Apereo Foundation Fast Interview with Josh Baron

Apereo Foundation Fast Interview With Josh Baron

October 2023
By: Michelle Hall, Apereo Communications

Josh Baron
Apereo is delighted to welcome Josh Baron as the Foundation's new Development Officer, who will spearhead our fundraising initiatives. Many with longer histories with Apereo may already know Josh. He served as a Board Member and Board Chair during the early years after Sakai and Jasig merged to create Apereo. Josh also served on the Sakai Board as Chair and spent many years leading ed-tech efforts at Marist College, where the staff, colleagues, and students won several awards for their Sakai based Fashion MOOC.

Since leaving Marist, Josh has spent the last few years working at Lumen Learning and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He recently struck out on his own and created Baron’s EdTech Consulting, which is how Apereo Foundation has come to benefit once again from his expertise as our new Development Officer. 






Michelle Hall (MH): The Apereo community is excited to welcome you back, Josh. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and tell us about your new role as the Apereo Development Officer. 

Josh Baron (JB): Thanks Michelle! My time with first Sakai and Jasig and then Apereo is one of my top career highlights, so I’m super excited to re-engage with the community! While it’s only been a few weeks, I’ve already been able to reconnect with many old friends and colleagues and meet several new ones. Feels a bit like we are “putting the band back together!” 


MH: That is great! Again, welcome. Let’s dive in!  What is the Development Officer’s job at Apereo Foundation? 

JB: You tell me! By that, I mean that I see value in the community helping to shape the role and priorities, so I’d love input! But to answer the question, one of my areas of focus is developing a sustainability strategy for the Foundation and the communities and projects it serves. 

In general, a sustainability strategy will create long-term financial stability for the Foundation and its projects by establishing diverse revenue streams that are aligned with our mission.  Achieving this will, I believe, first require that we seek funding to seed and support new initiatives, some of which may be more internally focused on our projects and communities and others more externally focused on higher education institutions in general who are using OSS, that can then be leveraged to create these new revenue streams over time. For example, if we secure a grant to provide additional community staff time on a project we can leverage this to demonstrate the value of this staffing resource and then seek new sponsorships to sustain the resources over a longer period. Thus, at the moment, I’m working closely with Patrick Masson and the Board to identify initial funding opportunities, including grants and corporate partnerships, and working to prioritize these opportunities.


MH: Apereo is a community of communities. What is the Development Officer’s role for the larger Apereo community (foundation) vs the project communities (ex Opencast or CAS)?

JB: Having been involved in the formation of Apereo, I do view [Apereo] as, literally, the “foundation” that holds up and supports our communities and projects. Given this, while I believe (and will) be working to support the financial stability of both the Foundation and project communities, I see some logic to working from the ground up and thus am initially focused at the “foundation level.”  This said, I’m already identifying potential project-level funding opportunities and hope to start to highlight these (watch out for some posts soon!) and helping projects pursue them.


MH: Josh, since you left the Apereo Board, you’ve worked at Lumen Learning and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. What is one thing you experienced at those organizations that directly applies to your new role as the Development Officer at Apereo?

JB: Lumen Learning, an edtech startup, and the Gates Foundation, the largest philanthropic foundation in the world (last year it gave away $7 billion, yes, with a “b”), are obviously very different organizations but one common lesson learned is: impact through innovation requires financial sustainability.  

There are many super innovative edtech startups funded with venture capital as well as cutting-edge technologies funded by grants from philanthropies. Still, unless you can find a way to sustain the work over the long-term, the impact just doesn’t happen. Apereo has done more to drive innovation in higher education technologies than many other global communities, and we now need to develop the financial models to ensure this innovation expands and continues to impact for the decades to come.


MH: What goals are you setting in this new role that you’d like to share with the wider Apereo community?

JB: I’ve already talked about the goal of creating a long-term sustainability strategy, but connected to this is working to help higher education better understand the value proposition of OSS (and the large degree to which is it already prevalent within their digital infrastructure), both with regards to adoption as robust technology solutions but also how it can be leveraged for teaching, learning, and research. This can range from providing students with software that a costly license might limit usage of to having students gain practical workforce skills by directly engaging with our communities to discoveries made possible through innovative research software tools.  

Of course, these two goals are interconnected, as helping higher education understand the OSS value proposition will also be key to creating sustainability over the long-term. 


MH: What are some things that Apereo community leaders should consider over the next few months to help you in this new role?

JB: I’ve always felt that our communities are our most valuable asset. Thus, I’d love to connect with community leaders to hear about goals, challenges, and opportunities related to achieving sustainability, so please email me at josh.baron[at]apereo[dot]org to schedule some time!  On a more operational note, as I mentioned earlier, I’m working now to identify funding opportunities that could provide seed funding to launch new initiatives and work. I would love to hear from our communities if they are aware of such opportunities.


MH: Last question: what are a few things that make you feel excited, hopeful, and future-positive about working with Apereo?

JB: I attended my first Sakai/OSS conference in 2005 in Baltimore, Maryland (USA).  As some know, I had a secret mission to return to my institution with evidence as to why adopting an open-source LMS was crazy (I was a big WebCT fan at the time).  Of course, I failed in my mission terribly and instead left the conference overwhelmed by the innovation I’d encountered, both with the technology as well as the thinking. Over the intervening 20 years we’ve rode the “open hype cycle” curve, which has had many ups and downs. Today, I’m both hopeful and excited as I sense there is an opportunity emerging to bend this curve in a new direction by harassing that same energy I felt as I squeezed into the packed ballroom at the Marriott Camden Yards and realized that adopting OSS was far from crazy and, instead, was a path to innovation.


MH: Thank you, Josh Baron, for spending time talking with me! I am looking forward to watching your continued success in this new role and business!


Fast Follow-up:

Contact Josh Baron, Apereo's Development Officer at josh.baron[at]apereo[dot]org