code without borders

where we are

I decided to write this little summary of actions taken so far and what we intend to achieve in the upcoming months as I am departing for personal travels to Tanzania and there is a far too great number of people that somehow got involved on this and that I can't personally address at the moment.
Because some of you will know each detail, while to others I've just mentioned the name, I'll try to give an a general overview.

It's important to note that I talk about "we" in a very broad sense. To me "we", code without borders is everybody who contributes or ever contributed to the project; be that discussing the vision, business model, legal; or any line of code, engineering advises or design feedback. It all formed what we can now talk about (not quite "see" yet) and neither me or any other individual associated could have ever achieved this.


Throughout the year I've pitched code without borders to an uncountable number of people, usually in an informal manner, but it eventually was discussed at some events.
Although I (and others) had been playing around with the idea, it wasn't until May, at IdeaHub, where we brainstormed for 48 hours straight and ended up laying out the foundation of what I now can write about. We defined many of the current principles and had the idea of ekitabo, which I'll explain later. Eventually, most of the current team emerged from who was there.

From the beginning on, we struggled outlining CWB's goals. There were and are too many important fields to work in out there, and many of them seem very hard to solve. But I think we've finally managed to refine our vision about what exactly CWB stands for - and what not. I guess it can be summarized as

We build and provide software solutions that improve the efficiency of positive-impact organizations, such as NGOs, by providing process-optimizing business tools.
(...this is still not the final version, but pretty close.)

Wherever I talk about it, people are fascinated. It feels like one of the "too obvious to not already exist" ideas; in fact: there are initiatives like CWB already, quite a few if one looks globally.
But we decided to still work on this very specific approach: Because first of all, we have seen need in various places - so apparently whatever is done so far, is too little; and second, we haven't seen major, sustainable solutions - which is why CWB is designed as a social business, more on that later.

I think ekitabo, out first product, couldn't fit this description any better: derived from the Arab-root 'kitab' (book), it's intended to be a bookkeeping and accounting software solution.
That's as such nothing revolutionary or new; not even with a focus on the Global South!
There are both very professional and free (commonly advanced spreadsheets) solutions out there, but there are none that would fit the need of a typical NGO: fast to learn, intuitive, not requiring major understanding of accounting, secure and stable. We'll start with Uganda as the first target country and then hopefully expand.
ekitabo's focus is definitely design, trying to help ease the process itself, but also encouraging informed decisions by making data more accessible.
This all sounds very nice, doesn't it? So, how will we make this happen?
There are many answers to this question, but I guess these two are the core components, that will allow CWB to first of all achieve it's somewhat ambitious goals, but furthermore, grow sustainably with them.

social business      Sustainability is directly linked to our business model. We don't believe in donations. I am not trying to say that they are the wrong way to go, or that they haven't achieved things - maybe they have. But they're definitely not sustainable. And much less, scalable. And as these are two important qualities, we decided to go another way, the social business.
It's a word that's being discussed everywhere right now, so I want to keep my thoughts on it short: While being a business, that is legally similar to a limited company instead of an NGO, and very much run like any other company, it's primary goal is not to "generate money", but to pursue a social interest. All eventual surpluses (what would usually be called 'gains') are reinvested, again pursuing the specific social interest.
This will allow us to operate for many years (hopefully) on the money our products generate; to scale, because the more we sell, the more we can achieve; and still keep our prices affordable for organizations, because there is no pursuing of gains.
We found a suiting legal framework called community interest company or short CIC in the UK, a country that seemed suitable because it's using an international language (i.e. English speaking) and a simpler legal and tax system (compared to Germany).
Registration will be complete by early February latest.

open source      ekitabo is a quite simple application and Meteor turned out to be the best choice possible to build the MVP (minimum viable product) in the shortest amount of time possible; but we still wouldn't be able to develop and maintain it, based on the generated income. (Which right now is of course zero.)
This is why we recently decided to open source most parts of ekitabo and upcoming projects and encourage developers in our own communities (e.g. Meteor MeetUps Berlin) to help out. (I was astonished by the positive feedback I have gotten from developers in general on this perspective: Many are not only willing, but genuinely interested in helping - especially if it's by using there abilities producing high-quality code and not by (quote) "carrying around sandbags or building houses".)
This of course creates challenges, especially how to distribute and evaluate the workload, but we're convinced to develop viable mechanisms for this - we're not the first open source project to have these issues, I guess.
Now, why did I say "most parts"? Because we intend to keep a minimum, but crucial portion of code proprietary, which will enable us to actually sell the software (or offer it as a service). No social business without an income stream.
(To the question: Is there no other way to generate sufficient funds? No, not for us. There's always the option to offer support of course, but we plan to give away that revenue model to local partners in the target communities. It will be of better accessibility and create jobs.)

So, this is where we are.
I believe we were able to come up with most of the necessary ideas, concepts and schemas throughout the year, I'd again like to thank everybody who helped think and criticize about it.
Design and code are coming along slower than expected, but steadily; we hope to have first beta testers in Uganda.

As 2014 ends I can say, the plan is ready.
Let's use 2015 to execute it.

— Clemens Schöll


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clemens schöll | wissmannstraße 15 | 12049 berlin | clemens@cwb.io