OBF Travel Fellowship Program

We are very pleased to announce our new Open Bioinformatics Foundation (OBF) Travel Fellowship program. The program is designed to enable people, whether long-standing members of our community or newcomers, to participate in eligible events for which costs would otherwise be prohibitive. This includes our annual Bioinformatics Open Source Conference (BOSC).

Although not limited to specific groups of people, the program constitutes another major step for us in our ongoing efforts to increase the diversity in our communities in particular, and in the open source / open science bioinformatics community in general. As explained in the just published BOSC 2015 report, inclusivity was one of the founding principles of the Bio* open-source project communities that came together under the OBF umbrella, and thus also of BOSC, our flagship event. OBF’s bylaws have included a nondiscrimination clause from the outset. OBF’s major member projects have not only always welcomed new participants to their communities, but embraced passing on leadership to people who hadn’t been part of the “inner circle” from the beginning.

However, being on the “inside” can hide the barriers to joining a community as a newcomer. In practice, the demographics of our member community, and therefore also of BOSC, have mirrored the low diversity observed for open-source project communities in general.

We’ve committed ourselves to address this. We simply owe it to our mission, which is predicated on being inclusive. For BOSC 2015 we chose to make increasing diversity the main theme, including the BOSC 2015 panel discussion. When asked for a show of hands of who was there for the first time, nearly half of the attendees’ hands went up! We believe firmly that with enough dedicated and sustained attention, our community can include everyone who shares our mission. We also believe that eventually more diversity at our community events will trickle down to increasing the diversity of participants in our member projects.

To fund the OBF Travel Fellowship program, we have for now committed an annual budget of $5,000 from our existing assets. At this level, we should be able to sustain the program for a minimum of 3 years.  We would like to do more, and to commit to the program for at least 10 years. To help us accomplish that, we are calling on donors and BOSC sponsors. You can earmark your contribution to be used specifically for funding this program – simply email the Board if the donation form does not leave enough space.

Special thanks for bringing this program to life go to Karen Cranston, who joined the OBF Board in spring 2015 and shepherded the effort from inception to launch.

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