FOSS has More Benefits for NGOs

Tuesday, 31 January, 2006 - 10:57

Nonprofit technology practitioners and campaigners recently participated in an eight day workshop in Uganda to discuss how Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) can best be used by NGOs.

SANGONeT’s Mzwakhe Makhalemele attended and shared his experiences of the event with us.

The Africa Source II Workshop took place early in January and was aimed at building the technical skills of African NGOs. It provided an opportunity for NGOs to share ideas on FOSS.

“FOSS can have a significant impact on civil society because it can be modified to suit the information and communication needs of an NGO,” states Makhalemele. The FOSS philosophy of transparency, accessibility and sharing is closely aligned with many of the goals that NGOs value.

A critical aspect of the workshop was an opportunity for NGOs to explore the challenges faced in migrating from a proprietary to a FOSS platform. The greatest challenge for FOSS among African NGOs is the misconception about its complexity. Makhalemele is of the view that, “The biggest challenge for the implementation of FOSS is people’s mindset and perceptions. Most people feel uncomfortable with new things."

Makhalemele reiterates that, “Open Source supports applications that people use and its content management system (CMS) is easy to use. In addition, it is reliable and free of charge.”

Through FOSS NGOs can disseminate information to a wider audience. Africa Source II included a session that dealt with the accessibility and integration of local languages. After all, a number of African NGOs target communities that are not well versed in the English language.

According to Makhalemele, one NGO, Translate.org.za, demonstrated how FOSS can be used to address the inclusion of languages into ICTs by using FOSS. “Translate.org used the Kikuyu language, spoken in Kenya, to demonstrate how the computer keyboard can be set-up to write some of the alphabets that are found only in African languages.”

FOSS technologies can be applied to NGOs working across a range of issues and in various circumstances. Makhalemele is passionate about FOSS and the role it can play in advancing the NGO sector in Africa. He says, “The nice thing about open source is that it requires no license.”

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