Can open source help Indian non-profits scale more efficiently?

Can open source help Indian non-profits scale more efficiently?

Image credit: Glific

Non-profits play an invaluable part in India's development journey. They have made a difference in sectors ranging from nutrition to education to human rights, often representing the voices of our most vulnerable citizens. However, India's non-profit sector is inadequately developed. While this sector contributes 5.4% to GDP and employs over 10% of the workforce in the US, the corresponding numbers for India are less than 1% and 0.5% respectively. India's largest non-profit has a budget of about $50M a year, much smaller than the sector leaders in the US, Kenya, China, and even Bangladesh.

This funding scarcity places a natural limit on the scale and capacity of Indian non-profits. Technology can help bridge this gap at a relatively low cost, but budget constraints prevent Indian non-profits from investing in the required technical and human skills.

Enter Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). In theory, FOSS can provide technology free of cost to non-profits, thus enabling them to serve their beneficiaries faster and at a lower cost.

But there are many practical issues with FOSS adoption - Who builds the tech? How is it sustained in the long run? Do receiving organisations have the capacity to deploy it? These are the kind of challenges that Donald Lobo of Project Tech4Dev is tackling, with help from an ecosystem of problem-solvers. He is spearheading the development of Glific, an open-source, two-way, WhatsApp-based communication platform that non-profits can use to communicate with their beneficiaries. Glific consists of a stack of technologies built on top of the WhatsApp Business API and includes sophisticated communication management tools that make life easier for employees of non-profits.

Glific is already off to a strong start. V1.4 of the platform was released this April and has been used by 20 NGOs, including Slam Out Loud, Dost Education, India Literacy Project, and STIR Education. Non-profits use it in different ways. For example, The Apprentice Project uses it to share content with students for online self-learning. Slam Out Loud uses Glific to enable children to pick from a variety of learning activities it offers - at any time of the day, depending on when they have digital access. WeUnlearn used it to conduct a mini-RCT to measure the effectiveness of its activities. As with all FOSS projects, Glific is trying to develop an ecosystem of users, contributors, and service providers. In doing so, it seeks to uphold the most noble values of the FOSS movement - community, collaboration, and transparency.

FOSS projects like Glific not only increase productivity, but also fundamentally democratise the sector by allowing non-profits, both large and small, to adopt technology for scale. In doing so, they help thousands of innovators try to solve some of India's most pressing and chronic developmental needs. Through the entrepreneurial spark they light, we get closer to a meaningful life for every India.

To find out more about Glific, go to

This is the fourth of a seven-part series on new ideas to make every Indian feel empowered and safe online. The earlier posts featured:

I) World Comics India which is running workshops that train participants to express themselves through grassroots comics and draw out their experiences with the mobile phone
II) Point of View which is developing MeraDost, a platform that gives low-income women daily digital safety information as well as providing them with a helpline service for harassment and fraud
III) Centre for Internet and Society which is bringing together researchers, activists, and stakeholders to create an alternative content moderation system to help individuals, especially young girls, to have healthier personal feeds on social media platforms

Coming up next week:

Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC): YLAC aims to increase the participation of young people in the policymaking process and build their capacity to lead change.