Bloomberg Launches FOSS Fund To Support Free and Open Source Projects

Apr 3, 2023 10:45 AM ET

Originally published on

Modern digital infrastructure relies on innumerable open source dependencies developed and maintained primarily by volunteers: The open source community is what makes the web work. Participating in these communities allows large organizations to help shape the latest and best technologies available.

To help maintain and sustain this ecosystem, companies and nonprofits alike have experimented with a framework called a FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) Contributor Fund. First piloted by employment website Indeed in 2019, a FOSS Fund is a mechanism that enables a company’s employees to nominate open source software projects they rely on (or participate in) every day. A FOSS Fund thereby identifies open source projects that are important to an organization and encourages its employees to participate more directly in the funding decisions the company makes.

Sustaining open source through democratic funding

When the first FOSS Contributor Fund was launched, documentation was published to encourage other companies to follow suit. In the four years since, numerous institutions including Microsoft, Johns Hopkins University, Salesforce, Sentry, Zeiss, and others have launched programs inspired by the original FOSS Fund. Such funds seek to have a direct impact on the sustainability and security of critical digital infrastructure.

In January of 2023, inspired by Indeed’s original initiative, Bloomberg launched its first round of employee voting for its inaugural FOSS Contributor Fund, a partnership between the company’s Open Source Program Office (OSPO) and its Corporate Philanthropy department.

“The goals of philanthropy and Open Source are very similar. Both are focused on building community and using your talent and resources for public good. This collaboration with our CTO Office to launch a FOSS Contributor Fund is a great way to leverage Bloomberg’s unique resources and connect our engineers to our culture of giving back,” says Francesca Romano of Bloomberg’s Corporate Philanthropy team.

Explaining the rationale behind Bloomberg’s inaugural FOSS Contributor Fund, Alyssa Wright of Bloomberg’s OSPO in the Office of the CTO noted, “There’s a huge use of open source being collectively built by people, and it’s the right thing to do, as well as the smart thing to do, to directly and democratically support the open source projects we’re using.”

Introducing Bloomberg’s inaugural FOSS Contributor Fund

Bloomberg has historically backed open source foundations, as well as provided direct financial support to individual projects. Its new FOSS Contributor Fund, which will run a quarterly election to award up to three grants of $10,000 each voting cycle, is a natural extension of these initiatives.

“To have a successful FOSS Fund, you need continual engagement,” says Wright. The five projects nominated during the inaugural round of voting were generated from a diverse cross-section of departments and disciplines. “You can’t see everything within a large organization,” she says, which is why the nomination and voting process is so crucial. Wright calls it a “creative way of gaining visibility” into open source infrastructure needs.

As FOSS Funds have developed across the industry, they’ve generated a number of frameworks for how best to vet projects and run the voting process. For the first round of nominations, Bloomberg invited anyone working in the company’s Engineering, Data, and Product departments, as well as the Office of the CTO, to nominate and vote for projects to fund.

Following an initial nomination period, a scoring rubric was developed to determine five projects that would be shortlisted as finalists.

“One of our primary goals is figuring out new and unique opportunities for our employees to get involved in philanthropy in ways that are personally meaningful to them,” says Romano. In the first round of voting for projects to fund, she says, engagement was even higher than expected: “It’s clear that we’re off to a great start in creating more opportunities that are valuable for our engineers,” she says.

Once the votes had been tallied, three open source projects integral to Bloomberg’s operations and beyond were chosen as the recipients of the company’s inaugural FOSS Contributor Fund grants:

  • Apache Arrow is a project that makes data transfer and analytics lightning-fast for a number of data-intensive applications. Its language-agnostic in-memory columnar format has been increasingly adopted both inside and outside Bloomberg. At Bloomberg, there’s a particularly engaged community around this project, which includes regular meetings and communication channels — a sign of exciting momentum around the software.
  • Curl, a ubiquitous tool used to interact with web services that’s implicitly part of billions of interactions every day — yet is still essentially developed by one lead and a tiny group of contributors.
  • Celery, a primary task management tool in the Django and Python ecosystem that is used broadly within the company.

The selection and scoring rubrics will continue to be tweaked, says Wright, as the new FOSS Fund develops better ways to impact important projects over the long term. But these sorts of funding mechanisms are an important complement to volunteering or supporting open source projects through foundations or other means: “It’s an investment in our projects, products, and people to make sure open source is secure, resilient, and healthy as we rely on it more and more,” says Wright.

Sustaining digital infrastructure in the long term

As Wright is quick to admit, a FOSS Fund isn’t the only way a company, or the open source community at large, can sustain the critical infrastructure supporting digital tools. “True sustainability comes from a multi-sided commitment,” she says. “While financial support is important, real engagement through contribution and dialogue is as crucial to the ecosystem’s survival as writing a check. We strive to do that too.”

The central construct of a FOSS Fund is that by encouraging employees to think critically about the open source communities of which they are a part, there’s an increasing opportunity to develop lasting relationships — to “have spaces for building direct engagement with projects,” Wright says. The Bloomberg FOSS Contributor Fund’s democratic financial support for Arrow, a project with significant momentum and engagement within the organization, is a particularly good example of where these two forms of support can meet.

Developing programs that support the open source community through a multi-pronged approach isn’t just philanthropy, says Wright: It’s common sense. “It’s an investment in our shared infrastructure,” she says. “It’s infrastructure that we all rely on and it needs to be taken care of.”