Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"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.

Friday, August 26, 2005

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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

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 the action list: I came up with a dozen hot prospects, mainly technology people who want to get more involved with Benetech or people I want to learn more about their socially beneficial activities. There were some great creative thinkers there, and Benetech and our clients are going to be the beneficiaries of that creativity!

My thanks especially to Tim O'Reilly and Sara Winge, who pull this event together and provide the space for all this great stuff to happen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

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 he came to my country and remind me that I had to come to his country. After more than a decade of this banter, I finally committed to coming to New Zealand early in 2006. And now, my friend won't be there to greet me and brainstorm about what the technology innovations should be to serve a community we both care about so much: people with vision impairments.

The blind and the world in general are much poorer because of this loss.

Monday, August 08, 2005

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.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

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!

Monday, August 01, 2005

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.