Sustainability in Open Source for International Development

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Tuesday, June 20, 2017 from 3:45 – 4:30pm in B204


Duplication of effort, flawed funding models, and overall lack of project maturity has led to the failure of most open source projects in the international development space. In this talk, we'll discuss the plans of the Digital Impact Alliance at the United Nations Foundation to help increase those projects' maturity, quality, and reach -- with a goal of advancing an inclusive digital society using open source for the poorest places on the planet.


Over the past decade, the international development community has been exploring how the use of modern technology — including tools like the mobile phone, the Internet, and open source software — can extend the reach of its work. At the same time, these same organizations have struggled to leverage open source software in an effort to make their work more participatory, sustainable, and effective.

Mainstream software often used in wealthier markets do not always fully meet the specialized needs of international development projects and the areas in which those projects are undertaken. Other fields have demonstrated the open source software development model as a proven viable model to leverage global collaboration to share costs across institutions, increase the quality of products, and more rapidly innovate.

In the international development community, the results have been mixed. Relatively few of these open source projects have endured & matured — when successful, enabling improved and sustained access to information and services that previously were out of reach for marginalized populations. Many efforts have failed, often due to preventable reasons.

These open source digital development projects usually struggle with lack of long-term investments in key focal areas such as community effectiveness & product development. Without emphasis of these key considerations, they can rarely match the functionality and quality of their proprietary competitors. As a result, these open source projects can’t grow to the more advanced levels of maturity needed for widespread adoption throughout the development field.

In collaboration with partners around the world, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) at the United Nations Foundation is launching a “platform service center”, a multilateral participatory program designed to be a global focal point of open source digital development projects. In this talk, you’ll learn:

  1. Why we believe this type of program is key to ensuring the maturity & sustainability necessary for long-term success of digital development open source projects,
  2. What we believe are the 4 key pillars to mature tech-for-development open source projects, and
  3. The five areas of services which will be provided to participants.

We’ll also discuss our plans for governance, evaluation of participating projects, and financial sustainability strategies for the program.

If you’re interested in cross-project collaboration to advance the usefulness of open source in a specific area of work, come learn about our plans to transform the international development open source space, and share your feedback!


sustainability, funding, international development, social good

Speaking experience

Michael Downey has previously led unconference sessions at Open Source Bridge. Elsewhere, he has organized panels & BoF sessions at OSCON, as well as given keynote presentations and talks at OpenMRS events around the world.


  • Downey

    Michael Downey

    Digital Impact Alliance at United Nations Foundation


    Michael Downey is the Director of Community for Open Source at the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL). Michael’s career in IT and open source spans nearly two decades both in the healthcare and financial services industries, as well as the nonprofit world. At DIAL, he is helping to build a vibrant and active open source software community for high-impact technology for development (T4D) projects that advance the organization’s mission to build a digital society that serves everyone.

    Michael served as a US Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, and later was the Director of Community for OpenMRS, an open source health IT software project. During his tenure at OpenMRS, it grew from “stealth mode” to a large open source community, receiving the prestigious Free Software Foundation’s Award for Projects of Social Benefit.

    He received two undergraduate degrees in engineering from Purdue University, and did his PhD studies at Indiana University, researching cross-cultural computer supported cooperative work. Michael is also on the steering committee for LibreHealth, a new open source community to foster health IT collaboration. A long-time supporter and advocate for free and open source software, he is a member of organizations like the Free Software Foundation, Open Source Initiative, Internet Society, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.


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    David McCann

    Digital Impact Alliance


    David McCann serves as Director of Technology for the T4D Open Source Platform Service Center at DIAL. He brings 10 years of experience building and managing small teams to achieve greenfield goals in both the non-profit and private sectors.

    Prior to working at DIAL, he spent five years creating cybersecurity products with new initiatives at Fast Orientation LLC and Hexis Cyber Solutions. At UNICEF, David built the team and technology responsible for the U-Report platform–achieving a scale of over 300,000 participants over SMS and facilitating civic engagement in Uganda –which has since been deployed to many other countries. He also served as a technical lead during the early years of Esoko Ghana, an m-Agriculture product.

    He holds an M.S. and B.S. in computer science with a focus in Artificial Intelligence from the Georgia Institute of Technology.