Wednesday, September 07, 2005

NGO IN A BOX Helping NGOs To Become More Efficient

I know, I know, my dear friends, to many NGO operatives and administrators ICT issues are Worse than Boring. But, like it or not, we have to keep up with the new developments in technology in order to be as effective as possible.

Lets face it, NGOs exist to help people, and the more effective an NGO is, the better it can help people, and it is probably the case that efficiency increases the number of people an NGO can help.

Now, for those of you who have not clicked away from this article by now, I want to tell you about a tool that may be of great benefit to your organization. That tool is called NGO-In-A-Box.


NGO-in-a-box was developed by the people at the Tactical Technology Collective , who are some of the same people behind the Africa Source Conference last year and the upcoming Africa Source, II Conference .

As the folks at The Tactical Technology Collective put it: "NGO-in-a-box offers a set of reviewed and selected Free and Open Source software (F/OSS), tailored to the needs of NGO's. It provides them not only with software, but also with implementation scenarios and relevant materials to support this."

Okay, I almost got a headache trying to understand that sentence too; so I'll put it in language even I can understand. Simply put: NGO-in-a-box provides powerful tools for the daily work of NGOs. And it is designed to be very accessible to NGOs on a limited budget.

The main aim of the developers of NGO-in-a-box is to make it available to non-profits in developing and transition countries. To this end, it "is targeted at implementers working with small and medium scale NGOs and the people and organizations that support them." (To get an idea who these supporters might be, take a look at an article about eRiders that I posted on this Blog some weeks ago.)

NGO-in-a-box is F/OSS (Free and Open Source Softwawe) based solutions for NGOs and frees them from having to rely on 'closed', proprietary software. The closed, proprietary software usually has to be purchased by or donated to NGOs and can often be very expensive.

Compared to proprietary software the initial purchase price of F/OSS is very low, and the free (re-)distribution and upgrades of this software are two reasons why it should be attractive to NGOs. Also F/OSS has much higher security as well as better stability than proprietary software.

Because the software is based upon open source code it can be modified, to better suit the needs of an organization, by anyone who is capable of doing the programming. (Now this is a very good reason for NGOs to bite the bullet and have a staff member trained to be not only computer literate, but also capable of writing code.) For some time now, free source software has been recognized by both the commercial and academic sectors the as having advantages, and it is often found in their networks and web servers.

If you are still with me at this point, you probably want to know what's in NGO-in-a-box.

The full description of what's in the box can be found at: NGO-in-a-Box: Description of contents
but below is a brief description of the contents.

I. Documents about choosing Free and Open Source Software

These documents include a primer about F/OSS for NGOs, a decision making guide, and an article on the potential of F/OSS for NGOs.

II. A selection of links

Inclulding: General F/OSS Resources, F/OSS Application Resources, Linux Distribution Resources, Online News, Magazines and Books

III. The software collection

A list of GNU/Linux Distributions



Now, if you are like me, you want to know what Applications are applicable here. The full overview of the software applications in the box as of April 2004 can be found at this site. Applications and include the following:

Office
Web & Email
Drawing & Image
Multimedia
Networking
Text Editors
Utilities
Server & Development
Libraries and
Kernel
(Kernel is the fundamental part of a program, typically an operating system, that resides in memory at all times and provides the basic services. - I had to look it up.)


The people at the Tactical Technology Collective state that: "In its current phase, NGO-in-a-box is an event-driven product, oriented to a focused community. Its value is in its role as a vehicle for access and peer recommendation, its content adapting to user needs in each version. In order for this to work as a concept outside of 'Source events' the issue of how to disseminate boxes and how to maintain its adaptive quality is a central one. In order to continue answering the needs of NGO based IT implementers and NGO activists, one solution would be to take advantage of the do-it-yourself (DIY) nature in which it has evolved and to continue its development in the grassroots environment."

Translation: "Take NGO-in-a-box, use it, play with it and see what you come up with. All this will help it to develop and grow."

But in order to use it, play with it and make it grow, you need to know how to do that. But don't throw up your hands and walk away, calling me bad names for bringing you this far only to tell you to do something you can't do. Check out the eRider project to see if you can get some help in doing this.

F/OSS will help NGOs carry out their missions, NGO-in-a-box will help NGOs utilize F/OSS so, even if you are as "behind the curve" on technology as I am, visit the Tactical Technology Collective's site on NGO-in-a-box and get serious about moving into the future.

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