Free t-shirts are a long-standing tradition at tech conferences. Until this year, Devopsdays NYC, a tech conference that I co-organize, was no exception. At best, attendees wind up with a closet full of free t-shirts they wear with pride; at worst – and more often – these t-shirts end up in a landfill. While planning this year's conference, I found that each t-shirt would cost approximately $12 to produce. Given that Devopsdays NYC would have about 200 attendees, the total cost for t-shirts would add up to about $2,500. This particular number reminded me of a donation page on the Lotus Outreach website for their wells project. I quickly found the page, and the symmetry was astounding: "each well costs $2,500 and provides life-saving clean, safe drinking water to approximately 200 rural villagers – at the extraordinary cost of about $12 per person".
Suddenly, it made sense: by forgoing ephemeral mementos, members of the devops community attending this year's conference could build a deep-bore water well that would provide life-saving, clean, safe drinking water to approximately 200 rural villagers in Cambodia for years to come! I ran this idea by Patrick Debois (who coined the term "devops") and others in the group that organizes Devopsdays events around the world, and they were enthusiastic to try this in New York!
At the end of the conference, we donated $12 of each Devopsdays NYC registration to Lotus Outreach, for a total of $2500. My co-organizer Michael Rembetsy and I received an ovation when we described the impact that the attendees will have on life in one Cambodian village with this donation. We are all looking forward to following the progress of the well construction – the devops community will certainly enjoy seeing "Devopsdays NYC" on a plaque near the completed well, and knowing that they've made a huge difference in the lives of some of the poorest people on earth.
It is my hope that other tech conferences adopt the same approach, and donate the money they would normally spend on t-shirts to worthwhile causes like Lotus Outreach.
Here's a video about the Lotus Outreach Wells Program: