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Jeffrey Elkner

Summer 2023 Plans for NOVA Web Development and Social Justice Computing

NOVA Web Logo

As Summer 2023 fast approaches, it's time for a review and vision post on the status of NOVA Web Development and the plans for its future. With the departure of Louie, Stefan, and Natalia by the start of this school year, only Adrian remained as a worker / owner, and we had to decide whether to let the business die a quiet death or to keep it going.

Three students at my school, Antonio, Dafni, and Luke, had signed up to do their Arlington Tech Capstone this year with NOVA Web Development, and at the beginning of the year we had a meeting to decide whether they still wanted to try to "do business" with the coop given its state of affairs. They said they did, and it turned out to be a successful year for them. Charles McCullough, the executive director of Alliance for Housing Solutions, contacted me about needing a new website. They took on the task, and the new "Anniversary Edition" of the website will soon be launched. They worked on the project all year, learning WordPress along the way, as well as getting paid for their efforts.

Antonio also reached out to another NOVA Web Development client, Arlington Education Association (AEA), and took over supporting their website needs. AEA, Mexico Solidarity Project, and Claudia Jones School each are organizations with ongoing website needs and small budgets to support them, and could potentially offer advanced student interns with paid internship opportunities providing that support.

Social Justice Computing Logo

The Core Ingredient: Social Justice Computing

I posted almost a year ago that how long I continue working as an ICT teacher will depend in large measure to whether or not I can make that labor serve the cause of social justice.

Living within an economic system fundamentally designed to increase the wealth and power of the rich and powerful, this is not an easy task. As I've come to say over the last year, "the only places you can find money in this industry are in theivin' and killin'". Despite the enormous potential of ICT to make the lives of human beings better, social justice uses of ICT do not serve the interests of the tech oligarchs who increasingly rule over us, so they are not funded.

There are some reasons for hope. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, through its Sustainability Development Goals initiative, has articulated a broad set of goals that would lead toward a just and sustainable world, and is globally mobilizing in support of these goals. Its 17 sustainability goals provide a well thought out framework for NOVA Web Development's core principle, "We want to help build the world we want to live in."

This past year Dafni and I put up a starter page for Social Justice Computing, and this Summer I hope to establish it as a registered 501(c)3 organization. This would open up the possibility of receiving donations and grants in support of our social justice computing work.


The Key Partnership: MCSS

The partnership NOVA Web Development began last Summer with the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) has without a doubt been the highlight of the past year. I summed up my experience last Summer in Liberia in a post at the end of my visit.

Since that time, the online collaboration with Spencer, Freena, Thomas, Shallon, Daniel, Mulba, and Janet has deepened and matured. Freena, who graduated high school last Summer, is now working full time as Spencer's assistant. I have a half hour check-in with her and Spencer each week day, and we hold our weekly group meeting each Saturday. In the interest of what I like to call "radical transparency", we publicly share what we are doing online in our irc logs, providing a wealth of documentation, automatically generated, of our educational project. It is a deeply joyous experience to work with the MCSS team. My friend Sahnun, who is a gifted tutor, has clearly shared in this joy, and has become the favorite Python teacher of the team.

This partnership offers the possibility of win-win cooperation in the interest of social justice. While the limited financial resources available to most progressive organizations in the United States do not afford them the option of having the web presence they would like, the funds they do have would go a lot further if spent in Liberia. The plan is to develop a worker cooperative in Monrovia that can partner with NOVA Web Development to serve these needs. Next Summer I will hopefully return to Liberia to celebrate the launch of this cooperative.

To provide some sense of the actual scale of this, I am currently sending $800 per month to Liberia, which is enough to support two of the team as full-time workers and provide transportation and educational resources for the rest of the team. It would not take too much effort to provide meaningful work for everyone once they acquire the needed skills. We will be spending the next year focusing on just that.

The Key Missing Ingredient:

A Social Justice Oriented Business Manager

What NOVA Web Development has never had, and desperately needs, is a social justice oriented business manager. We need someone motivated by social justice with skills in bookkeeping, sales, and marketing and/or fund raising. This year we thought we had found such a person, when a women from the local community college who was majoring in business reached out to us about joining the coop. She had all the required skills and the right motivations, but she ultimately decided she needed more reliable pay and couldn't stay on with us.

If anything is the Achilles' heel of this project, this is it. NOVA Web Development has demonstrated over the past 11 years that it has the capacity to build websites and provide useful web services to customers. What we have never been able to do is to manage the business side of our enterprise effectively. This is not something that can be done by interns or volunteers. It will require a skilled, full time professional. Someone who will have to be paid.

I don't know how to address this need. My very lack of skills in this key area prevents me from seeing a clear path forward. I am hoping that with a 501(c)3, a clearly articulated vision for using ICT for social good, and a track record of producing concrete results, someone will come forward and say, "Hey, I really like what you're doing, and I would love to come on board as your business manager and help us get the business in order and put us on a financial footing that will make it possible for me to get paid while we move the business forward."

Given our scarcity of resources, we may have to look to Liberia to find a business manager we can afford. I have no idea where to look for such a person at this point, but it will hopefully become clearer in the year ahead. Whether or not we can solve this problem will determine the overall success or failure of the project.

Summer Sprint

Five raising juniors and seniors of Arlington Public Schools have signed up for a Summer PRIME Internship with NOVA Web Development. The focus of our month long "Summer sprint" will be:

  1. Establish Social Justice Computing as a 501(c)3 organization registered in the state of Virginia and develop an interactive web application for the Rural Clean Cooking Stove project as a "first project" for the new organization.
  2. Move web hosting for AEA, AEA-PAC, Mexico Solidarity Project, and Claudia Jones School websites from NOVA Web Development to the respective organizations.
  3. Update Business Tracker to latest Django version after completing a a full suite of automated tests for it.
  4. Begin adding the features to Business Tracker needed for our small cooperative to automate as much bookkeeping, accounting, and business management tasks as possible.

There are so many other things that need to be done, but we unfortunately lack the capacity to do them. Even this list is probably ambitious, and I will be very happy indeed if we complete most of it and get a solid start on the rest.

On to our Summer Sprint!