Monday, August 10, 2015

Help Wanted: Wildcards!

Are you someone who is burning to make a difference? Someone who values doing good over a whopping salary? Do you want flexibility in your job? Benetech wants to hear from you! It’s hard for most organizations to accommodate nonstandard approaches to work. There are jobs that need doing, and most places have a standard model for doing them. However, Benetech is not a standard place! Consider what makes Benetech unique:

  • Women Majority: The majority of Benetech’s executives, managers, professional staff and overall team are women. How many tech companies can say that!
  • Rights-focused: Advancing the human rights of disadvantaged people is central to our work. We help the people who most need it, not those who can most afford it.
  • Flexibility: We expect the work to get done, and provide our professional staff a high degree of flexibility on how to get it done.
Help wanted sign

What’s the catch? Well, we’re a nonprofit: organized as a charity. And while we pay quite well by nonprofit standards, there is no stock plan. If making top dollar is a personal requirement or the chance to make social good doesn’t make your heart sing, stop reading, we’re not your next gig.
  • If you are someone with amazing skills who is looking for a way to give back using those talents, read on.
  • If you are looking for a path to reenter the workplace, but need the flexibility or hours to spend parts of the day at home, read on.
  • If you have made an exit, but playing golf all day is not your idea of nirvana, read on.
  • If you have a great idea for a job share, read on.
  • If you would like to try the nonprofit sector on for size, read on.
Our regular job postings are on our website here, but not all of our needs fit a standard job posting. We need help in the following areas:
  • Marketing and communications
  • Fundraising
  • Software development
  • Recruiting
  • Accounting and finance
  • Community management
To us, a wildcard position is a new, unexpected better option for accomplishing our social mission. It could be a full-time gig, part-time, low bono or pro bono. We are excited to be exposed to new ideas, and we hope your involvement is one of those great new ideas! If you have outstanding skills you want to employ for the greater good, and even if your skills don’t precisely match the jobs listed on our website, send your resume and a cover letter that explains why you are amazing and what you’d need to make a wildcard position work for you to If you’ve read this far, we really want to hear from you!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Open Source Means Strong Security

“Your secure software is open source: doesn’t that make it less secure?”

This is a recurring question that we get at Benetech about Martus—our free, strongly encrypted tool for secure collection and management of sensitive information, built and provided by the Benetech Human Rights Program. It’s an important question for us and for all of our peers developing secure software in today’s post-Snowden environment of fear and worry about surveillance. We strongly believe not only that open source is compatible with digital security, but that it’s also essential for it.

Let me explain with the following analogy:

Think of encryption as a locked combination safe for your data. You may be the only one who has the combination, or you may entrust it to select few close associates. The goal of a safe is to keep unauthorized people from gaining access to its content. They might be burglars attempting to steal valuable business information; employees trying to learn confidential salary information about their peers; or a fraudster who wants to gain confidential information in order to perpetrate a scam. In all cases, you want the safe to keep your stuff secure and keep out unauthorized people.

Now, let’s say I’m choosing a safe for my valuables. Do I choose Safe Number One that’s advertised to have half-inch steel walls, an inch thick door, six locking bolts, and is tested by an independent agency to confirm that the contents will survive for two hours in a fire? Or, would I opt for Safe Number Two, where the vendor just tells me to trust them, my stuff is safe with them, but insists the design details of their safe is a trade secret? It could be the safe is made of plywood painted to look like metal in the catalog, and made from thin sheet metal. It might even be stronger than Safe Number One, but I have no idea if it is.

I know which one I’d choose!

Graphics representing "digital security," showing a lock on a background made of binary code.
License: CC0 Public Domain
Imagine I have the detailed plans and specifications of Safe Number One, sufficient to build an exact copy of that safe if I had the right materials and tools. Does that make Safe Number One less safe? No, it does not. The security of Safe Number One rests on two protections: the strength of the design and the difficulty of guessing my combination. Having the detailed plans helps me, or safe experts, determine how good the design is. It helps establish that the safe has no design flaws or a second “back door” combination other than my own chosen combination that opens the safe. Bear in mind that a good safe design allows the user to choose their own combination at random. Knowing the design should not at all help an attacker in guessing the random combination of a specific safe using that design.

Granted, there is no such thing as perfect security. Everyone so far that has advertised an uncrackable safe has been promising more than they can deliver. The goal of locking up your valuables is not to make them impossible to steal, but rather expensive to steal—whether in terms of money (better tools cost more), time, or the possibility of being sent to jail. The more you raise the cost of cracking a safe, the more secure your valuables are.

The point is this: knowing the specifications of a safe, and hence what it would take to crack it, doesn’t make it less secure. Knowing that the walls are half an inch thick might help a burglar know what tools are required to cut through a half inch of case hardened steel, but this knowledge doesn’t make it less costly to do so. Knowing the combination is designed to have millions of possibilities rather than hundreds discourages attackers who might try to guess your combination or try all of the possibilities. A well-designed safe with a hard-to-guess combination will discourage most attackers.

The analogy of the strong safe with an open design is directly applicable to secure software design. Just as with the safe, the security of a strongly encrypted software tool is not compromised by having its code openly available as open source. In fact, that the tool’s source code is open strengthens its security and, by extension, the safety and privacy of its users. If the code is public and freely available for review, then the end-users, their experts, and the open source community at large can verify that the software does exactly what it claims to do and that there are no “back doors.” In a world where hyper-surveillance is the norm, it is only natural that users insist on commitment to transparency by software developers. This is especially critical for human rights defenders, activists, journalists, civil society groups, and other social justice actors whose digital security and physical safety are closely linked.

It may seem a paradox that opening up the source code of secure software actually makes it more trustworthy. As toolmakers, though, our goal is not to keep the software design secret, but rather protect the confidentiality of the information entrusted to the software. As the safe analogy shows, the strength of security of software depends on the quality of design and the difficulty of guessing the password. With a strong, openly accessible design, the other key security element is encouraging users to choose long, strong, non-obvious passwords. The combination of a secure design and a good confidential password makes it unlikely that all but the most dedicated and well-resourced attackers will be able to access the confidential information stored in open source security software.

Just as the most secure safe will eventually yield to a dedicated assault from an expert with plenty of time and resources, secure software will also eventually yield to a similar assault. The goal of secure software is to raise the cost of such attacks to the point where attackers rarely bother you: they’ll attack your less secure neighbors!

At Benetech, we believe that collaboration and community best help deliver strong security. Here the open source approach to software development makes it easier to collaborate and incorporate existing important innovations. In the case of Martus, we didn’t have to re-implement cryptography libraries, as we used a strong open source one (Bouncy Castle). Likewise, we didn’t need to reinvent anonymity tools, as we integrated Tor into Martus. In this way, our users benefit from an entire community that supports their work with better digital security tools.

The major funders of technology for human rights groups have concluded that open source software is more trustworthy for the activists they want to support. Some of them, like the Open Technology Fund, are actively encouraging their grantees to have their software audited by third party experts, and funding those audits.

With greater transparency, accountability, independent verifiability, and collaboration comes stronger security. The open source way moves us all towards that goal.

This article originally appeared on under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.   

Monday, June 08, 2015

Are You Passionate about Technology and Social Good? Benetech Needs You!

Guest post by Betsy Beaumon, President, Benetech

We are seeking visionary leaders to join Benetech in applying technology to advance the rights of disadvantaged people around the world. Technology is playing an ever larger role in increasing respect for human rights and delivering better services, and we have two rare opportunities to lead world-class tech-for-good programs. Benetech is hiring new Vice Presidents for our Global Literacy and Human Rights programs.

You are the leader we are looking for if you see the combination of social good and businesslike management as the answer to pressing problems throughout the world. You are someone who dreams about using your management and leadership skills and love of technology for social impact, exceeding the bounds of what a regular for-profit business can do.

You’ve come to the right place: Benetech.

We are Silicon Valley’s deliberately nonprofit software company. Benetech is organized as a nonprofit, but run like a business. Our goal is not to make gobs of money, it’s to make maximum social impact while breaking even. We use technology today to help hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities succeed in school, as well as help human rights activists around the world document abuses and seek justice. Our Benetech Labs is busy looking for the next tech social enterprises that could make similar global impact.

We operate at the intersection of technology and social impact, and therefore our ideal candidates will demonstrate these dual interests and experiences. Whether you are a nonprofit leader with a track record of using technology to improve outcomes, or a for-profit tech leader with a history of commitment to social justice organizations, we want to see a commitment to both sides. To be successful, our leaders have to be bilingual in speaking tech and social good.

The Vice President of Human Rights will lead the work of the Benetech Human Rights Program, harnessing the power of technology to meet the pressing needs of advocates and human rights defenders to securely gather, store, and appropriately report sensitive data. The technology and training Benetech provides keep human rights defenders safe and have become critically important in larger efforts to pursue reform, seek justice, and begin the process of reconciliation. As one of our partners from an LGBT group in Uganda noted last year, “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.” We must help ensure that every report of abuse is a tool for justice.

The Vice President of Global Literacy leads Benetech’s biggest program, standing at the confluence of some of the most active and rapidly evolving fields: digital content, EdTech, domestic and international education, and user-centered design. Our Bookshare service is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with disabilities, serving over 350,000 users in 60 countries. This leader also provides the vision, leadership, and partnerships for a number of our Benetech Labs projects, including our DIAGRAM Center for accessible STEM, and our latest work on 3D printing in education, museums and libraries. Our dream is that every person on the planet with a disability that gets in the way of reading will have access to the content they need for education, employment, and full social inclusion. Along the way, we expect to drive innovations that will make learning better for all students around the world.

Working for Benetech is hugely rewarding, but not necessarily in a monetary sense. You have to feel strongly that the karmic rewards tip the balance to join a social enterprise. So if you are driven to make a real difference from a leadership position, at the unique intersection of technology and social change—and you are willing to work on delivering maximum social good—then we want to hear from you. Check out our job postings and apply now!

This post originally appeared on Benetech's Blog.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Proud Father and Husband: Concert in Palo Alto

Every once in a while, the Beneblog features something of personal importance to me.

I'm very excited (and proud) about an exciting concert coming up soon in Palo Alto. My daughter, Kate Fruchterman, will be returning briefly to the area the evening of June 17th to give a concert.  Kate will be heading to Europe this fall to sing professionally in Italy for the Turin Opera Company, as the winner of one of three Opera Foundation Scholarships.

As I said at the Skoll World Forum this year after hearing Monica Yunus, the famous opera singer and daughter of leading social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus, Kate is another proof point of the proposition that geeky social entrepreneur dads can have beautiful opera singer daughters. 

Singer in a black dress and pearls smiling and leaning against a cinder block wall.
Kate Fruchterman, soprano

But, there's more!  The accomplished pianist Virginia Fruchterman (who I happen to be married to) will be the main accompanist at the concert at St. Mark's Church.  In addition, Lauren Osaka, flautist, and Phil Kadet, the NYC-based jazz pianist and composer, will also be playing with Kate.  

Full disclosure: there is a suggested $20 donation for adults at the door, which will help Kate as she journeys to Italy. Feel free to spread the word to people in the Bay Area!  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Optimistic about Marrakesh Treaty!

The World Blind Union’s (WBU) Right to Read campaign for ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty just concluded two days of meetings in Berlin, Germany. The attendees were mostly the regional coordinators of the campaign, and the news was good. I found the optimism exciting: it seems like we’re moving quickly to getting twenty countries to ratify the Treaty. It even seems likely that it could happen in 2015!

A highlight of the meeting for me was going through the list of countries that have already ratified, will or probably will ratify (in WBU’s opinion), and those that possibly will ratify in 2015. The score:
  • Have ratified = 8
  • Will or Probably Will = 14
  • Possible = 17
The Treaty goes into effect three months after 20 ratifications have been formally deposited with WIPO, so it’s looking great! The hope is to be able to celebrate the milestone globally on December 10, 2015, Human Rights Day.

In North America, Canada was rated as “probable” and the USA as a “possible.” There is a fair amount of friendly competition going on to see which country ratifies first. Of course, Mexico might well beat both the USA and Canada, but Mexico is in the Latin America group at WBU.
Stevie Wonder standind behind a desk next to a panel of speakers, holding a microphone.
Stevie Wonder at the close of the Marrakesh Treaty Negotiations

The embarrassing gap during the meeting was the fact that no European countries were considered to be likely to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty in 2015. The political footballs being tossed around are about competency and sequencing: does the European Union (EU) get to sign and ratify the Treaty (exclusive competence), or do all of the countries in the EU have to ratify first (shared or mixed competence)? Also, do you need to implement the Treaty and then ratify it, or ratify it and then implement it? Countries like Germany and France, which were difficult during the Treaty negotiations, are seen as dragging their feet in these ratification efforts, arguing for shared competence and implementation first—bureaucratic obstacles that seem as if they would lose in a court case, but could drag on for years. Moreover, the UK, which is generally pro-Treaty, has political reasons to not bow to EU authority at this time.

One attendee pointed out that the cross-border sharing of content wouldn’t be of much use unless you had the USA or Europe on board: that’s where a lot of content will come from for people with print disabilities in the rest of the world. Let’s hope the USA does ratify this year (I'm certainly part of that effort)! While the meeting was going on, we heard that Spain’s government had forwarded the treaty to their parliament for ratification. While it’s not clear where this fits in the Euro-wrangles, the hope is that this development will drive the Treaty’s ratification to the next level in Spain.

Even the European mess didn’t dampen the attendees’ spirits. They are busy planning for the implementation phase of the Marrakesh Treaty, assuming it takes effect in the coming year, as well as continuing the ratification campaign well beyond reaching the twenty-country milestone.

I was able to share some of our plans at Benetech around implementing the Treaty. We’re doing a ton of work with partners in India, the first country to ratify it, to allow people in India to take full advantage of India’s now-favorable copyright environment. We also hope to lend our Bookshare online library infrastructure to developing world countries not currently able to build their own online library at this time. Additionally, we have over 200,000 copyrighted accessible book titles already available in most countries in the world.

I joke that I’m the geek advisor to the activists. However, I’m proud that the joke is true. From being on the original drafting committee of what became the Marrakesh Treaty, to being part of the negotiations, to helping convince Stevie Wonder to come to Marrakesh if there was a successful treaty (there was and he came), to helping people with print disabilities in countries all over the world gain access to the books they need for education, employment, and social inclusion—I’ve been very honored to play a small role in helping this expected revolution in accessibility.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Silicon Valley Gives to Bookshare

Tomorrow is an exciting day for our Bookshare online library for students with dyslexia or visual impairments.  We have incredibly generous matching grants from two of our dedicated tech entrepreneur supporters, Bernie Newcomb and Lata Krishnan.  Tomorrow, Tuesday May 5, 2015, is Silicon Valley Gives day, where donors from around the world will find their contributions to organizations based here matched by local donors.

We love reading, and we know how important being able to read a book is to educational and employment opportunity.  Each year, we provide more than a million books that are spoken aloud, enlarged or made into braille for students who can't pick up a print book and read it because of a disability.

We've never done a crowdfunding campaign specifically for Bookshare, and tomorrow we'll find out if some of our 350,000 users and their families are able to express their appreciation by helping match these challenge grants. And we need help: our annual federal funding from Bookshare has been flat for seven years while our users have grown by more than a factor of ten.  There are more books to be scanned, and many more people who need accessible books here in the United States and around the world.

So, please give if you can by making a donation now, or through tomorrow, on the Silicon Valley Gives to Bookshare page. The transaction costs of giving online with a credit card are much more than covered by our matching donors. Spread the word to people who care about reading, and about educational opportunity.  We want to do so much more, and with help from donors who share our dreams, we will! 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Skoll World Forum: My Annual Heart-Mind Feast

My favorite conference of the year is the Skoll World Forum in Oxford. That’s still the case even after attending the Forum for eleven straight years as of last week! Why, after all these years, do I love going back?

Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship logoFirst and foremost, it’s the people. This is my posse, the global social entrepreneur community, as well as the people who appreciate and support them. Everybody there understands the issues at the intersection of social good and innovation at scale. That is why conversations at the Forum start where conversations elsewhere end. Thanks to the environment of trust and effectiveness, there are nearly one hundred people on my list of follow-ups from last week!

The programming also works well for me and most of my fellow social entrepreneurs. That’s no accident: since its inception, the Skoll team has continuously improved the Forum. The event starts with two-and-a-half days of the Skoll Convening: a gathering of all of the current and former Skoll Awardees. This year’s Convening was the best one to date, and I’ve been to all of them. The cohort is really changing: a third of the Skoll Awardees’ organizations have gone through or are going through leadership transitions. Interestingly enough, the Skoll Award status tends to stick with the individual, albeit many Awardees are off starting another social enterprise (or two). There were also some successor CEOs in the crowd, along with an explicit track for senior colleagues (like Betsy Beaumon, Benetech’s new President), as the Skoll Foundation increasingly recognizes the importance of strong teams to their grantee organizations. It was also interesting to meet a new group of a dozen young leaders picked from among the Skoll network organizations.

Many conversations about deep and meaningful topics took place during the Convening, in small and large groups. This is the part that really fed my heart. Our peers are grappling with many similar challenges around leading social sector organizations, and there is immense comfort in sharing these worries—and your experiences—with people you trust. I always walk away with new ideas from my fellow social entrepreneurs.

Fellow Skoll Awardee Martin Burt and I gave a joint session on his Poverty Stoplight program (a methodology that allows poor families to assess their level of poverty across several dimensions and to develop a customized plan to overcome it), and on building software applications for collecting data from the people served by social enterprises. Our session was well attended and we received plenty of helpful feedback. One highlight of the Convening for me, though, was meeting the Dalai Lama’s personal physician and spending a couple of totally engaging hours with him. That’s a very “Skoll moment:” you never know whom you’ll end up sitting next to!

The Convening is followed by a two-and-a-half-day conference with a thousand attendees, numerous sessions, and three daily inspirational plenaries. Other than the sessions where I was directly involved as a presenter, I spent almost all of my time in scheduled and impromptu meetings.

Oh, and there are dinners (generally in Harry Potter-esque dining halls) and parties every night. These, in fact, are critical parts of the experience: connecting with old friends, setting up meetings for the next day, and (extensively) talking shop. Exhausting, but totally worthwhile.

Those around-the-clock meetings were the mind food for me: completely inspirational for my work in the coming year. Just about everybody wanted to talk about how technology could play a major role in improving their ability to scale their impact. That includes a great number of terrific social entrepreneurs who have probably avoided engaging with technology for most of their lives. As one of the few geek social entrepreneurs, I’m a rare pipeline to Silicon Valley technology for my friends in the network. By hearing from dozens of CEOs and founders about their tech needs, I’ve been connecting the dots. I connect some groups that have similar needs and that should be talking together. Some organizations I can point to solutions that exist and are worth evaluating. Moreover, from Benetech’s standpoint, I get to spot projects that are candidates for Benetech Labs: needs that could turn into Benetech social enterprise products.

I like the fact that the Forum welcomes promising, up-and-coming social entrepreneurs beyond the limited circle of established social entrepreneurs and the handful of new Skoll Awardees each year. I had the pleasure of meeting Ben Knight of Loomio, an exciting tech innovator from New Zealand who came out of the Occupy Movement to make a web solution for democratic decision-making that’s exploding in use around the world. One of my dreams ten years ago was to see more Benetech-style organizations launch, and meeting Ben was a thrill: seeing someone just a couple of years into that path and already having global impact!

The Skoll World Forum has become the best global conference for social entrepreneurship, and the highlights I just shared are some of the reasons why I keep coming back to it. The Skoll team has pulled off critical mass in attendees, which makes it incredibly efficient for organizations like mine with a global focus. There’s no other place where I can have a hundred useful conversations in one week with people from Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, and yes, North American and even California. Even though the Forum is heavily oversubscribed, I feel new social entrepreneurs doing great work can still get in and benefit from the peer support. That’s how we build the movement.

I’m already looking forward to next year!