Monday, December 29, 2003

Dr. Patrick Ball just joined Benetech and will be teaching a course at UC Berkeley starting in January, entitled Measurement of Human Rights Violations.

We're excited about this linkage with UCB, spreading the word about science and technology in the service of human rights.
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!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Next month I will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, for the second time. This is an extraordinary benefit of being chosen as a Social Entrepreneur of 2003 by The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Breaking news: we've just been named one of the top twenty "Social Capitalists" by Fast Company! We are in great company and honored to be part of this group. Be sure to check them out...
Fast Company | Social Capitalists: Profiles#benetech

Monday, December 15, 2003

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 one had decided to take the road less traveled: to join or build a business enterprise to create change in a new way.

And that's why an organization like this is such a draw for me: it's a place where very different people come together and find common cause in changing world! Sometimes it's lonely being the deliberately nonprofit high tech company in Silicon Valley. But, in the social entrepreneurship movement, people get what we're doing...

Friday, December 05, 2003

Good article on Open Source and the nonprofit sector.

Open Source is on the Map

Thursday, December 04, 2003

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 touched every community here. The families of the estimated tens of thousands of disappeared persons are still seeking information about their loved ones. Writing the history of this period is going to be critical to Sri Lanka's future. And of course, people want the cease-fire to turn into a lasting peace.

The second kind of issues are the rights issues of a post-conflict time period. Legal aid organizations are dealing with different problems today: children's rights, police treatment of "ordinary" criminals, women's rights, land rights (refugee issues) and so on. Many of these issues were of course present during the conflict, but got less attention.

Benetech is interested in supporting this community with information technology that helps with both groups of issues: assessing the past, and managing the present human rights situation. Our staff who have long-term projects in Sri Lanka will be involved with our partners to make this happen: Romesh Silva will be spending a considerable amount of time in Sri Lanka providing this support, and our developer Rafe Kaplan is currently there for a couple of weeks to install our software and train users. It's very useful for me to get a chance to spend some time getting directly exposed to our field work and our users. That's what Benetech is all about!