What happens when technology can do great things for humanity, but doesn't make a lot of money? Technology and social entrepreneur Jim Fruchterman explores the social good side of technology applications: how to get great tech tools to the people who often need them the most, but are least able to afford them!
Dr. Patrick Ball, who has just joined Benetech, will be teaching a course at UC Berkeley starting in late January entitledMeasurement of Human Rights Violations. We are excited about this linkage to a premier university in our area, and hope it leads to some exciting work!
What is really exciting is that I will be speaking on two panels at the Forum on the social applications of high technology, alongside major high tech industry leaders from 3COM, Google, Siemens, CNET and Akamai as well as Paul Meyer of Voxiva. Last year I was delighted with the level of interest shown in the larger societal issues by attendees (that was in addition to the incredible tension over the then-looming Iraq conflict). I'm looking forward to blogging more on this event in January.
I spent the weekend at the quarterly board meeting of the Social Enterprise Alliance. Our group puts on the big event in the social enterprise space: nonprofits that used earned income strategies as part of supporting their mission.
Normally, such board meetings can be boring, even with the incredibly interesting group we have on our board! But, we tried something that really deepened my understanding of this group of social entrepreneurs. It was fascinating.
Each of the board and staff members took the time to tell their life story in the context of how we came to become involved in social entrepreneurship. Although our life experiences were vastly different, there were clearly some patterns that held true of most of us. Many came from a religious background: Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism all figured in, even if people had moved away from these roots. Most had come to the social sector as idealists, and were disappointed to find the limitations they encountered. And each…
Having returned from my recent trip to Singapore and Sri Lanka, I am glad that I had the opportunity to talk to the different groups and get a real picture of the issues they are most concerned about.
In Singapore, the discussions were on how to bring information technology to blind people in the region. Personal computers aren't within the reach of most blind people in the region. There is a real issue with cross-border sharing of information, since copyright law exceptions that benefit blind people are implemented on a country-by-country basis. From a Benetech standpoint, our challenge is figuring a sustainable way to deliver a Bookshare.org type service to these communities.
Sri Lanka is twenty months into a cease-fire following twenty-five years of civil conflict. The human rights groups, legal aid groups and academic groups I had the honor of meeting are dealing with two types of human rights information issues. The first is the aftermath of the civil conflict, which tou…
Sri Lanka is an incredible place. I've been meeting with human rights organizations here and just beginning the grasp the complexity and extent of the violations over the last 25 years. My last two days here involve giving a lecture on technology and human rights at the University of Peradeniya, and meeting with a coalition of human rights groups to talk about how Benetech and our main partner here, The Asia Foundation, can help Sri Lanka move forward as settlement talks hopefully continue.
This post is coming to you from Singapore, where I am attending the World Blind Union Asia Pacific meeting. Interesting discussions with delegates from places such as Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Cambodia, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. I was honored to give the conference keynote on the topic "In the Palm of Your Hand," my vision of how the cell phone is going to become the platform of choice for most blind people in the coming years. I'll post my remarks shortly.
Speaking publicly about social enterprise and technology is one of the most rewarding tasks I have. Benetech wants to encourage the expansion of our field: there's far too much work for us to do!
Many great people are working hard to create opportunities for interested individuals and organizations to gain more exposure to these topics. I have some great speaking gigs. Last week I spoke at UC Berkeley at a class organized by Richard Newton, the Dean of Engineering, Prof. Eric Brewer and Tom Kahlil: CS294-12: ICT for Developing Regions, as well as a session at the Commonwealth Club Conversations In Social Enterprise organized by the great folks at Origo.
This week, I get three chances to speak: at Stanford Business School to students interested in social entrepreneurship, at Juma Ventures | Social Enterprise Institute and on a keynote plenary at the Business for Social Responsibility conference:
We are greatly expanding our Human Rights work, with the addition of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group to Benetech! Dr. Patrick Ball, who was instrumental in the creation of our Martus Project, will be arriving in Palo Alto this weekend as our new Director of Human Rights Programs.
Patrick is a passionate advocate of human rights, science and technology. He also is a huge Free/Open Source software fan, and has played a major role in encouraging us to consider this exciting option (which we did in choosing a GPL-style license for Martus). We're looking forward to Patrick and his team joining us and growing our services to the social justice sector!
Another article published, by Alison Lingane and me, in the journal of Information Technology and Disabilities October 2003 issue. Note the DMCA reference that has been addressed in last week's decision by the Librarian of Congress.
Great news on the copyright front! Last year, George Kerscher and I wrote a paper called The Soundproof Book, where we pointed out the problem of eBooks being locked out from access for disabled people by the digital rights management systems.
The American Foundation for the Blind filed a request to the Library of Congress to clarify that working around this lockout wasn't a violation of the DMCA. That request was granted this week.
This doesn't mean we are going to rush out and start cracking eBooks for blind people. I think it means that the social right to access books has been recognized and publishers are going to feel much more comfortable turning on disability access in their books, and working with organizations like Benetech to expand access.
My first article in a scholarly journal in a long time! The American Foundation for the Blind invited me to provide an article for the latest issue on technology in the Journal of Vision Impairment and Blindness.
The main thesis is the promise of handheld technology for people with disabilities: cell phones and their cousins the PDAs. What the PC has been for a significant number of disabled people in the U.S. and Europe, the cellphone will be for far more: the Swiss Army knife tool.
The question of Open Source software in the social sector comes up frequently. Benetech has gotten increasingly interested in this topic: I posted recently to Social Edge on this subject. If you haven't seen it, Social Edge is a pretty interesting site where social entrepreneurs get to kick around major issues in the field:
One of the coolest events Benetech folks attended was the Summer Open Source Camp in Croatia. Marc Levine, head of the Martus Project at Benetech, and Kevin Smith, our senior developer on Martus, were able to attend. The camp provided the opportunity for techies and nonprofit organizations (NGOs in international parlance) to get together and talk about the application of open source software to the social sector.
Welcome to the BeneBlog! Benetech is in an incredibly lucky position: as one of the few nonprofit technology developers (maybe the only deliberately nonprofit technology company) in Silicon Valley, we have the opportunity to bridge the social and technology sectors.
We have the privilege of speaking to the some of the most brilliant people in both sectors: from entrepreneurs to activists, venture capitalists to philanthropists, hackers to circuit riders. The goal of BeneBlog is to communicate some of the ideas and the excitement that we feel as we engage in these conversations. The benefit of blogging is its immediacy, to give a more dynamic window on this process than the reasonably polished material on our website!
We see the power of technology to serve humanity more fully, and hope that you will find a way to engage in the social applications of technology!