OpenAid: A Drupal Distribution for NGOs and Non-Profits

Today we published release candidate 1 for OpenAid, a Drupal 7 distribution created to help non-profits, NGOs, and international development projects create program-focused websites quickly.  The platform provides simple, baseline features commonly needed in the field of international development -- including home page image carousels, multi-author blogs, project profiles, mapping, image galleries, a basic responsive theme, and more.

You can download the code, give feedback on OpenAid’s features, and contribute to the project at

OpenAid is the direct result of our recent work with Knowledge for Health (K4Health), a knowledge management project working to improve the delivery of health services in developing countries. Funded by USAID, K4Health is led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Communications Programs (CCP), and leverages traditional and new media channels to engage its international audience. Since 2011, we’ve been working with SRA’s Touchstone Consulting Group and Ian Cairns of Watershed Strategy to help K4Health redesign and improve its overall digital strategy and its suite of online products. Aten Design Group has led the design and development efforts in collaboration with CCP’s development team.

One piece of the overall effort involved working with K4Health to build a simplified product for quickly delivering websites to K4Health-affiliated programs. Over the years, K4Health had developed a couple dozen websites using Drupal, many of which provide similar functionality to their owners. Most have independent code, and some live on a single site that uses Domain Access. Both approaches became frustrating over time though. For the independent sites, it was tedious to maintain a variety of separate code bases and every feature had to be created from scratch each time a new site was needed. For the Domain Access sites, sharing too much of the same code made it hard to accommodate minor variations between sites that site owners often requested.

The K4Health development team was looking for a more streamlined way to both create and maintain sites, and for a solution they turned to the Drupal install profile concept. Reusing an install profile in a multi-site configuration allows them to maintain one code base with generally common features between the sites, but still gives them the freedom to customize configurations and mix and match features within sites.

Working from our experience designing sites for similar organizations in the international development space, we helped K4Health design a set of generalized features for their install profile that would address the broad set of requirements they had discovered from their affiliates over the years. As it was completed the project team realized that it wasn’t just helpful for the K4Health affiliate use case, but for other small NGO’s or programs too. USAID and the broader Federal Government have emphasized their commitment to open source, and they made it a priority to release this code. We helped them generalize their code further to make an install profile suitable for anyone to download and use. The outcome was OpenAid.

We’re thrilled with the results of the project.  The K4Health team now has their own version of the distro they can use to quickly turn on new sites in a multi-site configuration, and they’re working to get their first handful of sites online. OpenAid creates a great public good – dropping the barrier to entry for smaller NGOs seeking tools for program-focused websites, and also serving as a solid foundation for larger projects in the international development space. We’re looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

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