The idea for NPFI came out of the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software Project (see started in 2007 by Trinity, Wesleyan, and Connecticut Colleges. Since 2007, H-FOSS has provided undergraduates with opportunities to develop open source software that benefits humanitarian organizations.

Bowdoin College joined the H-FOSS Project in 2008 as it began offering a software development course with humanitarian outcomes. Below is a May 2008 photo of the first Homebase development team at the Ronald McDonald House in Portland, Maine.

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The first Homebase development team: Bowdoin students Taylor Talmadge, Oliver Radwan, Maxwell Palmer, and Nolan McNair, along with instructors Ralph Morelli (Trinity College) and Allen Tucker (Bowdoin College), second and third from left.

Offered several times since 2008, this course has had a dramatic impact on students, non-profit organizations, and the wider arena of computer science education.

  • Students have gained real-world software development experience while earning course credit;
  • Non-profit agencies have obtained free, viable, and useful software products; and
  • The academic community has benefited because this software, syllabi, and design documents are openly shared through this Web site.

Student evaluations for this course have been uniformly enthusiastic. Most important, the non-profit staff and volunteers who use the student-developed software strongly praise its quality and ease of use.  For detailed information about these projects, visit our Projects page.

Ironically, the success of these projects created two new challenges: sustainability and scalability.  That is, the student-developed software requires sustained support in order to remain viable for the non-profits long after the semester is finished and the student developers have moved on to other coursework.  In addition, the open-source nature of this software demands that it become freely available and adaptable for re-use by other student teams working with non-profits that have similar needs.

NPFI’s mission is to respond to these two challenges