The Tech4Dev group met in Bangalore on April 15 and 16, 2019. A number of the discussions focussed on specific projects which the software companies being represented in the room had worked on for NGOs, or on technologies which had either been deployed or had future potential. There were also some discussions on the future direction that the group wanted to take, in terms of mission, governance, processes, etc.
It was useful to observe the changes from when the Tech4Dev group had met last. It reinforced that the group was evolving rapidly, and that fundamental aspects of this evolution were likely to go by unnoticed unless attention was drawn to them. This blog post is an attempt to do that.
Tech4Dev began as an experiment – was it possible to have a group of software companies build an understanding of the development sector and develop solutions to scale up the programs of NGOs? Would the solutions be effective, and would this be a viable line of business for the software companies? During the first months, Tech4Dev was a small group of 3 software companies, and a few funders, working with 9 NGOs. While the vision of Tech4Dev was clear, this period also saw experimentation on multiple aspects – the application process, selection criteria for NGOs, interactions between group members, etc. While the governance of the group was ad-hoc, and interactions informal, there was the immense benefit of group members having strong ties with one another and a high level of trust. The fact that a founding principle of the group was the development of free and open source software meant that transparency as a value was imbibed by all group members.
We are now at the next phase of the journey of Tech4Dev, with the addition of more software partners and NGOs, and a more formal application process. The group has gained experience over the past few months and is now better able to anticipate the needs of NGOs. It is also beginning to contribute solutions back to the open source community. There is clearly a strong demand for the services being provided through Tech4Dev and greater expectations from NGOs in terms of the scale and complexity of the problems to solve. This has led to the group giving more consideration to governance, e.g., the selection process for NGOs as well as the software partners who will work with them. The nature of the group is still informal, and even though some of the members have met for the first time, there are enough pointers to the group being able to carry on operating informally yet effectively, once some procedures for governance have been put in place.
Tech4Dev is likely to enter the next phase of its growth within the next 6 months, one which will see a further increase in the number and size of NGOs, software partners and funders. There are likely to be greater expectations, for technology solutions that help programs achieve even larger scale, and in the group taking a visible leadership role in contributing to and promoting open source solutions. Tech4Dev will need to focus on strengthening itself to meet the challenges of scale. Most importantly, it will need to maintain a high level of trust among the software partners who collaborate but also compete with one another to work with NGOs. This will require a strong commitment to openness and transparency on the part of all the members of Tech4Dev. Simultaneously, a more robust system of governance, including an advisory board, would help steer the group through this phase.
Tech4Dev has immense potential to transform how technology is used in the social sector. As the group takes on the responsibility of making technology more accessible, applicable and affordable, it must invest effort in managing its own growth so that it can effectively serve the social sector while retaining a unique culture of openness and transparency.