The Micro-Banking Open Architecture Project (Mo-Ap) is a new initiative to define and develop open source standards, software and documentation for microfinance institutions (MFIs) worldwide. According to programmers James Dailey of the Grameen Technology Center and Tapan Parikh of the University of Washington, Seattle, the project is currently moving on three fronts – an accounting system, a portfolio management system, and data standards.
For the accounting system the project is planning to take an existing open source system, such as GNUCash or SQL Ledger, and adapt it to suit the requirements of MFIs. Meanwhile, a reference implementation of the portfolio management system is being designed from the ground up. A reference implementation is a generalized software system that serves as an example of how a system should be designed and how it should function. Data standards for microfinance are being developed using XML, which is a meta-language for data representation. This will allow different parts of a software system to evolve independently and interface with other systems, as long as the XML data formats are agreed upon. All of the tools, software and documents produced by the project will be distributed under free, open source licences.
Mo-Ap’s programmers believe that open source software is a viable alternative for MFIs, which have widely varying operating and reporting procedures that require significant customization. Also, MFIs usually operate in remote areas far from urban centres, making on-site support a near necessity. It is simply not conceivable that a single, non-local software company could meet these requirements. Moreover, most MFIs operate on very small budgets, making cost-effectiveness a requirement in the development of any management information system (MIS). Open source software overcomes these limitations by allowing MFIs to contract local software companies to modify, develop and support a locally appropriate MIS based on Mo-Ap reference implementation and tools.
Mo-Ap is hosted by SourceForge.net, a collaborative platform for open source software development. For further information, including documentation, mailing lists and other resources relevant to the Mo-Ap project, visit sourceforge.net.