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Open Source Altruism

Down a remote alleyway in Dar es Salaam, Gregory Mchopa picks up his paint brush and studies the empty canvas. He closes his eyes and visualizes his next painting, whether that be a group of Maasai women collecting water from a well, or villagers dancing before a brilliant Tanzanian sunset. For years, Gregory has been capturing the rich heritage of the Tanzanian Maasai with painstaking dedication. His delicate strokes against the canvas radiate a warmth and brightness unrivaled by his peers - one that had once never reached far beyond that maze of streets in Dar es Salaam.

It wasn't until the summer of 2007 that I first had the privilege of meeting Gregory Mchopa and witnessing his work. I had traveled to Tanzania as part of an outreach trip for, during which we met with local businesses in Dar es Salaam and gave presentations with the goal to spark local economic growth. We spoke before local entrepreneurs, established businessmen, and government politicians; but it wasn't until we met a young artist deep in that maze of streets that we truly recognized the potential for sparking local enterprise. After watching Gregory paint a brilliant work of three Maasai women carrying water over their heads to the backdrop of a sweeping red sky, he sat down to explain the difficulties of being an artist in Tanzania: a limited market, a lack of connectivity, and an absence of distribution channels.

Gregory suffered not for lack of passion or talent, but from the lack of technologies and services that could broadcast his work to a far wider audience. After returning to the States, I worked with BRUTE LABS (a non-profit I founded with several other Googlers) to build a simple website,, that would bring Gregory's work before a global audience. Using several Google tools that are free and easy to use - App Engine, Checkout, Spreadsheets, Gmail - we developed a website and interface for Gregory that serves as an open source model for other artists in the developing world seeking to showcase and sell their work.

Since the launch of in 2009, Gregory has sold 47 paintings and kept all of the profits. Perhaps more significantly, Gregory's web presence has connected him with gallery representatives and individual collectors in the US, Canada, and the UK, many of whom have requested custom works for display. The culture of the Maasai has now spread to people around the world.

Down a remote alleyway in Dar es Salaam, Gregory Mchopa continues to faithfully wield his paint brush, capturing the heritage of his country and people. But through Google's online suite of tools, he now wields the power to broadcast his work far beyond that maze of streets to a global audience of buyers, suppliers, and admirers. The only question left for us now: who's the next Gregory Mchopa?

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