Discussing governance for FOSSUnited at IndiaFOSS

IndiaFOSS would be a great opportunity to discuss the future of FOSSUnited and specifically its governance. We can do this either at the end of the sessions or during the sidelines. Here are some thoughts:

So far FOSSUnited is in its early stage. It is registered as a not for profit entity (and a charity) and we have tried various things in terms of the value it can provide to the community.

The FOSS community consists of broadly:

  1. Contributors (code, documentation)
  2. Users
  3. Students
  4. Public in general

For this community, we have tried providing services like

  1. Events
  2. Hackathons
  3. Funding
  4. Education
  5. Policy

Out of which events is where we have maximum traction. We have several city level events where communities are being formed. The hackathons have also been successful.

We have been taking policy positions on things like ending software patents and evangelising use of FOSS at various government bodies at national and state level.

Our education experiment did not fly as expected. We have also decided to stop funding projects as there are various options for projects both from VCs as well as philanthropy.


FOSSUnited has 2 full time staff members (@WishArya and @mriya11) and are helped by interns and volunteers. We have @Venkatesh_Hariharan consulting us on policy.

The funding is mainly done via the platinum sponsors / donors and industry partners and the budget this year is around 1.4cr (FOSSUnited - Internal Meet Summary (5th Aug '23))

The staff currently report to an informal group that consists of members from the founding partners and a few volunteers.

This structure has been great to start off and FOSSUnited can continue to run as a closed governance model, I think we have enough depth in the community to make the governance broader.

We tried making “members” but that was not planned / executed well or maybe we were too early. Maybe it’s time to open this up again. At the last internal meet, we did not come to a consensus either (on whether we should have members or not)


I personally believe that a long term model for running such communities would be a democratic one - where members drive some level of accountability to the organisation. The other models are industry driven or donor driven. The organisation will be accountable to those who provide the funding - right now it’s mostly top down.

I would like to explore if there is some openness to bottoms up funding. We have sold some 1200 tickets at IndiaFOSS. If 500 choose to be members at 10,000 per member, then we will hit 50lakh. At this level the organisation will be truly accountable to the community. Even though engineers are very well paid in our country, this seems unattainable at the moment, as most of us are not used to supporting community orgs.

Let us think about what kind of community do we want FOSSUnited to be. Are you just happy with the kind of subsidised services with closed governance or you want to create a community that is accountable to its members?

I know there are no easy answers. If you are interested in this discussion, please share your thoughts on this thread or talk with me at the conference!


Quick pulse check

Poll 1

How would you like the FOSSUnited community to be:

  • Industry driven
  • Donor driven
  • Member driven

0 voters

Poll 2

If there was a membership, how much can you give? (Remember we need 10,000 per year to make things run as-is, assuming only few sign up as members)

  • 1000
  • 5000
  • 10000
  • None

0 voters


cue comments on various tangents

Can you elaborate on “was not planned/executed well or maybe or maybe we were too early”?

Overall, I feel like there are 100 solid potentially-paying members in the FOSSUnited community in the country, extrapolating from my personal experience in the Bengaluru and the nascent Hyderabad communities. Solid here refers to members who are fundamentally aligned with the vision and are financially able to support at the “highest” tier e.g. 10,000 Rupees INR.

I had a conversation with someone at NumFocus and two key takeaways that are related to this conversation are

  • Individuals aren’t the end goal, their employers are. If individuals want to donate, we should attempt to either request the employer to match the employee donation or request the employer to come on board as a sponsor.
  • Individual membership drive only happens once an year. “drive” here refers to social media campaigns to make people in the community aware of individual memberships.

This will increase “compliance” burden but I think that’s a good thing at the moment. Open communication with the members (and the public in general) feels like the right thing to do, even though it increases the amount of work for FOSS United full time employees and volunteers.

FOSS United is swimming against the tide in a lot of different ways.

Personally, I don’t know if FOSS United can be an only-membership or only-industry driven or only-donor driven organization in the near future (5 years). Being membership-only could constrain the org financially and force it to grow slow, but that might not be a bad thing. In the long run, being membership-first org where the members generate industry donor feels like a good place to be in.



We should strive to be member driven (in the long run).

Starting small is good. An initial membership drive can be followed up with a focused meet. Some may be interested in just contributing financially, some may be interested in getting involved in initiatives or figuring out roadmaps. Based on that, things can evolve.

Industry will support the community to the extent that there are benefits. More the members, greater the possibility of industry support too, both directly via member involvement, and indirectly via visibility.


From my view, I think there wasn’t enough clarity about what members are supposed to do or what real “powers” they can have. Some history here: FOSS United Memberships [Version 1]

If we want to do a genuine member driven org, then members must have access to all internal workings (which should be public) have real powers, including appointment and review of staff, budgets etc. expressed either through voting and the organisation should be run with much more transparency.

For day to day working, the staff must have as much autonomy and freedom as possible and they must be accountable to the community via regular reports on this forum.

I think there could be a way we can become a truly democratic organisation (which is my personal wish at the moment). One of the reasons for me to be part of this is that there was no such community that was “true spirited”. Communities were either too commercial, or they were controlled by a few people (which unfortunately FOSS United is right now). We have a lot of goodwill at the moment, we should try and raise the bar for ourselves.

Some of the things that we decide in IndiaFOSS for example, like what kind panels will be there, who are the panelists, who selects talks, what is the criteria is very closed. For me this is the heart of what we do and we should make the process as transparent as possible. I realise that I have been part of the “closed” group, and from now on I am going to communicate my thoughts only via the forum.

Regards to organisation size and funding, my preference is for a smaller org which is more aligned to the community. We could keep the membership fees low and then raise money during the events. If we are aligned on being a “member driven” organisation, I am sure there will be ways to get it done.

Would also love to hear what @knadh has to say on this!


I think that this one is an important cultural barrier to break through. Everywhere else, students and young professionals don’t hesitate to contribute what they can to a cause they believe in - .e.g. fsf, wwf, (wildlife version), goonj, etc.

I think we should have a table for suggested membership fees (CCD coffee index?) depending on student status and number of years of experience but leave it to the individual to decide.

I’ll be honest that I found the current structure a bit intimidating because it would be years before other contributors and even companies could match Frappe and Zerodha’s level of funding. What you’re doing is great and much needed work, but I don’t see any easy way for me to have much of an impact because of the difference in the level of sponsorship.

The benefits of the membership to the sponsors were also not very clear cut in the draft until the monthly calls were cancelled.

It could help to reimagine FOSSUnited w/o the Zerodha and Frappe funding as a thought exercise:

  1. Curtailing the # of sponsored meets/conferences to what is sustainable with membership + ticket money
  2. Focusing on fewer activities between mon.school, FOSSmeets, conferences, project grants
  3. Will we get enough individual members? Who are ideal prospective members? I saw very little interest from professionals - it was overwhelmingly students.
  4. Policy initiatives
  5. Honing the value statement for why someone should join FOSSUnited

Again, not here to pour water over hard work put in by scores of people, but just making some observations from the few months we had those calls.


I am not sure if I am really qualified to speak here but as someone who frequents most events organized by FOSS United (at least in Bangalore) and a silent stalker here in the forums I just have some thoughts to share. The biggest superpower for FOSS United has always been the people, I can tell with confidence that more than any of the other things that are being done here the events (monthly meetups, conferences) see the most participation.

I like the idea of memberships, however, putting it behind a paywall ( irrespective of the price) I think would turn away a lot of potential members from this amazing community. So, I think the best course of action would be to focus more on things we know work i.e. events and focus more on having many, potentially parallelly running, member-driven, focused communities with a guidebook of sorts on certain things that must be followed. I think by doing it this way by decentralizing and having more focused communities we can avoid the issue we currently have where there is just one meetup, organised by a few folks who get to choose the talks that are being given with minimal participation from the community.

Finally, even if I am a member that pays 10K every year I am really not interested in all the day-to-day workings and I doubt I will participate in it even though I am a member. However, I acknowledge the fact that once an organisation reaches a certain level those tasks are inevitable and must be done. So I believe that focusing on the things that work like events maybe the answer.


To be driven and sustained by the community and members is the dream for any community org. It would be amazing to see FOSS United get there. If we look around, we will see exceptionally few orgs that have managed to do it. It’s difficult, but of course, we should strive for it.

  • We have attempted to build a governance group + membership group multiple times with little success. Maybe those attempts were too early and a significant majority of the community are young college going folks, who are likely to have little interest in the governance of an org. We should attempt again.

  • I think industry sponsorships should continue to exist. It is illogical to not to push the biggest consumers and beneficiaries of FOSS, commercial ventures, to not give back. Industry should be pushed to first support the projects they benefit from and then the ecosystem and FOSS communities. Also, industry doesn’t exist in isolation. Pretty much every member of the community works in the industry. Sponsorship should of course be no-strings-attached. No special perks except for acknowledgement and visibility. Anything that’s expected in return, if at all, should be community goodwill. Only partner with orgs from the industry who are okay with this principle.

  • The FOSS United community is already highly decentralised. City events and the flagship event, and all activities are run by volunteers with the help and guidance of just two full time employees of the org. So the DNA, practice, and, the model, already exists.


No strings attached sponsorship is a given to build a succesful, inclusive community.

I am skeptical, however, about too many companies contributing just for the goodwill from having observed and worked with similar foundations - Linux Foundation and Eclipse Foundation. In my experience, successful foundations are built around multiple of the following:

  1. Shared engineering (lower the costs to solve common problems in commodity portions of the software stack)
  2. Neutral standards body or reference implementation (starts with a member contributing a body of code under the foundation’s governance)
  3. Incubating new technology (similar to IETF, working on broad areas such as security, automotive, toolchains, etc.)
  4. Code hosting (related to 1, 2, but with a focus on maintainership, CI and build server infrastructure, enterprise git hosting features)
  5. Shared labs (specialised HW hosting for specific projects)
  6. Event management (Hosting conferences)
  7. Developer ecosystem (Supporting and training initiatives for developers)
  8. Visibility to attract the best talent (companies risk getting ignored by the best candidates if they aren’t seen as contributing back to FOSS)
  9. Community management systems (Elections, Voting, capturing and publishing minutes, SOPs, etc. that goes into ensuring a smoothly functioning community)

Of these, I see bits of 6, 7, 8. at Foss United. Could they be made more emphatic with the help of 1 thru 5?

We don’t need to be striving towards another LF or EF, but it would be good to have a definition of success.


We started out trying to do a bit of pretty much everything described above. 6, 7, 8 is what has organically taken off, while the other attempts have faded away. That also indicative of what really is in demand amongst the community.

I don’t think as an org with limited bandwidth and capacity, it’s feasible to do all of those things, given that each item can be a large org on its own! We should let them naturally emerge from within the community based on demand and let the community take up the mantle of running them, like how events are running currently.


Would it make sense to explore a micro payments model for bottoms up democratic funding, unrelated to membership ? A meetup happens every month. Let’s say we put up a UPI barcode somewhere during the event. Inform the audience that we’re looking for participatory funding - no strings attached. Run this as an experiment for 6 months.

No artificial bands/limits need to be placed on a fund transfer - we may get as less as less 10 Rs (“darshini chai”) to whatever - and we need to accept each equally. The hard part here would be not doing gamification or anything that would look remotely like “dark patterns” of fundraising (sorry - can’t the get right word here - but I guess you understand what I am saying here).

There will be management overhead of tracking these micro payments, and I’m sure we have folks who know better how to take care of these things via automation - I can think of Nemo in this context already. It would be a fun project to make a box saying “FOSS United” with our own own audio - but that’s a side activity.


Thanks everyone for your inputs. There is an overwhelming consensus that FOSSUnited should be become a member driven organisation and if we move in that direction, we can find ways of getting the right kind of resources in place.

As concrete steps, here is what I am recommending:

  1. Create a membership program with flexible tiers (500, 1000, 5000)
  2. Once we reach, say 100 members, members to elect an annual steering committee 7 members to oversee activities of FOSSUnited including secretary, chair and treasurer.
  3. Operations of steering committee to be 100% transparent and reported to the community via this forum.
  4. Staff to report to the steering committee for events and programs
  5. Board to oversee legal compliance and auditing.

Should we go ahead with this?

Edit: Created GitHub Issue [FEATURE] Memberships · Issue #56 · fossunited/fossunited · GitHub


I have nothing for or against the membership thing, but at this point, we definitely don’t have the capacity to do it. If we need to do it, firstly we have to hire full time employees to manage this, define the structure, member management programs etc.

Secondly, I am not in favour of having this whole open voting system. This will bring in a lot more complexity, the annual election in itself will be a massive months long planned program to organize. How does everyone who are members know who are the people standing for election? I dont find this practical. This will become like any other regional election. Is there any volunteer org running successfully in this model? I’d like to know more.

Voting for the sake of voting is not the right way of doing it. Also, just because someone pay to become a member shouldn’t entitle them with a vote / candidature, either. People can choose to pay for membership for the cause as well.


My views are informed by personal experiences as well as observations gained by witnessing the growth of many associations.

At a personal level, in the last 10-15 years, some of us tried to set up FOSS organizations but found that (A) we did not have enough capital to do so and (B) we were too busy with our professional lives to anchor this org. Therefore, what we have going at FOSS United is rare and precious.

Secondly, what attracted me to FOSS United was the die-hard FOSS credentials of @knadh & @rushabh which gave me the confidence that this organization will do the right thing for the FOSS community and not flip around and do something that is not in keeping with FOSS values.

When it comes to building a FOSS organization, our big concern used to be around building an organization that has solid FOSS credentials and could not be captured/corrupted by the enormous financial power of Microsoft. Over the last few years, Microsoft has also embraced open source. Therefore that threat has receded but many challenges remain.

The biggest challenge in institution building is to grow the institution while maintaining its sense of purpose. As long as the institution is small, this is very easy. As it grows big and successful, this becomes much harder because you will have a number of special interest groups trying to capture it. For example, 40 years ago, my family members started a school that teaches 5000 students every year. As the school grew, many factions emerged and my family members became disillusioned with the direction of the school. I have seen some of the most successful industry associations losing their sense of purpose and becoming the very opposite of what their founders intended.

My view is that having an extremely open architecture leaves us vulnerable to mission capture. We need to carefully think through the design choices we make right now and create an org that (A) Takes the FOSS mission forward and (B) Creates the next generation of FOSS leaders. I don’t have ready answers and solutions, but perhaps a via media between what @rushabh suggests and our current model is to have working groups, identify individuals who contribute to these WGs over a sustained period of time and have values that are aligned to FOSS United and leadership qualities, and gradually promote them to the next level of leadership. We could also take the advice of people like Avinash Raghava of SAASBoomi, Harish Mehta of NASSCOM and others who have vast experience in building organizations.

As I said earlier, what we have in FOSS United is rare and precious. We should grow it with preserving its core values.

Voting is just a mechanism to give voice to diverse opinions in the community and bring out the best ideas. Do you have an alternate model in mind?

This argument has been made against “openness” all the time. You open your doors, you get fresh air and pollution. You open the internet, you open yourself to all kinds of influence. I think you have to assume people are smart and they can decide for themselves what is good or not. And if you don’t “open”, you will never let new leaders self-select themselves.

All I am saying is that we should take calibrated steps when taking an irreversible decision. Right now we have good momentum and a highly motivated team. This is something that any organization would give an arm and a leg for. It is never a good idea to mess with something that is working well. We have revitalized the FOSS community and brought a fresh energy and vitality to the community. Let’s build on it and keep improving upon it.

Why would you think I am aiming for anything else?

So far we have just kick-started some movement, my aim is to make this 10X bigger. The only way we can do this (according to me) is by taking more risks and empowering more people!

We should do definitely try this, but without disrupting what we have going now, letting it organically grow (it might work, it might not work; we don’t know). As the model matures, it should naturally become the defacto model of the org.

That said, we only have two full time people who have their hands full 24x7 with existing community activities and programs. To drive the membership experiment and grow it, we should hire a full time person who can focus just on that. Disrupting them, who are already occupied with tons of stuff will be very detrimental to the org (and their mental well being).

Let us hire a person to run this as an experiment and grow it? @WishArya @mriya11 what’s your view?

Because Point #2 in what you have proposed (copied below) is an irreversible/hard to reverse decision could cut either way:

“Once we reach, say 100 members, members to elect an annual steering committee 7 members to oversee activities of FOSS United including secretary, chair and treasurer.”

We could have a steering committee that is highly motivated, experienced and competent or we could have the opposite, or we could have something in-between.

Directionally, I agree with you on opening up but disagree with you on the speed and methodology. I think a model where we let leadership emerge from working groups (or any other mechanism), and gives us time to assess the commitment, competency and capabilities of individuals is a less risky and more sustainable path to follow.

I can take responsibility of this. What we need is a platform to automatically enroll members. All proposals will be discussed in here the forum and then voting can be done in discuss directly (discuss has features to give tags to members and restrict voting).

We don’t need to actively canvas for members and I don’t anticipate we will need a steering committee for sometime - we might not get 100 members.

I am thinking we should have Rs 1000 per year for professionals and Rs 500 for students (?)

This is a great discussion because we have diversity of opinion - this is exactly how opinions should be expressed and resolved in a “FOSS” community!

If the bandwidth objection is handled, the objection of “speed” is an opinion. My experience tells me that we are ready for the next level. It will take time before members start taking ownership and responsibility of getting things done, but we should start it nonetheless. I am specially inspired by a lot of people who are already contributing in so many ways and I think we should have a mechanism for them to take deeper ownership.

How do you think we should resolve that?

[Edit: The above poll indicates that 80% want a member driven community]

This is something that I am concerned about too. From the feedback that I have gathered from some of the avid contributors of the community, it seems that a membership with payment - providing accountability, can be beneficial or have inverse effects.

I feel the membership should start with the base idea of this, as a means to contributing individually to activities and initiatives of the organisation and the community.

I agree with @knadh’s idea of this being the start of an experiment, and with @rushabh’s idea to take in individual membership contributions and enrolling them. That being said, we could also see how the members take part in the activities and gather context about the working of the organisation during a given period.

The concept of a steering committee and voting shouldn’t be inclusive elements from the beginning but should be thought about at a later phase when there are enough members who are meritorious, who can spend time, interest etc. in making decisions in the functioning of the organisation in a longer scope.

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