Inclusion and sharing

Open source at the heart of Belgium’s development cooperation organisation

Published on: 08/01/2019
Last update: 04/04/2019

Because it makes it easier to work together, and because it encourages the sharing, reuse, and improvement of ICT solutions, free and open source is a strategic choice for Enabel, the Belgian development cooperation agency. “For us, inclusion, sustainability, and sharing of knowledge are key,” says Samira El Keffi, who heads Enabel’s Organisational Development & DeveLab.

Open source lowers the barrier for collaboration between the agency and public institutions and non-governmental organisations in fragile states and low-income countries anywhere, as it is both accessible and affordable, Ms El Keffi explains to the European Commissions’ Open Source Observatory. “This is a core value in our mission.”

The open source software licences also allow ICT solutions to be scaled up and be deployed long-term. And, using open source helps the agency to save money on licences for proprietary software solutions – money that is better used for Enabel’s core task of development cooperation.

In this way, the IT approach of the Belgian development agency is aligned with the country’s strategic policy note entitled “‘Digital for Development’ (D4D) for the Belgian development cooperation”. The policy advocates the use of open source solutions for reasons of time and cost efficiency.

The image shows an elderly lady sitting in a field with a laptop on her knees and a smartphone near her ear. In the background a water buffalo.
One of the photos included in Belgium’s 2016 ‘Digital for Development’ policy note.

“Even internally we promote the use of open standards, open data, open innovation and open source,” Ms El Keffi says. “It lets us cut across departments to digitally modernise the organisation.”

Recently, Enabel started using GoFast, a digital workplace solution that combines open source components including Drupal, Alfresco, Bonita, OnlyOffice and Apache Solr. The suite can be used by both Enabel staff and strategic partners, without having to pay additional license fees. “This makes it easy to collaborate openly,” she says.

GoFast itself is not available as open source, but its components are, and that greatly facilitates integration, Ms El Keffi says: ”It motivates us to share our experience, and encourage others to build on this or similar solutions.”

More information:

strategic policy “‘Digital for Development’ (D4D) for the Belgian development cooperation”
Presentation on GoFast at Enabel (in French)
Principles of Digital for Development
Hack the Goals - Digital report