Since I began working with ELAW in September, 2000, I have been looking for ways to help the organization and our international partners use open source software to improve the network’s information technology systems and save money compared to proprietary software licenses.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia says:

“Open source describes practices in [software] production and development that promote access to the end product’s source materials.  Some consider open source a philosophy, others consider it a pragmatic methodology.”[1]

I have believed for years that the open, collaborative nature of open source software development is a perfect match for the NGO world.  Based upon this belief, I have steered ELAW’s technology use toward open source projects such as the FreeBSD operating system[2], the Sympa mailing list manager[3] and the Apache webserver[4].

FreeBSD and the Apache webserver along with the Drupal content management system (CMS)[5] were at the core of a recent redevelopment of ELAW’s website.  ELAW is using our experience gained by deploying our own website on the Drupal CMS to help other international NGOs build or refine their web presence using this tool, for example:

BELPO Board President Candy Gonzalez (left) with other BELPO members and supporters.

The Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in 1995 by professionals in the fields of law, education, science, natural resource management, and grassroots organizing. BELPO is working to address serious and growing environmental problems, to ensure better management of the environment and natural resources, and to safeguard public health now and for future generations.

ELAW Technology Circuit Rider Miguel Peirano helps Green Advocates President Alfred Brownell with the first version of the Green Advocates' website during a 2004 outreach trip.

The Association of Environmental Lawyers of Liberia (Green Advocates) is Liberia’s first and only public interest environmental law organization. Green Advocates is dedicated to protecting the environment; advancing human rights protection and advocacy through sound environmental practices; and giving voice to rural, indigenous, and tribal people, who historically have been denied access to benefits accruing from the extraction of timber and other natural resources from their tribal and ancestral lands.

The Grand Slam Alliance is a collaboration between Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development, Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development, and the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide. The alliance is working together to ensure that tarpon, permit and bonefishing habitats are preserved and protected from unsustainable development practices.

Each of these sites enables non-technical members of the host organization to modify and publish the contents of the site using point-and-click tools similar to a standard office word processor — a major improvement over sending content drafts to a single “webmaster” to mark up in HTML and post to the site.  This allows the NGOs to maintain a much fresher and relevant site.

I believe that Content Management Systems that allow NGOs to safely distribute content authorship tasks to a variety of staff and volunteers is a key component of any strategy to raise awareness in this globally-connected age.

Glenn Gillis
ELAW Information Technology Manager

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[1] See the Wikipedia articles on “Open source” and “Open-source software” at “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opensource” and “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_software” for more information about the open source software movement; [2] “http://freebsd.org”; [3] “http://sympa.org”; [4] “http://httpd.apache.org”; [5] “httpd://drupal.org”;