The .ORG That Helps Other .ORGs Do Good Work Better


The .ORG that Helps Other .ORGS Do Good Work Better

“Don’t make humans do what computers can. That was my catch phrase for a while,” says OpenFn Founder and Head of Products, Taylor Downs. It’s also a user-friendly description of OpenFn’s mission. Founded in 2015 as a spin-off of its sister organization, Vera Solutions, OpenFn helps clients free up person-power to improve the world, while letting computers do the busy work. “Humans want to be creative and solve meaningful problems; they don’t want to push paper around,” says Downs. As the OpenFn website puts it: “Automation means less admin and more impact.”


OpenFn evolved from Vera Solutions’ work in the field providing data solutions for social change organizations. The team came to recognize that many of their clients required a data integration solution in order to scale ideas, grow, and efficiently serve their mission. “Every time we did a new project, we realized we needed an integration engine,” Downs explains. 


So, OpenFn created solutions to move information better and faster. “We teach technologies to talk to one another.” You can watch a brief talk by Downs about how OpenFn works here.


OpenFn helps governments, health, and humanitarian organizations by enabling the different technologies they use—each with its own mission-driven purpose—to communicate, understand, and work with one another to achieve a broader scaled objective. The company takes existing processes—whether to teach kids how to read, provide social services for victims of child trafficking, or provide vaccinations in rural villages—and makes them more secure, more reliable, and faster.


“Consider a vaccine distribution program. There are a huge number of complex steps required for that process to run smoothly, to get vaccines into arms. We find the digital steps that don’t require emotional intelligence and we automate those, saving time and money and reducing human error. Suddenly there’s better data and more time to empathize with patients, sort out messaging, or work through complex political issues. Downs explains.


To understand what that means, he offers the example of a community health organization working in Western Kenya. “A health worker using mobile phone technology out in the field records a visit with a mother and her children. When that worker identifies COVID-19 symptoms, they press a button on that phone, the information collected is automatically processed and loaded into a national-level health MIS (Management Information System)—and that allows them to more effectively plan their response.” 


“Now imagine if you had to make all those connections between systems work by hand.” You can’t, says Downs. At least not if you want to reach scale. “Organizations grow with OpenFn because they can automate all of this complexity, letting OpenFn do it for them so that their leaders can focus on vision, their doctors on patients, and their analysts on insights.”


OpenFn systems are at work in 43 countries. In addition to software development, the company also offers consulting services. They work with smaller governments, NGOs, and non-profits, as well as larger social change entities like UNICEF and the WHO, and The International Rescue Committee. Their ability to invest in and further apply their solutions has been bolstered by Digital Square’s recognition of OpenFn as a digital global good. Digital global goods are open source reusable technologies that do not exacerbate global inequities, but instead seek to address them. 


OpenFn’s work with MiracleFeet epitomizes their positioning as a digital global good. A global health organization leveraging technology to improve treatment quality and outcomes for children born with clubfoot in low- and middle-income countries, MiracleFeet addresses one of the most common birth defects in the world—affecting one out of every 800 children worldwide—and aims to increase access to clubfoot treatment through partnerships with local healthcare providers, offering organizational, technical, and financial support to clinics in 26 different countries.


With the OpenFn integration platform, MiracleFeet was able to connect its data systems to relay information from field-based health workers to program staff and clinic providers in real-time. This solution allows MiracleFeet to spend less time thinking about how to manage all of the data it’s collecting and instead focus on what the data means and how to improve health outcomes for children worldwide.


“That’s the magic of OpenFn—we help people focus on what they love,” says Downs. For more information on OpenFn’s work, please visit www.openfn.org