) embracing open source as a strategic effort to achieve digital sovereignty.

Jeremy (Zhihui) Liang, Deputy Secretary of the China OSS Promotion Union, shared the history of the China OSS Promotion Union and the evolution of the open source ecosystem in China. He reflected that this evolution of open source that had similarities to the model that Mike presented, with China initially consuming open source, then growing the domestic community of contributors, and beginning in 2019 the latest phase: collaborating on open source internationally. He presented a case on Baidu Apollo 6.0, an open source autonomous vehicle platform that has 45,000 developers from 97 countries around the world. Challenges remind, particularly on technical security risks, legal risks, and supply chain risks. But a growing market for open source, open source skills among developers, and government awareness can lead to collaboration on these challenges. Ultimately, open source can improve trust among digital sovereignty partners and build skills and companies that support national digital economies.

Abhishek Singh, Head of eGovernance Division, Government of India, presented on the Indian government’s experience with OSS. Embracing OSS in government brings distinct benefits vs. using proprietary software. It drives a culture of innovation, where developers can contribute their ideas to make more comprehensive and ultimately better products that adapt to and meet the needs of citizens. Almost all Indian digital efforts run on or use FOSS, including the Aadhaar biometric identification system, an online education platform, a document e-wallet system, and the CoWIN vaccination system. The Indian government has found that by opening up code, they can get contributions that improve these systems, and has run innovation challenges to boost open source participation. The key challenge that the government has faced is miscommunication: historically, open source was seen as free of charge and therefore without anyone responsible to maintain it and therefore without trust. Mr. Singh noted, however, this fear is misplaced: in practice this is not the case and the security of open source software is often more secure than proprietary software. OSS does not undermine digital or data sovereignty. Instead, processes and security around national data can be maintained while using OSS. In fact, OSS can increase digital sovereignty and permit governments to contribute to the global good.

Nataliya Langburd Wright, PhD Researcher at Harvard Business School, presented a research paper on OSS and entrepreneurship around the world: https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=58350 She and her coauthors found that a 1 percent increase in code committed to GitHub is associated with 5 to 15 new companies started per year per country. This supports a virtuous cycle, where new ventures in turn are associated with more code contributions: a 1 percent increase leads to 53-69,000 commits per year per country. Policymakers can use OSS as a tool to promote entrepreneurship, and the private sector investors can use OSS contributions as a marker of a quality entrepreneurship ecosystem worthy of investment.

Laurence Moroney, Lead Artificial Intelligence Advocate at Google, presented on efforts of his company to widen access and opportunity from AI to boost local economies, via OSS, particularly tensorflow 2.0 that was oriented towards software developers, not simply AI researchers, and open access education materials and certifications. He has partnered with governments to bring these tools to local populations, including in Indonesia in partnership with the Ministry of Culture, Education, and Technology.

Questions covered the evolution of governments from consuming to contributing to OSS. In China, OSS global collaboration has become an innovation model that contributes to the government’s 5 year plan. Abhishek Singh shared from the Indian perspective that Nataliya Langburd Wright’s research rings true in India: with OSS contributing to a vibrant startup ecosystem in India. Nataliya Langburd Wright suggested further policy recommendations: procurement offers a top-down model, but bottom up approaches of facilitating projects and skills are key, as is the implementation of policies into practice. Laurence Moroney shared that globally interconnected platforms can help governments address “braindrain”, where talent need not leave their home country in order to benefit from economic opportunity. Today, the TensorFlow OSS project has contributors from almost every country in the world.

An audience member shared the example of Sweden’s OSS procurement policy that has worked well, where one agreement can be reused.

Abhishek Singh called for a global partnership for OSS adoption, where GovTech OSS innovations can be shared around the world.

Examining the session hashtag on Twitter, aside from the organizers, the Geneva Internet Platform prepared a summary of the session, available here: https://dig.watch/events/igf2021/open-source-collaboration-for-digital-… GitHub also published a summary, available here: https://github.blog/2021-12-13-github-at-the-un-internet-governance-for…