moja global: who pays?

Moja global, an open-source collaboration under The Linux Foundation, is the home for software that contributes to sustainable land management. The primary task of an open-source project is not to develop the code but to facilitate collaboration between the contributors. 

Moja global software is free to use

Moja global tools are open-source, which requires that the “license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software… The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.” The FLINT has been released on an open-source licence (Mozilla Public License, version 2.0) which allows contributors to freely use the software for their own purposes but all improvements are shared back with the community. 

In-kind contributions are preferred

Open-source projects prefer contributions in kind as opposed to financial contributions for two reasons: Their aim is to stimulate collaboration (which in turn results in knowledge exchange, creativity, innovation, etc.) and in-kind contributions do not require administrative overheads which keeps the organization agile and results focused. Contributions in-kind can cover a wide range of activities: code, of course, but also bug reports, user feedback, science contributions, documentation, translation, coaching, communication, administration, fundraising, strategy advice, etc.

Some cash contributions are unavoidable

Open-source communities have learnt that there are two types of jobs that cannot be done by the community. Tasks that are not executed by the ecosystem because nobody wants to do them (people need to be hired to do these tasks) and tasks that should not be executed by the ecosystem as allowing one party to do the job would give an unfair advantage (a joint neutral secretariat needs to be set up for these tasks). The cash budget only needs to cover the execution of these two types of jobs.

Cash contributions must be unconditional and non-refundable 

Cash contributions must be unconditional because they are used for the above tasks only. The Strategy Board must have the freedom to allocate the available budget to those tasks that create a neutral collaboration space and those tasks that nobody wants to do unpaid.

Cash contributions must be non-refundable because funds cannot be released against the achievement of results. Moja global facilitates collaboration but is dependent on its community to achieve its results. Moreover, the funds are allocated by the Strategy Board (i.e. users) and managed by the Linux Foundation which has fiduciary responsibility but cannot accept the legal liability for results that must be achieved by the ecosystems of their projects. Were the Linux Foundation to accept such liability, cost of management oversight would be exorbitant and it would kill the spirit of open collaboration.

Costs of open-source projects are shared fairly 

There are several methods for sharing the cost of an open-source project. Fairness is the key to a successful contribution system but perceptions of fairness may differ between communities. 

Some projects only ask for a voluntary contribution by users. It is a simple system but does not result in fair distribution of cost. Wikipedia has 60 million unique users per day but only has about 5 million donations per year. QGIS relies on annual sponsorship and ad-hoc donations: QGIS has 200,000 users, but only about 70 are sponsors and a small minority ever made a donation.

Other projects use a voluntary membership system as it ensures that the cost of the project are shared more fairly between different members of the community. Often membership fees are linked to a member specific indicator, e.g. revenue, number of staff, etc. Some projects use a tiered membership based on eagerness of the members to influence the project: they provide platinum, gold, or silver memberships with a board seat for every platinum member and one for every 5 gold members, etc.

Moja global uses a voluntary contribution system
Moja global applies a different system to achieve fairness as perceived by its community of users. 

Practically the process works as follows: moja global’s Strategy Board consists of users and contributors to its tools. Annually, the Strategy Board agrees on its strategic plan combined with an overview of all the inputs needed to achieve that Plan. The Board members allocate in-kind and cash contributions that they find reasonable to achieve the strategic plan. The Board Members are also using their connections and ingenuity to raise money in line with their perception of fairness. This enables the costs of development to be fairly distributed across the community and cash contributions to be prioritised towards areas not easily covered by the community, unwanted or potentially unfair tasks such as mentioned above. Moja global endeavors to empower the users whilst fairly distributing responsibilities to match the capacity of the community of users.

Contribution to the Linux Foundation

The Linux Foundation is a US non-profit that provides the legal umbrella for moja global. Its role is to manage the funds in line with US non-profit regulations, provide intellectual and technical support, support for bookkeeping, human resources, infrastructure, and events organisation. These costs are covered in 2 different ways: memberships and a charge for overheads.

The Linux Foundation, like most of its projects, is a member based non-profit. Most of its resources are contributed by its 15 Platinum Members who pay USD 500,000.- each per year. A similar number of Gold Members pay USD 100,000.- each per year. There are about 1000 Silver Members that each pay between USD 5,000.- and USD 20,000.- per year. Every company that is a member of a project under The Linux Foundation (like moja global) is required to become a member of The Linux Foundation as well. Membership or participation is always voluntary! Moreover, government and non-profit organisations are not required to join The Linux Foundation if they participate or contribute to one of the Linux Foundation projects.

A second source of income for the Linux Foundation is a percentage charge on the budget of its projects. Annually, every project contributes 9% of the first USD 1 million of its budget and 6% for its budget over USD 1 million to The Linux Foundation to cover overheads.

This article is also available as a Google Docs document open for suggestions.

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