Ersilia: How Open Collective is Redefining Open Organizations

Ersilia: How Open Collective is Redefining Open Organizations
Ersilia is a nonprofit organisation that supports research against infectious and neglected diseases. Our goal is to facilitate adoption of artificial intelligence tools to accelerate the development of new medicines. We focus on establishing collaborations in low-resourced settings where the costs of drug discovery are prohibitive.

In the last 20 years, community-based organizations, non-profit initiatives, associations, and all types of collectives working toward a common goal, have flourished worldwide. Open source projects can be maintained by a network of developers that do not belong to a particular organization.

Today, thanks to Open Collective (OC), such projects can access the essential infrastructure to manage their finances. The Collective acts as a platform for fundraising, sponsorship and expense payouts, and, most importantly, a transparent budget.

The Ersilia Open Source Initiative is a charity whose mission is to strengthen the research capacity against infectious and neglected diseases in low- and middle-income countries, via the deployment of state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and machine learning tools.

One of its core mandates is working in the open, not only open-sourcing the software but also all other kinds of information, such as the strategic plan, grant applications and projects. We wanted to operate our finances fully in the open too, so transparency and accountability were the first keywords that led us to OC, only to discover a much broader range of benefits.

At first, we explored fiscal hosting with Open Source Collective. Fiscal hosting enables a project to use the legal and financial structure of an incorporated umbrella entity, thus avoiding the hassle of setting up a bank account, dealing with taxes and other administrative requirements, all of which is provided by your host. This can be very convenient for short-term projects, unincorporated groups or even individuals. As we have incorporated charity in the UK, we finally opted to create Ersilia as an independent Collective, meaning we deal with admin, taxes, and holding the money in our own bank account.

Even though we do not require fiscal hosting, we have found many advantages in being part of OC, and Ersilia is using many cool OC features. Hopefully you can get inspired, or inspire others, to try it out!

As a charity, donations are an important part of our revenue, but there are an overwhelming number of platforms to set up campaigns on. OC solved this problem for us by bringing our fundraising to one place. Collectives can accept one-off or recurring financial contributions, with conveniently tiered options for all audiences. It caters both to the general public who might want to support our mission, and to more specialized contributors like users or companies that benefit from the tools we produce.

Moreover, Collectives can donate to each other, stimulating cross-project support and creating a sense of community. For example, Ersilia was chosen to participate in the first round of FundOSS, an open source matched funding drive. We successfully raised around $13,000, which makes all the difference for a small organisation like ours (read more about our FundOSS experience).

To encourage financial contributions, OC has the best strategy: fully transparent budgeting. Money doesn’t just disappear into a black box—the budget shows exactly when and how it's used. We have found this to be the best way to demonstrate our impact and increase trust.

We can download our financial reports from OC in one click and submit them to the Charity Commission or other authorities as required. This is what convinced us to move all our finances to OC.

We received two donations from grantmaking organizations in the UK, totalling $3,367. This money, supplemented by the FundOSS campaign, enabled Ersilia to acquire a GPU Workstation for $4,812, a key component for parallelizing calculations (basically, reducing time and speeding up processes), which is essential for artificial intelligence and machine learning. We expect this workstation to cover our GPU requirements until 2023, saving Ersilia $15,000 per year on cloud computing services.

OC is continuously evolving, responding to the needs of Collectives. Among many cool new features, we are particularly enthusiastic about “Projects”, which will enable us to fundraise for each of our different projects specifically and keep its budget and expenses separated. If you are an open-source contributor, you can have a look at OC's source code and help them improve!

We would really like to thank the Open Collective team for the amazing work they are doing, and encourage you to stay tuned to the evolution of our Collective! Help us spread the word, and contribute to furthering our mission. We are always open to volunteers!