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Showing posts from September, 2004
From time to time, I recommend organizations that I believe are important. One that I am especially enthusiastic about is the Social Enterprise Alliance. SEA is the grassroots group formed by and for social enterprisers, the people who operate businesses in the social sector.

I first met this community in 2000, as I was shifting from operating a single social enterprise and getting ready to start several at Benetech. I attended the annual meeting, which was called the Gathering. Even though my technology background was completely different than everybody else at the Gathering, I felt completely at home. Here is a group of people who understand both business and social mission, and how to work them together to improve lives. I became a founding board member of the organization and continue to serve more than four years later.

If this interests you, I encourage you to join as a member and get involved. Social Enterprise Alliance Membership. Together, we are growing a movemen…
The nature of demining operations: foreign aid

This post (one of a series) will concentrate on the big picture issues of demining operations at a national level. First of all, demining is mainly funded through foreign aid. And, this foreign aid is often channeled through national governments. For example, the U.S. is a very large funder of demining efforts through the State Department (and USAID). Maybe this offsets the U.S. Defense Department's lack of willingness to sign onto the international treaty banning landmines.

Let's say the State Department gives your government two million dollars to spend on demining. What do you spend it on? Paying salaries of demobilized soldiers and rebels? Or, do you buy expensive technology solutions? Answer: you generally use it to pay staff and then buy what you have to in order to equip those folks. It has been noted to me on multiple occasions that demining is a critical jobs program in post-conflict countries. Demining pays well and carri…
Ethan Zuckerman blogged my talk at the Berkman Center last week. He did a good job capturing the spirit of the discussion. Ethan Zuckerman's Weblog : Jim Fruchterman's talk at Berkman

We talked about intellectual property and its interaction with disadvantaged communities. We talked about books, software, drugs and instruments, and how to bring the benefits of these ideas to the world's disadvantaged communities.
Benetech's Director of Human Rights Programs Patrick Ball contributed a chapter to a recently published volume by the Society for Applied Anthropology entitled Human Rights: The Scholar as Activist.

Ball's chapter looks at the application of data mining and statistical techniques to human rights, and he reflects more generally on the role of science in human rights activism. He concludes "Of course, human rights work is about much more than methodology. It is about right and wrong framed in the legal and moral dimensions of international human rights instruments. But by doing the technical work right, we can greatly strengthen our ability to make claims about human rights, and ultimately, to advocate for a more respectful world."

Patrick's point is the essence of Benetech: by doing technical work right, we advance society's broader interests.
The opportunity to talk to brilliant people is one of the best parts of my job. I've been in Boston this week, and had the opportunity to visit WGBH/NCAM (nation's leading captioning group for the disabled), National Braille Press, as well as folks at BU, MIT and Harvard. The proximate cause for being here was delivering my oldest child to college (Jimmy is now a freshman at Brandeis U.).

Normally I like to talk to students, but the timing at the beginning of the academic year was not ideal. I did get the chance to give a talk to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. My buddy Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Geekcorps, is a Fellow at Berkman, and he set up this talk on short notice. We were able to talk about the complete range of technology and intellectual property issues. I came away with a handful of great ideas (such as the possible marriage of digital talking books and community radio in Africa) and offers of assistance with some of the legal is…