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Understanding the social impact of open source technologies

Here's how nonprofits and the social sector are using open source to drive social good.

Understanding the social impact of open source technologies
This is part of our Octoverse 2022 report, which explores the state of open source software, its impact on companies, and key trends shaping software development.

The GitHub Social Impact, Tech for Social Good team  focuses on the fascinating topic of how open source software—and digital technology more broadly—can be leveraged by nonprofits and the greater social sector to better outcomes for people around the world.

This is an area in which we are actively investing and supporting. One of the biggest advantages of open source software (OSS) in the social sector is that it can reduce duplicative efforts, which is crucial in time-sensitive humanitarian crises. OSS can also bring together global communities and facilitate inclusive design and development of technology solutions that support diverse global populations. We’re proud to support the incredible OSS tools and communities on GitHub that drive tech-enabled social good.

One of our most impactful recent initiatives involved supporting the World Health Organization (WHO) adoption of open source technologies. In 2020, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, we started working with WHO to strengthen its inner source software development processes. More recently, we worked with WHO to create the first ever Open Source Program Office (OSPO) in the United Nations system. The OSPO will support WHO staff globally to use, produce, and eventually release open source tools.

One great example of how OSS can strengthen global public health is DHIS2, which is the largest health management information system in the world. The scale and impact of DHIS2 is immense. In collaboration with WHO, DHIS2 has been used for COVID-19 tracking, response, and vaccine delivery. DHIS2 has been used in health information systems in 69+ countries.

This type of work is not only impactful for WHO; it may also have broader socioeconomic benefits by increasing OSS employment opportunities in low- and middle-income countries. An OSPO in the UN system may also create more OSS that can be adopted by other UN agencies, governments, and I/NGOs. Some of these tools will also be certified as digital public goods (DPG), which are open source solutions that meet the DPG standard and are designed to help advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Here’s why this matters: From large-scale health management information systems to pandemic tracking tools to carbon footprint measuring systems, DPGs address key global challenges, make trusted, open source technology solutions more globally accessible, and may help advance global equity.

What to watch

New tools that we’re developing to make digital public goods on GitHub more discoverable and engagement opportunities with the WHO OSPO. We’ll publish updates on our website.

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