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Showing posts from 2005

We're hiring!

We're hiring!

Benetech is in growth mode, and we're hiring for three positions right now. I'm seeking a new CTO to help grow Benetech's project portfolio and our engineering team, and to help me handle the incredible range of opportunities Benetech has for changing the world. Bookshare.org needs a dynamic person to manage and drive the expansion of our collection, managing both automated and volunteer processes to bring more books to more people with disabilities around the world. And, everyone at Benetech needs us to find the right Office Administrator, the jack of all trades who can keep our entire team and our stakeholders connected and on track.

Working for Benetech is a rare opportunity for people in the Silicon Valley to apply their technical, managerial, professional and administrative talents to directly advancing the causes of literacy, human rights, the environment and the prevention of suffering (i.e., our landmine detector project). We need to see candi…

Social Enterprise Alliance

I am proud to be affiliated with the Social Enterprise Alliance, a group that works to advance the cause of people who run enterprises with a social mission. Early bird registration has just started for the Seventh Gathering, the annual meeting of the Alliance. It will be held in Atlanta in early March, and I will definitely be there!

Jim does Tunis

Jim's adventures in Tunis

I had to write these experiences down. They are not Benetech-relevant, but I circulated them inside Benetech and was encouraged to post them in the Beneblog. Advance notice: my longest post ever.

Written on November 20, 2005.

I felt the need to jot down a few notes about my visit to the old part of the city of Tunis. It's a series of stories, all crammed into less than 24 hours. After the WSIS conference, where I had been housed in Hammamet, 50 miles away and a 1.5 to 2 hour bus ride away from everything, I moved for one night to Tunis to visit the medina. Note on prices: I use $ for prices, but the numbers are actually Tunisian dinars, which are 1.3 to the U.S. dollar. So, if you see a number like $13 below, it's actually less in U.S. dollars, more like US$10. The links link to a few of the pictures I took and posted on Flickr.

My new friends.

Walking into the medina, the old part of Tunis, I suddenly acquired very friendly people from Tunisia s…

World Summit on the Information Society

Watching policeman rough up a taxi driver.

Second and final delayed blog posting from Tunis. Original post from Nov 18, 2005:

The WSIS Summit continues to be fascinating. In a recent post, I alluded to human rights activists getting beat up. Yesterday I had a personal experience with the police presence.

I took a taxi back to the conference after a brief visit to Carthage for lunch. The taxi had to stop a few hundred meters short of the center at a police roadblock. I leaned out to ask the policemen if we could go through, but they told me I had to walk. As I was having this brief exchange, a taxi right behind us honked his horn at my taxi.

Bad idea.

The policeman ordered the second taxi driver (not my taxi driver, the honking one) out of his taxi and pushed him roughly to the back of his taxi, yelling at him. He yelled back. One policeman started slapping him in the face and hit him four or five times. By this time, the neighbors are all out in the street watching this. Another …

Building a Global Library

Tunisia is very interesting this week! The WSIS conference is going on, human rights activists are getting beaten up, and we're talking about how information technology can help build a better world.

I gave my talk here on Tuesday, entitled: Building a Global Library for People with Print Disabilities. It went well: many passionate and interesting people from the disabilities movement are here and we are definitely brainstorming ways to join our efforts.

A tech guy from Egypt was the standout moment for me so far. I was attending a session organized by the library association, IFLA, and he got up and talked about how Egypt does not have a culture of reading. His point was the 5 million Internet users in Egypt are the people who do read. His complaint: the Web is dominated by extremist content. No publishers get why electronic media is important, and their absence is an acute problem.

Makes me think that a great investment in civil society is buying the electronic rights to book…

Benetech & Human Rights in China

The Tech Awards yesterday were a blast. The Mercury News ran a great story and quoted Peggy Gibbs, one of our execs:
Old problems, new solutions: The Tech Museum Awards also provide a venue for many local foundations and non-profits to seek out new ideas and partners.

"One of the reasons we're here is to make sure we're continuously collaborating," said Peggy Gibbs, vice president of business development for Benetech, a Palo Alto non-profit that looks for ways technology can help solve the problems of disadvantaged communities. Benetech is a past finalist for the Tech Museum Awards.
Mr. Global X (aka someone from the Skoll Foundation) mobile blogged me while I was talking to the Human Rights in China folks, Sharon Hom and Shirley Hom, who were honored as Laureates last night.

The Tech Awards are always inspiring, and it was cool to realize that I'm already in personal touch with many of the honorees. It's great to be reminded that there have already been 124 L…

World Usability Day - Accessibility Channel » Technology Social Entrepreneurship and Accessibility of Web Services

Thursday is World Usability Day, and I'll be giving a on-line session entitled Technology Social Entrepreneurship and Accessibility of Web Services at 20:10 GMT, or 12:10pm PST. I never have done such an event, so I'm looking forward to trying it out!
Recently we asked for some of the thousands of people with disabilities using Bookshare.org to share how it has helped them. These thoughts from Chancey Fleet were particularly eloquent and I wanted to share it with you all.

For most students, the freshman year of college is a time for discovering intellectual strength, getting behind a cause or two, and exchanging rapid-fire theories on life, the universe and everything at 3 AM when you should be writing the paper that's due at 9.

As a blind freshman, I managed to do all those things, but I always came up against one immense barrier: I couldn't just pick up a book and read it. I got my textbooks on tape, and read them too, when the narrator didn't put me to sleep. I took pathetic notes; you can't write in a tape's margins. I developed a trademark nod-and-smile for anyone who tried to recommend a book to me, because with my friends reading such a variety of interesting things, and the Library of Congress only prod…
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I came to Amsterdam yesterday to attend a summit meeting of open source foundations. It was fascinating for me, as I realize this is yet another vibrant and growing community of social enterprises.

There seem to be dozens of these groups, each built around one or more open source software project. Common threads included:
- Volunteers contributing to the creation of the software, generally organized around a meritocracy
- Corporate support in the form of explicit sponsorships and/or paying corporate employees to work on the projects
- Nonprofit status, reflecting the social nature of the community
- Financial tensions, as the foundations themselves grapple with earned income and sustainability while interacting with corporate sponsors
- And, of course, free or open source licenses to the software being created

The majority of groups at the summit were from Europe or were international groups with significant European leadership. Yet, the social enterprise issues were similar to the one…

Benetech helps drive indictment of a former dictator.

Benetech helps drive indictment of a former dictator.

Our team has contributed critical information that has helped Human Rights Watch with its campaign to bring the former dictator of Chad to justice. This is a great example of the power of information technology to advance the cause of victims of gross human rights abuses.

On September 27, 2005 a Belgian judge issued an international arrest warrant charging Hissène Habré with atrocities during his 1982-90 rule. Hissène Habré's rule over the former French colony of Chad from 1982 to 1990 was marked by numerous and credible allegations of systematic torture and crimes against humanity.

We have just put up a new page about how Benetech's Human Rights team has analyzed secret police documents discovered by a Human Rights Watch field effort, with much more on this important effort. Be sure to check it out if you're interested in seeing how IT can help with the pursuit of justice for human rights victims.
Bookshare.org is Rookie of the Year Finalist from EdNET. We were delighted to get this recognition, which is a measure of our move into the education field with Bookshare.org. It wasn't until last year that we really moved into providing books for students with disabilities, and we're still in the beginning phases of providing every student with a print disability with an accessible version of every textbook and trade book they need for educational outcomes!
The Google Library question is a hot one, and we believe that this project will lead to better access for disadvantaged people. But, the disputes between Google and the publishing industry and authors needs to be concluded before things will move forward. The core question is whether Google's Library program is a fair use of copyrighted material. Good summary in the attached review post: Does Google Library violate copyright?
Orphan works article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian News. I'll be speaking out more on copyright issues in the coming months. A recent article mentions why Benetech is concerned about orphan works: obscure works are hard to find the copyright owner, and it costs to much to hassle with.
Tim O'Reilly (who has been hugely helpful to us and especially Bookshare.org) published an op-ed in the New York Times about the Authors Guild suing Google's Library project. "AUTHORS struggle, mostly in vain, against their fated obscurity. According to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks sales from major booksellers, only 2 percent of the 1.2 million unique titles sold in 2004 had sales of more than 5,000 copies. Against this backdrop, the recent Authors Guild suit against the Google Library Project is poignantly wrongheaded."

Similar issue: our IP laws and attitudes are overly focused on the incorrect concept that intellectual property is the same as real property or other tangib…
Helping protect human rights information is one of our critical goals at Benetech. Information is the core of human rights work, and suppressing of such information is one of the ways perpetrators of abuses get away with their crimes.

We created our Martus software to help protect human rights information. However, the confidential nature of field human rights work often makes it difficult for us to share our successes, lest we add to the risks grassroots activists already take on as part of their daily tasks.

One of our biggest areas of work is in Colombia, a place where violence and human rights abuses are not a thing of the past. One of our strong partners in the country is a group named EQUITAS, the Colombian Interdisciplinary Team for Forensic Work and Psychosocial Services. They concentrate on recovering the remains of the many people disappeared during Colombia's complex and violent internal conflicts. EQUITAS is under particular pressure just now because of its invo…
Sometimes I like to update people on my travels. I've got a lot of trips planned for the next few months, and sometimes these blogs lead to people getting in touch with me about ideas for action!

Right now, I'm in Kyoto, Japan, to speak at the Science and Technology in Society forum (STS). It's an interesting and high powered group, and I'm looking forward to talking about Security and Privacy of Information.

I'll dash back to Palo Alto Tuesday night for our quarterly board meeting, and then leave Wednesday night for the NIMAS Technical Committee meeting in Dallas. This is the group charged with advising the Department of Education on the adoption of the new digital standard for electronic textbooks for students with disabilities. This will have a huge impact on students with disabilities around the U.S. and we're excited that Bookshare.org is part of this effort.

My next trip is to Kansas City for my nephew's wedding, and a chance to speak informally …
There are nice occasions where something humorous makes an important point. This presentation entitled Escape from CAPTCHA has a funny slide that captures the inaccessibility of many schemes used on web pages to keep out robot programs by requiring a human to enter obscured text. Thanks to Ivo Pletikosic for the link!
The MacArthur Foundation just published a nice article on Benetech's human rights program in their latest newsletter. The Foundation has been a steady supporter of our work in the human rights field, and recently renewed that commitment with a three year, $800,000 grant to Benetech.

Our human rights program is meeting its sustainability plan thanks to support from people like MacArthur. Our costs are covered by a combination of core support and project-specific funding that we raise in partnership with other human rights groups. Multiyear support for our human rights programs is especially helpful, as it provides us with continuity as well as the ability to invest in core capabilities such as our software for which no one customer can bear the cost. Our goals with core funding, such as the MacArthur support, is to expand our ability to strengthen the global human rights movement with science and technology to make the case for human rights as strong as possible.

I'm very e…
"For the first time I can read what I want, when I want, where I want, by myself." A great quote from a five minute video on accessible e-text books produced by college students in New York. It really delivers the message of how access to books changes the lives of students with disabilities.
Great article on one of our funders and one of their leaders, Barbara Kibbe of the Skoll Foundation, in Nonprofit Online News, entitled Role Models of Rigor and Vision. It covers a broad range of issues around the Foundation and Barbara's thinking. We're especially excited about the commitment to capacity building, a topic for which Kibbe has been a major advocate and leader.

Benetech has really had capacity building grants until this year, when Skoll Foundation made a $75,000 grant just for this. We are now getting into a long-overdue effort around clarifying our messages, improving our communications and strengthening our board and staff capacity. As we grow, spending more time on getting these issues addressed is critical for scaling.

And, I would expect to see some of these ideas being reflected in future blog posts, as one place for trying out new concepts! So, stay tuned.
I spent an hour today trying to write up just my list of action items from the O'Reilly Foo Camp 2005! This is where tech publisher Tim O'Reilly and his team host a weekend of camping in their empty second office building (built during the Bubble) by over 200 of the leading geeks.

The energy was great, and lots of folks were excited to talk about the social applications of technology. One of the themes I heard with interest is the rise of the technical foundation. Mozilla Foundation (the people who own FireFox) had an open board meeting which was fascinating. Not only was most of Mozilla's board there, such as Mitchell Baker(head of Mozilla Corp), Joi Ito (ICANN, Creative Commons, etc.), Mitch Kapor(Lotus, OSAF) and Reid Hoffman(LinkedIn), but Allison Randal (Perl Foundation) and Brewster Kahle (archive.org) also joined in. Collectively, we see a trend and made a commitment to engaging more: Brewster calls it sharing the guild knowledge.

I wasn't kidding about t…
We got some great local TV coverage this week, thanks to a referral from the Skoll Foundation and Community Foundation Silicon Valley. Here is the video and text from our CBS-Channel Five: Silicon Valley Ten Years After Netscape's IPO. A newspaper story had come out in the Washington Post about how the Valley had become more friendly to social issues and causes. Skoll also has it posted at their site: Skoll Foundation News, as Sandy Herz was the other main person quoted in the story.
On occasion, a sad event occurs that makes a major impact on me personally. Last weekend, one of the leading entrepreneurs in adaptive technology in the world, Dr. Russell Smith, died in a small plane crash in New Zealand, along with his wife.

Russell was someone I greatly enjoyed and admired. His commitment to developing technology for blind and low vision people started long before I even knew there was a field. Based in New Zealand, he built one of the leading companies in the world. We worked together well as our approaches were complementary. For example, the BrailleNote device is an incredible tool when used with our Bookshare.org service.

But, the business and technology ties understate how great a guy Russell was. A leading blind commentator gives some flavour in a piece entitled In Memory of Two Wonderful People.

He was a constant presence at the major disability conferences around the world and especially here in the U.S. He would good naturedly rib me about how often h…
Last week Jane Simchuk, Dave Offen and I got a demonstration of Quindi: the Meeting Capture tool . The link to Quindi came from my old buddy Patti Price, who I've known for many years as a leading speech technology researcher.

Quindi makes capturing meeting video/audio and action items really easy. It's the sort of thing that is a bit hard to describe, but very cool to see in operation. Not only do I think it would be useful in our daily operations (as it would help most any organization), but Jane brainstormed about using it to capture family memories, and Dave and I got excited about application for students with disabilities (note taking and captioning lectures, for example).

We're looking forward to trying it out more in the coming months: I may have more comments on it then.
Prof. Jim Phills and Lyn Denend of Stanford Graduate School of Business just published a case entitled Social Entrepreneurs: Correcting Market Failures, where Benetech was one of the featured social enterprises. They have kindly permitted us to post an excerpt on our web page.

This was a pretty exciting project: it's also a video case study. The other social entrepreneurs profiled are David Green and Victoria Hale, two folks I greatly admire. Victoria and David lead efforts that are the closest in spirit and philosophy to Benetech, and we're all in the San Francisco Bay Area, even though we are all focused internationally.

I'm proud to have had Stanford GSB spend the time profiling Benetech, and proud to be in the same case as David and Victoria!
Two articles caught my eye recently.

Nicole Wallace, the tech reporter for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, who does a great job, just wrote an article on new business plan software that the Social Enterprise Alliance has helped develop, entitled New Technology Tools Aid Business Plans. I saw a demonstration of this software at the last Gathering conference, and it looks very well done!

People who have heard me speak know how excited I am about the potential of cell phones. The BBC just had a great article that demonstrates the power of this tool: Mobile phones boom in Tanzania.
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Jim Fruchterman low-res portrait
Nice article in the San Francisco Chronicle on our Harry Potter scanning project, entitled Books ripped up, fed to online library for the blind. Hundreds of Bookshare.org members have downloaded the book already, while I'm waiting for my wife to finish the print copy my daughter read first!
Harry Potter mania has hit Bookshare.org! The same day it is available to people without disabilities, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is already available for download!

Thanks to our volunteers and staff for pulling this off!
We're conducting tests of the Talking Lights technology here in Benetech's offices this week. The technology is cool and it's fun to see people playing with it. Here's what Charles LaPierre, one of our senior engineers, sent out to our team:

I wanted to let you all know why there are all these new lights hanging around the office. Benetech is consulting with SenderoGroup on a project for guiding blind users indoors. The lights around the office consist of 4 fluorescent lights, and 5 night lights. The night lights are either using red LED's, or infra red. These lights are "Talking Lights" and transmit a unique ID to an optical receiver carried by the user. This ID will refer to the light's position in the office.

This week there will be around eight test blind subjects that will be traveling around the office along predefined routes; these routes the subjects are traveling will be timed.

If you are here while tests are being conducted if you would…
Our human rights group is active all over the place right now. Patrick Ball is in Colombia for most of the next three months teaching the techniques of human rights statistics and information processing at the National University there.

Africa is definitely getting more attention from us. Kristen Cibelli is on her way to Uganda right now. Susan Bazilli, an international human rights attorney, recently brought Martus to the attention of the women's rights community in Africa, through a posting to the Women's Information Technology Transfer site. Plus, we recently spotted this article on the Open Source Africa site. And all this is on top of Martus work we're actively engaged with in Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt.
I am in Louisville, KY, this week, at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Other Benetech staff are here and at the Las Vegas convention of the American Council of the Blind.

The highlight this week was our Bookshare.org user group meeting. We received so much positive feedback about the service: we packed the room with blind people passionate about reading. They also had many ideas for improving the service as well, which was our main motivation for having such a gathering. Janice Carter, our Bookshare.org general manager, is synthesizing the feedback. The addition of newspapers has been a giant hit with our users: I heard a lot about downloading the morning paper and listening to it on a portable device on the commute to work or school!

It reminds me why these enterprises are more than just businesses: we reach into people's lives and touch their hearts with capabilities they dreamed of, like reading. One rough quote: "For the first time sin…
Interesting conversation starting (I think) on Social Edge - Investors and Entrepreneurs Discuss Breakthroughs in Social Capital. This is a constant topic among social entrepreneurs.

I'll quote my first post:

The mismatch

I think Roger did a good job of tackling these issues. From my standpoint, the real one is the issue of sacrificing return. The people who are promoting social investment successfully have to promise returns to their investors. Either they fix the return and manage the risk to guarantee it, or they only invest in the cream (most lucrative) investments. I don't know how many times I've heard from investors that they want to invest socially, but at no sacrifice to return.

Unfortunately, there are far more needs out there that involve risk. The low-risk-fixed-return social enterprise and the high-risk-high-return social enterprise, represent a small slice of the social enterprise opportunities. And, we do have functioning capital markets that address the need…
Last night I attended the premiere of The New Heroes, a PBS show on social entrepreneurs that airs in one week. The event was hosted in San Jose by the Community Foundation Silicon Valley.

Robert Redford, the host of the show, was there. He really gets social entrepreneurship, which is no surprise considering he founded Sundance. Jeff Skoll also spoke: the Skoll Foundation is the major backer of the New Heroes.

The show is really great: I saw one hour out of the four that will air during the next month. The three entrepreneurs featured were my buddies David Green of Project Impact and Martin Fisher of KickStart (formerly ApproTEC) as well as someone I was delighted to meet and have dinner with afterwards, Kailash Satyarthi. Kailash rescues people (mainly children) from slavery/debt bondage/trafficking, and is promoting the Rugmark label as an indicator of no child or debt bondage labor. Each one of these entrepreneurs does incredible things, and I could go on and on. But, it woul…
The 2005 Winners of Stanford's Social E-Challenge competition were just posted. I enjoyed being a judge for the finals, and was impressed by the quality of the ventures that made it to the finals.

This quality is indicative of both the interest and sophistication of students in social entrepreneurship. It provides real hope about the future of our society, if our best and brightest put this kind of value in meeting the larger needs of humanity.
I had lunch yesterday with Mitchell Baker, head of the Mozilla Foundation, the creators of the Firefox browser. We had a wide ranging conversation about the challenges of how to run nonprofit social enterprises, especially technology enterprises. I think that Firefox is a great example of responding to market failure. In this case, it was Microsoft's dominance with Internet Explorer that removed competition and innovation in the browser space. Mozilla has developed a community that has created real choices in this space, and millions upon millions of people are benefiting.

As usual, I came away with more ideas than I brought to the table! I think that she's accomplished some incredible things at Mozilla, and the Benetech team are big fans.
Clara Miller, the head of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, always has terrific insights into sector, especially in the area of funding as one might expect. She just published an article, The Looking-Glass World of Nonprofit Money, which zeroes in on many of the problems of the sector. It's a great argument for social enterprise, because earned income can be used in the ways that for-profits would invest money for growth and infrastructure.

But, Clara's article is much bigger than just that one issue. I highly recommend it!
Last month I was able to introduce Steve Case (of AOL fame) for his closing keynote at the 6th Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance. His remarks just appeared in the Wall Street Journal under the title Purpose and Profit Go Together.

It's very exciting to see the spread of interest in social enterprise and social entrepreneurship among the community of top tech entrepreneurs. Steve's own foundation has become a major supporter of the Social Enterprise Alliance, a group I helped found five years ago to advance the movement of social enterprises. He's putting his money where his mouth is, and I'm firmly convinced that will lead to some great social benefits as hundreds of nonprofits start mission-related businesses.
Yesterday I visited Betsy Bayha, a friend of mine who is a producer for Lucasfilm, working on documentaries. Skywalker Ranch is a very cool place! I was passed by four guys in Stormtrooper gear: the publicity machine is getting ready for the release of the new Star Wars movie later this month. The environment is designed to be conducive to the creative process: I was especially impressed by the library in the main house. It's both an architectural marvel as well as an effective library supporting the creation of films.

Betsy and I know each other from years of working on disability issues. One of her recent projects was Freedom Machines, the PBS documentary on the award-winning P.O.V. series, which was released last year. It's all about how adaptive technology improves the lives of people with disabilities. Well worth seeing. I especially liked it because our Open Book reading system was mentioned in the film.

The last stop on my visit was for lunch in the main house (…
I just had to post this email I received. A couple of the Benetech team members hold the patent on the talking GPS locator for the blind technology, and this user is using technology we helped create.

Jim

From: "Rich Irwin"
To: "Gps-Talkusers"
Hi All:

Thought I would share a great GPS experience I had last week. I needed to take a 50 mile trip using several public transit systems to an area I had never been before. After a short cab ride, a Golden Gate Bus ride to San Francisco, a BART ride to Pittsburgh, I was told to take a Delta Transit bus to Oakley. Not only had I not been to Oakley before, but I had never heard of Delta Transit. I found the bus stop and the correct bus with the help of another passenger who was taking the same bus. What we both learned quickly was that this was the bus drivers first day on the route. After about a half hour of bus ride, as we left one of the stops, everyone on the bus hollered at the driver that he was going the wrong way…
I just returned from a great trip. One of my stops was to the attend the Sixth Gathering of Social Entrepreneurs, organized by the Social Enterprise Alliance, and held in Milwaukee. It was great to have roughly 600 people all getting the energy of social enterprise. The biggest supporter of the conference was Steve Case's Foundation (the founder of AOL). I was able to introduce him, and it was great to hear from his presentation how he gets social enterprise. He encouraged us to found a new sector that isn't nonprofit and isn't for profit, but is somewhere in the middle. I've heard other people advocate for a "for-benefit" sector before. Here's an article from the Milwaukee press on the event: When non-profits cash in.
I was just at the Council on Foundations meeting in San Diego, courtesy of one of our funders (and generally cool people) , the Community Technology Foundation of California. We had a session on the applications of information technology to helping communities of color. I was talking about our human rights work and had some great discussions about working for immigrant rights and against trafficking.

CTFC's grant to us is enabling us to add more than 1,000 books in Spanish to Bookshare.org, and we were able to announce this (in English and Spanish) at last month's CSUN conference on adaptive technology.
Awesome announcement! Patrick Ball, our Director of Human Rights Programs, will be awarded one of EFF's Pioneer Awards next week. Since Patrick is busy working with the Truth Commission in East Timor, I think they are trying to connect him to the ceremony over the Internet!

Electronic Frontier Foundation Announces Pioneer Award Winners

I think this is a great recognition of Patrick's incredible contribution to the international human rights movement.
Oxford last week for the Skoll Summit was really great. I hadn't seen a city so focused on Fair Trade and social causes, but the Oxfam offices may have been a giveaway.

I came away from the Forum with a bunch of ideas, which I have to reduce to something written: hope to link to some of those concepts here soon.

Near-term travel plans for this month include:
Council on Foundations Annual Conference
Wealth and Giving Forum in Greenbrier, WV
Sixth Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance in Milwaukee, WI
Bridging the Divide 2005 The University of California, Berkeley
I'm in Oxford, at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

It's been pretty cool for me, here at the Forum. As a Skoll grantee, we got to do some exciting pre-Forum stuff. The first night, we had a dinner in Exeter College. Apparently, Tolkien studied here as an undergraduate. The dining hall looked like a smaller version of the Harry Potter Hogwarts dining hall set! I also got the chance to hear Jeff Skoll speak for an hour on why he does what he does, and on what he's doing now. Pretty exciting to hear about where all this comes from!

The opening of the Forum was last night, and Vaz covered it well. I got to sit behind Sir Ben Kingsley: imagine sitting within touching distance of an avatar of Gandhi! Sir Ben described Jeff as a "living Silk Road," invoking the image of the original Silk Road making connections between Asia and Europe and bringing trade and knowledge. eBay to Participant Productions.

I'm an engineer, so I don't usually w…
I am in the middle of a big travel sequence. Last week, I attended the N-TEN Nonprofit Technology Conference, which is where nonprofit techies get together and talk about how technology can make the best impact on the social sector. The highlight of the conference for me was getting to sit down and spend an hour with Esther Dyson, talking about some new nonprofit concepts. She's a legend in the technology field. As usual, I came away from the conference with gazillions of ideas of what needs to be done, thanks to the incredible group of people who attend this.
The CSUN conference in Los Angeles is the biggest U.S. disability technology event of the year. We are having a great time showing off Bookshare.org, and announced our newest collection of Spanish language books
I just completed a short paper on Google Print Accessibility. The potential of the huge scanning effort Google Print is undertaking is especially exciting for the community of people with print disabilities. However, we need to get Google thinking about this (they are now) and get the publishers and libraries to provide Google with permission to make this information accessible.

Feel free to share links to this white paper with people who would be interested:
Google Print Accessibility white paper.
Met with Pamela Hartigan, the head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, on Friday afternoon, after the end of the Global Philanthropy Forum at Stanford. Pamela's job is to find top social entrepreneurs around the world and bring them together at two annual events: the Schwab Foundation's Global Social Entrepreneurship Summit and the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

This is my one chance a year to get Pamela one on one, since the events are so busy for her. We covered a lot of ground, but the one point I wanted to mention was Pamela's problem with the concept of "building the field." This caused me a bit of concern, since I thought that was something important.

Her point is that there is no field of social entrepreneurship like there is a field of medicine, law, engineering or science. Social entrepreneurship is an approach to problem solving, not a field where you can go to school to learn to be a social entrepre…
One of last month's issues of the Economist featured a cover story was heavy handed against corporate social responsibility. I felt the articles were not at the usual Economist level of analysis, and came across as more a negative editorial than impartial articles.

I spotted a link to the letters generated as a result, and they are from a strong group of people making good counter-arguments. I especially liked the letter from the head of BT making the case for "adorned capitalism."
I am already starting to plan my spring trips. One place I will definitely be going is the Sixth National Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance. This is the grassroots conference for social enterprisers: the people who run mission-supporting businesses inside their nonprofit organizations. Last year was a blast, and I am looking forward to this one!

Thanks to support from the Skoll Foundation, I will also be traveling to the UK for the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. One of our team members, Jesse Fahnestock, is attending the Skoll program at the business school there, which is the host of this event. It will be great to see Jesse again, and to tap into the vibrant UK social entrepreneurial scene.

Should be two exciting social entrepreneurship events!
My last Davos Diary piece for BBC News was published this week, 'Meetings of Minds'. This was fun to write, and this Davos was incredible. Here's the text of my article:

My good friend from India, Joe Madiath, bumps into another man at a Davos party thrown by the Egyptians. They say hi and shake hands. Joe exclaims: "You know something? You look a lot like Al Gore."

"Many people tell me that," was the reply. Joe continues on this vein and asks the man his name. The quiet response? "Al Gore."

The idea that a social entrepreneur serving the poorest of the poor in India might bump into a world famous politician is not a surprise here at the World Economic Forum.

It was a quintessential Davos moment that drives home the accessibility of world and corporate leaders to each other and to social entrepreneurs, religious figures, artists, and the leaders of non-governmental organisations and trade unions.

Self help

The Schwab Foundation hosted …
My next piece for BBC News was published today as their Davos Diary 'Enlightened self interest'. I was luck enough to be chosen as the Davos attendee asked to provide diary entries. My third and last one should be out early next week as a wrap up on my Davos experience.

Here's the text of my piece from the article (looks nicer on the BBC site, though!).

Davos diary: 'Enlightened self interest' By Jim Fruchterman
President, The Benetech Initiative


The tone of this Davos strikes me as more socially oriented than the past two.

As a social entrepreneur attendee, I quite appreciate this.

On Wednesday, the World Economic Forum tried an experiment of a town-hall meeting to find out what the top issues for the attendees were.

The top three amazed me: fighting poverty, equitable globalisation and climate change.

Each of these topics received votes from the majority of the attendees.

Have I fallen into a den of liberal thinkers?

Tony Blair's talk (on Afric…
My second day at the WEF, and I'm blogging on the WEF's site and writing my pieces for the BBC. Communications overload. Here's a link to my latest WEF blog, on the Social Investing session.
My first article for the BBC is already up: Davos diary: This is not about money. Be sure to give it a read!
I am heading off to Davos for my third World Economic Forum meeting. I have been tapped to write for the BBC website as well as a guest blogger for the Forum. So, expect my posts on the BeneBlog to be a little more frequent as I post these.

Here's my first Forumblog.org post: Packing up. I've inserted it below:

Just packing my bags and getting ready to head Davos-ward. It's been a sunny warm day in California, and it takes a bit of thought to get ready for the snow.

I will be attending for my third Forum as a social entrepreneur. My goals are to talk to people about the causes I am passionate about: literacy, access and human rights. As a Silicon Valley technology person, I especially want other leaders in the tech community to be thinking about what technology can do for the people who can least afford it. I am also representing my movement, the social entrepreneurs of the world who are busy coming up with new approaches to old problems, and filling the gap when t…
Disability technology is my major focus this week. BBC Radio 4 interviewed me about the international expansion possibilities of Bookshare.org: it's a 20 minute long segment about the desire to access a Bookshare.org-style service in the UK.

I spent the last two days at the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard meetings: the U.S. has just passed a law mandating this standard in education for students with disability. The law includes setting up a repository for publishers to deposit textbooks in electronic form. Bookshare.org is on the NIMAS Development Committee, so Janice Carter and I were able to participate in some of the debates on how to implement this new standard. Good news: the Bookshare.org books are essentially already compliant with this standard.

Today and tomorrow are the ATIA 2005 Conference & Exhibition. This is probably the second biggest U.S. conference on assistive technology. All the big players are here, and it's where I get…
Great events at Bookshare.org! We just hit 20,000 titles on our electronic book library for people with print disabilities. We are delivering more and more books that meet the literacy needs of our users, by providing the latest bestsellers, textbooks and daily newspapers into accessible form.

Another great piece of news is that Janice Carter has joined Benetech as our Director of Literacy Programs, and is now general manager of Bookshare.org. Janice is an experienced executive from the media and technology industries, and I am quite excited to have a senior executive adding her perspective in our operations!

Janice and I are heading out to Florida this week for the NIMAS meeting on the new national digital textbook repository and the ATIA disability technology conference. Should be a fun week, and important for moving access to books forward.
The end of the year is always exciting, and 2004 was no exception. One of our Bookshare.org users, Jay Leventhal, contacted me about making a donation at the end of the year. Jay was particularly interested in making the search capabilities of Bookshare.org better than our existing simple author or title searches. This is something we have been wanting to do for a long time: something more like the advanced search of Google or Amazon.

In a rapid flurry of email, our engineering and Bookshare.org teams came up with quick estimate of time and cost to implement such a feature and we ran it by Jay. Jay made the donation the last Friday of 2004 and we are already at work figuring out how to implement the feature over the next couple of months, which will benefit not only Jay but thousands of Bookshare.org users.

Funding engineering work is always our biggest challenge, because it is not typical philanthropy. We really appreciate funders who actively engage us both in funding engine…
I am happy to report that I met with the product manager for Google Print/Google Library and a couple of people from their accessibility team recently. They are very interested in understanding the access issues around their projects, and we'll be working on providing them with more information about possible solutions. While it's premature to discuss any commitments or solutions (and Google would need to consult with their content partners on any changes), I was pleased about the level of engagement I saw from the Google team.

Feel free to circulate this to interested parties. I'm especially interested in assistive technology vendors weighing in with suggestions. I'm hoping to provide some initial thoughts on these issues to Google and the disability community soon.
Benetech's Patrick Ball was on National Public Radio's Morning Edition show today in a piece entitled Uncertainty the Rule in Gauging Deaths from Tsunami. Patrick's main point was that getting a precise number of those lost in the tsunami was less important than working on aiding the survivors. This contrasts with Patrick's work in political violence, where assessing the numbers and patterns of human rights violations is important for accountability.

Like the rest of the world, we have been following the Asian disaster closely. Our staff are actively working in the region in Sri Lanka and East Timor, but on December 26th were not in harm's way. Our partner groups and friends in Sri Lanka have also fared well, to our relief. I was especially happy to hear from my friend Professor Weerakkody of the University of Peradeniya that he and his family were safe. He's a regional leader in adaptive technology for the blind and I have worked with him for more than…