NGO-in-a-box aims to tackle two primary issues; appropriate software selection and access to such software and related documentation.
There is currently an enormous amount of Free and Open Source software available. The landscape is so diverse that overview and orientation have become central needs, especially for those who have little time for searching and testing new software. Many technologists working with non-profits will not start deploying FOSS due to the overwhelming task of reviewing and choosing tools by themselves. There is also a real fear of selecting unstable tools or getting locked in to tools produced by projects that die away. The technical needs for evaluating the tools are often quite high, limiting again the number of people who will try them out. There are real disadvantages here as many NGOs could often benefit from these solutions, if only the navigation process was easier.
Activities of the non-profit sector are extremely diverse, they range from providing services to engaging in advocacy and from hosting resources to providing education. The operational context and related needs of each of these groups is equally wide ranging. As organizations seek out tools and techniques relevant to their specific area, the task of gathering recommendations and compiling sets of inter-related applications that work well together is extremely daunting, yet the needs are often common across specific sets of groups. The task of keeping up-to-date with activities in the sector can add another layer of complexity. There is currently very little software packaged specifically for the NGO sector. Sets of software (proprietary or open source) that are aimed at low resourced groups do not exist. It is not possible to find kits that address broad thematic areas such as migration or security, and especially specific areas such as advocacy. Equally it is hard to find collections of tools and materials that address regional needs; incorporating the specific needs and skill levels of a particular region, considering local languages and promoting regionally produced tools and materials.
Trusted recommendations aggregated by topic or by geographic region would go a long way to helping groups seeking solutions and simultaneously could promote technology solutions to low-resourced groups.
In the case of developing countries, once a tool or set of tools have been selected, downloading software from the web can be at best difficult and at worst impossible due to a lack of consistent and high speed Internet access. When available locally, off-line distributions and software are often out of date or are limited to specific types. The support systems for FOSS solutions are frequently on-line. Obtaining help on forums and IRC channels is commonly known as the natural and easy way of solving problems with FOSS deployment and usage, as well as downloading updates and new bug-fix versions. When using FOSS in a low or no bandwidth environment, users are devoid of this important advantage.
By creating bespoke sets (either by regional focus or theme) of reviewed and selected FOSS along with the relevant documentation and materials to low bandwidth places and low resourced groups, the NGO-in-a-box project attempts to cut down some of the barriers to access of FOSS mentioned above and at the same time provide bespoke packages tailored to the needs of non-profits.