Mike Gifford of OpenConcept on using the internet as a force for good

Mike Gifford is the Founder of OpenConcept- a web development consulting company helping nonprofits use the web for social change. Mike is a visionary technology and open source expert, on a mission to help others do more with less (resources) and make the web more accessible. Mike’s company walks the walk and wants to be an example for how businesses can be a force for good- they are a certified B Corporation, member of Carbon 613 and working towards becoming carbon neutral. As a “not-only-for-profit” company, they look for ways that we can contribute to making a more just and sustainable world. (ps- he’s hiring right now)

What does meaningful work mean to you?

I got into developing websites for non-profits because I saw the potential in collaborating more deeply to achieve broader social change. The internet allows ideas to scale up quickly because it is so easy to distribute knowledge. A modern, sustainable world will require people to collaborate more to ensure that they have a broader impact. Our team is very engaged with using and contributing to open source tools and projects that can benefit a broader community of users.

What inspired you to started your company?

I started OpenConcept after working at Oxfam Canada. I had worked at a number non-profits previously and have a strong passion for environmental and development issues. I saw how non-profits were using technology and how limited resources were being spent re-creating the wheel. Technology moves so quickly and most progressive organizations are simply being left in the dust because they don’t have the resources to keep up. By collaborating, together I saw that there was an opportunity to leverage this new platform to amplify their message.  Since then I’ve seen how this is also a need in unions, education and government agencies as well.

What was the greatest challenge you had to overcome to make this idea a reality and how did you go about doing it?

Making complex ideas simple. The internet is very complicated and changing quickly. How to offer clients advice which will serve them well in 6 months can be a challenge, let alone 6 years. Presenting an approach to technology that involves them as more than a consumer is still something that we struggle with. With open source technology there are always ways to influence the direction of the project by getting involved. We do this on behalf of our clients most of the time.

We got involved in web accessibility as a way to demonstrate by sharing back to an open community everyone can benefit. Drupal is now the most accessible CMS available out of the box and is used by over a million sites around the world. This took working with people around the world for almost a decade. It took a lot of engagement in the Drupal community, as well as writing/reviewing a lot of code. Ultimately though I think we’ve succeeded in changing the culture of this community to understand inclusion better.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

One early piece of business advice I got was to share my best ideas. This goes counter to what many do, but I think it has worked well for me. By finding ways to share ideas with others, I have helped claim a leadership role in a number of communities. OpenConcept is recognized as a company that has been involved in issues like accessibility, open source, open government, inclusion. We punch above our weight because we haven’t been afraid to speak about issues that are important if we are to help create the world we want to live in.

Do you have a work/life philosophy?

We are a web based company and generally just need a laptop and the internet and can be at work. That said we have tried to set up flexible work hours so that people have time to pick up kids after school and take after them when they are sick. We know that there will be family emergencies that affect us and that we need to take time to deal with. I do really like the idea of taking our whole selves into the office. There isn’t a strict division between our work selves and our home selves, and troubles that affect people in one domain carry over to the other. We eat lunch together every day and try to take that time to learn more about things that are issues outside of work. We try not to ask people to work from home, but sometimes that’s better for everyone.

Mike’s Hiring!  

There’s a leadership opportunity available at OpenConcept- they’re currently recruiting for a General Manager. He’s looking for someone to help manage the business to allow him help the business expand.

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Amanda Minuk

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