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Showing posts from 2006

Helping everyone read

Bookshare.org is built on the efforts of great volunteers. One of our terrific volunteers is Matthew Devcich, who chose to do his Eagle Scout project on scanning for Bookshare.org.

One of the key ways we can help reward volunteers is to help acknowledge their efforts. Thanks to efforts by our Bookshare.org team and our communications director, Ann Harrison, we were delighted to see Matthew's efforts highlighted in an article in his hometown paper, entitled Helping everyone read.

Of course, we hope additional people who love books are inspired to volunteer for Bookshare.org thanks to Matthew's example!


Protecting Guatemala's National Police Historical Archive

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Protecting Guatemala's National Police Historical Archive
A Guest Blog By Ann Harrison
Benetech Communications Director

Since 2003, Benetech's Martus information management software has helped human rights activists create encrypted databases and back up their data remotely to their choice of publicly available servers. Martus has been used in fifteen countries to secure sensitive information and protect witnesses.

Last month, I had a chance to visit the largest Martus project which is unfolding inside a mammoth warehouse in Guatemala City. Discovered last summer, the warehouse contains approximately 80 million records from the archive of the Guatemalan National Police. These papers, books, photos and floppy disks contain critical information about police procedures during Guatemala's 30-year internal armed conflict that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives. This data is now under the protection of the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman, Sergio Morales, who is researching human r…

Benetech Analyzes Key Bangladeshi Human Rights Data

In my recent blog postings, I documented personal impressions during my recent trip to Bangladesh. This post takes a look at how Benetech is helping to document human rights abuses in that country. Objective and scientific evidence of human rights violations gives voice to victims and witnesses who have the courage to come forward and tell their stories. Romesh Silva, a statistician with Benetech's Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), has provided key statistical analysis for a Human Rights Watch report issued this week documenting torture and unlawful killings by Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force.

Silva's analysis presented in the report, "Judge, Jury, and Death: Torture and Executions by Bangladesh's Elite Security Force." HRW concludes that between June 2004 and October 2006, the RAB killed at least 367 people in Bangladesh and tortured hundreds more.

While researching these incidents, HRW compil…

Waste Concern

People often ask me what is the benefit of being identified as a social entrepreneur? My answer is two things: it helps me raise money for Benetech and the people I meet who are also social entrepreneurs are my closest peers in the world.

When I travel to new places, I always try to connect with other social entrepreneurs. With this in mind, I got in touch with Iftekhar Enayetullah and Maqsood Sinha of the social enterprise Waste Concern. When I first met them several years ago, Waste Concern was processing organic waste from Dhaka into fertilizer, and generating jobs for the poor.

The amazing thing I learned on this visit was how much more was going on with these guys. It turns out that their work generates carbon credits, and so they've been able to attract millions of dollars of investment. They are not just in Dhaka, but a dozen other cities now. The topic of hybrid for-profit/nonprofit enterprises is a big one for me, and these guys are busy setting one up to greatly ex…

Vinod Sena in memoriam

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Vinod Sena in memoriam

I had a very unfortunate reminder of the fragile state of each human being this week. Just after returning from India and Bangladesh, I received word that one of my key contacts and hosts had suddenly passed away.

Professor Vinod Sena was a retired professor of English literature at the University of Delhi. Visually impaired his entire life, he was a tireless advocate for the blind and visually impaired as well as a shining role model. He has been described as the pioneer of Talking Books in India, and had been campaigning for a copyright law change to make it easier to provide access to accessible books. While I was in India, I picked up the newspaper and saw that he had just received a Helen Keller award for his work.



I know that the advocates for the blind and visually impaired will continue his work, initially with a heavy heart, but with the confidence that they are following in the footsteps of a great man.

bracNet

A very exciting part of my visit to Bangladesh was meeting with the team at bracNet, a for-profit internet company that is partially owned by BRAC. I had met Khalid Quadir, the CEO, when he was doing a Reuters Fellowship several years ago at Stanford. In Dhaka, I got together with Khalid several times, as well as meeting most of the bracNet management team.

bracNet has the exciting air of a tech startup around it. So often, I get to see tech companies here in Silicon Valley in their early stages, and you wonder what they will grow up to be. bracNet has so many possibilities in Bangladesh: will they be the Craigslist there? the Yahoo? the eBay? a nicer version of AT&T? They are already off and working on a plan to bring WiMax (the wireless broadband standard) to all of Bangladesh, at the same time they are building commercial website capabilities. They've partnered with Google already, and I'm sure more Valley companies are on the way. 140+ million consumers are i…

BRAC

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My primary destination in Bangladesh was to meet with BRAC, which is the world's largest NGO (nonprofit organization) with nearly 100,000 employees. BRAC is run as a social enterprise, and generates over 75% of its own budget through earned income. BRAC is one of the social entrepreneurship field's best example of what a results-oriented team can accomplish even in the most difficult and poverty-stricken environment.

I was able to meet with quite a number of that dynamic team, starting with BRAC's founder, Fazel Abed. Abed has accomplished an incredible amount since founding BRAC more than 30 years ago, but he is charging forward with expansion both inside and outside of Bangladesh. In an action-packed hour meeting, I heard about BRAC's efforts to create jobs, change the educational system, expand access to microcredit and other exciting ventures. All of this with a culture of accountability and results at a massive scale. The distinct impression you get is that…

Bangladesh

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My next stop after Mumbai was Dhaka, Bangladesh. I flew to Kolkata (Calcutta) which is very close to Bangladesh and then took an older jet to Dhaka. In today's era of armored cockpit doors in the U.S., it was surprising to see the flimsy door fly open on landing!



Bangladesh is distinctly poorer than the potions of India I visited, but it was also had simultaneous pockets of wealth and poverty side by side. Grameen Phone had quite a presence: apparently they had just introduced a new logo and 40% of all billboards I saw were for Grameen Phone. Grameen Phone is of course a dramatically successful social enterprise started by Muhammad Yunus, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner.



I walked around when I arrived and got a feeling for Gulshan, the wealthier part of Dhaka city. There were nice shops along with gigantic shanty towns. I particularly loved seeing half a dozen kids sitting on the street outside the window of a TV shop, all riveted by a Tom and Jerry cartoon on a ha…

Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai

The reason I came to Mumbai was to visit Tata Consultancy Services, the giant outsourcing firm. I had an introduction to the one of key leaders in India's outsourcing revolution, Mr. F.C. Kohli, who was the driving force behind TCS.

We had a great conversation high above south Mumbai in the Air India building, which overlooks Mumbai's peninsula. We discussed literacy and access for the blind, and I learned about one of Mr. Kohli's passions, which is adult literacy. Citing a lack of trained teachers, TCS had built a
PC-based curriculum for teaching reading in 40 hours. The program focuses on mainly teaching a core vocabulary of sight words in the the desired language, so that adults are able read the local newspaper. TCS has built this curriculum in a handful of Indian languages, and I'm looking forward to receiving a CD with several of these so that I can try my hand at this!

This is the sort of unexpected learning that I've come to expect. You aren't …

Never on Sunday

Never on Sunday

I arrived in Mumbai (Bombay) on a Sunday, and decided to do a bit of tourism. I walked around the old town, seeing the sights (the Gateway of India) and doing some shopping. I had read about a restaurant, called Khyber, that I wanted to try, so I headed over there for a late lunch/early dinner. When I arrived there, it was only 630 pm and the door was locked. A waiter mimed to me that the restaurant opened in an hour. And, so my adventure in understanding cultural context began.

Killing time, I wandered up and down one of the main drags. Shopped out already, I started looking for a beer, but the pickings were slim. Finally, I saw a place with the words "beerbar" on a sign out front, and a couple of bouncers standing out front. Going in, one of the bouncers held me up with a gesture and these words "Ladies Service Bar." Now, in the airports in India, they frequently had ladies-only security lines. So, I asked if men weren't allowed and if …

American India Foundation

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My last stop in New Delhi was to visit the American India Foundation, which is the largest Silicon Valley/India foundation. Founded in 2001 in response to the Gujarat earthquake, AIF now runs multiple programs. The one I was most interested in is the Digital Equalizer Program.

Digital divide programs are notoriously difficult to run successfully. They typically run out of steam when the funding runs out, assuming they worked at all. Of course, people are reluctant to talk about the failures, but a few people have studied this issue. I had just read a paper about the LINCOS project in Central America, so this was fresh in my mind.

AIF is definitely part of the social entrepreneurship movement with a results oriented culture that appeals to the tech entrepreneurs who are some of the main funders. Lata Krishnan, the CEO, co-founded a billion dollar a year revenue company in tech before turning her hand to the social sector. She's very sharp!



The AIF team in New Delhi took me to …

Delhi University

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My next stop in New Delhi was Delhi University. I asked the folks there if they knew of less expensive accommodations, since the Taj Palace Hotel where the India Economic Summit was held was fabulous but also more than I'd ever paid per night in the U.S.! So, I was able to stay for several nights at less than one tenth the price in the University's International Guest House, which was a great change of pace.


I came to Delhi U. for meetings thanks to Professor Vinod Sena. Prof. Sena is a retired English Literature professor who has been visually impaired all of his life and continues to work avidly for people with visual impairments. The meeting was held at what used to be the Viceroy of India's lodge in New Delhi, and steeped with history. Lord Mountbatten proposed to his wife in that building and was later the Chancellor of the University as the UK's last Viceroy to India.

We had a wide array of key people at the meeting, including the head of IT at the university…

Bookshare.org.in (India)

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Bookshare.org.in (India)

My South Asian trip is mainly exploratory, with one notable exception. Bookshare.org is going international, and India is one of our focus countries for this expansion. My first visit after the India Economic Summit was to National Association for the Blind (India) to see Dipendra Manocha. Dipendra has been a subscriber to Bookshare.org for our O'Reilly technical titles, but we're trying to move beyond these into serving a full range of books with publisher and author permissions.

I've met with Dipendra in other places like Tunisia and Redmond, Washington, and he's well known on the international blindness technology stage because of his tech leader role at NAB and in the DAISY consortium (the international digital talking book standard that we and most other libraries for people with print disabilities either use or are going to use). I was able to tour the facilities, which included at least three digital recording studios using the DAISY s…

New Delhi

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My visit to India has been incredible, and more than I can cover in one post. As an India newbie, I had all sorts of mental pictures of what India would be like. Of course, since I am only visiting New Delhi and Mumbai, I haven't seen the rural side of India which is the largest aspect.

New Delhi is full of tree-lined boulevards. From something I had read, I had an image of people sleeping on every available square inch of space. There are people who appear to be homeless, but that occurs in Palo Alto, too. Like Palo Alto, they tend to be in downtown areas and not so much around much of the city that I toured. Talking to people, it seems that most of the slums are in outlying areas. And, there are cows hanging out on the median strips of boulevards and wandering around, seeming perfectly at home in the urban setting.

Of course, the traffic makes a big impression. Delhi's roads are full of cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, bicycle rickshaws, people and these three w…

India's Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award

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Big social entrepreneurship event here in New Delhi! At the India Economic Summit, Vikram Akula of SKS, the microfinance institution, won the award today. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi was on hand for the presentation, and I understand that's unusual honor. There's great buzz around here about it.










Of course, I'm meeting new folks as well as old friends. Bunker Roy and Joe Madiath are my Indian social entrepreneur friends, and I also was able to visit with Kristine Pearson of the Freeplay Foundation. Jesse Fahnestock, who worked on Bookshare.org and ran it for a while before going to Europe for grad school (Skoll Scholar MBA at Oxford), is working for the WEF on their risk program.

One of the more interesting sessions was the discussion of the main risks India is facing. The top six they identified were Water, global warming, globalization backlash, TB/HIV, oil peak prices and India's demographic challenge (one of the youngest populations in the world). It was interesting…

Access and Washington

Benetech's mission is to create technology that serves humanity and our longest-running commitment is to people with disabilities. We have been helping blind and print disabled people gain access to books for over 17 years. The ability to read printed material is essential to advancing educational and employment opportunities for this community.

Two recent experiences underscored different parts of this struggle to deliver access.

The first started with an email from someone using one of the Arkenstone reading machines, which was over ten years old. These machines scanned books and read them aloud with a computer voice. There was a PC hidden inside our reading machines and the PCÂ’s clock battery finally ran out. So, the reading machine stopped working because it was halting before its voice synthesizer started asking for the current date. I consulted with Lewis (our testing expert and former tech support for these machines) and together with the customer, we were able get the…

New tech application for controlling diabetes

I enjoy sharing (when I get permission to) the stories of new social tech ventures that visit Benetech. Because we're not a funder, we usually can't help new social entrepreneurs with their number one need, money. But, we can be a sounding board for new projects and help them on their path to using technology to make the world a better place.

One of these projects is the Care Product Institute. The guys creating it have lots of experience in business and health care, and they have a new idea that would really help people with diabetes. Since many people go blind from diabetes, I've seen the scale of this problem personally.

We know how to care for diabetes to prevent the major negative consequences like blindness or limb amputation. The issue is that people are human (surprise) and most of them drop off in their compliance with measuring their blood sugar. Not monitoring blood sugar leads to the bad outcomes.

CPI's idea is to link up the person with diabetes wi…

Build great companies, then help build a great world

The San Jose Mercury News just published my op-ed today entitled Build great companies, then help build a great world. I'm putting the text of the op-ed below:

Silicon Valley has become rich by selling our products around the world. We have a highly efficient system for creating technology that solves problems and delivers value far beyond the confines of Northern California. But, we have only scratched the surface of what we could be doing to help solve the pressing social problems that confront us.

Rather than focusing exclusively on the top 10 percent of humanity who are the target market for most tech products, we could be bringing these same skills, connections, technology, experience and resources to everyone in the world. Many of these opportunities are not as lucrative as the ones that business owners and technologists have focused on over the last decades, but they still demand our attention.

Charity? Philanthropy? Bleeding hearts? Perhaps, but when you use your heart, you …

Bookshare.org hits 30,000 books!

Our volunteer community just keeps scanning in books, and we're happy to announce that Bookshare.org has hit 30,000 books! Patrick Ball, our CTO, and I were discussing the Web 2.0 conference (Patrick has been attending it this week) and Patrick mentioned a nugget he heard from Tim O'Reilly, the conference organizer. Tim said that a Web 2.0 application gets better with more users. And Bookshare.org is a great example of that. Our volunteer users put up the content, and each book that goes up means that blind and print disabled people don't have to scan that one ever again! The more books there are, the more likely the book you need or want is on Bookshare.org. The great majority of our users have never visited Benetech. They work virtually from home, united by a shared love of books and the drive to make them accessible.

Universally Accessible Demands Accessibility for All of Humanity - Google Video

Google invited me over last month to talk about accessibility. Of course, when I talk about accessibility, I'm focusing on access for people with disabilities, and Google people are typically talking about access to more material.

It was great to see the enthusiasm of the different developers, and at a place with Google's culture, that counts for a lot. One of the best comments came from a developer who noted that one of her friends with learning disabilities really appreciates the Google feature that says "Did you mean" and corrects your spelling errors!

Google records these talks and posts them on Google Video, so here it is. Universally Accessible Demands Accessibility for All of Humanity.

Of Mice and Down Syndrome

I attended the Coleman Institute Conference on technology and people with cognitive disabilities last week. It was great to be part of this meeting: I got to have dinner with the famous author Temple Grandin, who is autistic and has built a career around working with animals.

One of the most interesting conversations I had was with Katheleen Gardiner of the University of Denver. I have been aware of the incredible advances in human genomics and animal models for different diseases and conditions. One of my acquaintances here in Palo Alto, Jim White, has been funding research at Stanford and other labs on understanding Down Syndrome. If we really understood what impacts Down Syndrome has on different pathways, we could come up with therapies that would make life better for people with this condition.

Down Syndrome people have three genes from Chromosome 21, and this leads to overexpression of certain proteins that affect different processes. It's more complicated than that, …

2007 Global Social Venture Competition

The Global Social Venture Competition is a great event: bringing the talents of business school students from around the world to bear on society's pressing problems. I have been a judge twice in the last five years, and the quality of the business plans being judged has simply soared over that time period.

I just found out about a matching making blog for the 2007 GSVC, where social groups can link up with students who want to work on a business plan. In the San Francisco Bay Area, there will be an in-person meeting as well on matchmaking at UC Berkeley's Haas Business School, on November 17, 2006. Here's some information on this, that I clipped from an email.

Who should attend?

Any social entrepreneur in the Bay Area who has at least a reasonably well-developed business idea or venture. Though there is no particular restriction on industry, the goal of the venture must include a focus on social impact as well as financial sustainability. The individual or team behin…

World Usability Day 2006

I'm giving a webcast on World Usability Day 2006 (November 14, 2006) entitled Access to Books for People with Print Disabilities. This kind of event showcases what the web can do for people who cannot go to the short number of conferences where these topics are discussed. And of course, accessibility means better access for more people!

For those interested in attending this webcast, there's a page called How do I view a WUD webcast? The link for my session is here, and the webcast is at 1 pm California time.

Benetech at CGI

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Just received this photo from the nice folks at the Clinton Global Initiative. Our bold commitment at CGI was to take Bookshare.org international over the next year, finding the authors, publishers and tech company support to reach at least three countries in a significant way.

We've already heard about a commitment from Microsoft that will help us meet this commitment, and we're busy working with other funders to help raise the money to make this happen.



Benetech at CGI
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High Tech Approaches for Building Social Enterprise:

An article of mine just appeared in the Social Enterprise Reporter, entitled High Tech Approaches for Building Social Enterprise. The SER is one of the leading publications in the social enterprise field, and I think it's now one of the membership benefits of joining the Social Enterprise Alliance. I just got back last night from an SEA board meeting in Long Beach, California, where the next annual meeting will be held. Should be a great event (April 17-19, 2007).

I'm passionate about the application of intellectual property to driving social good. This article expands on how this is not solely the province of high tech types like me. Many social organizations create valuable content, and can often reach greater mission success by leveraging that content. For example, if you have a great new method for tutoring kids, you might have a bigger impact by publicizing that method so that other people can use the improved approach. And, often this can be structured as a social…

Social Enterprise In Hong Kong

I am an enthusiastic support of the social enterprise movement, people who are operating enterprises that have social outcomes as a primary goal. One of the most interesting things from a recent Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance was having an interview with a Hong Kong film crew that was doing a piece on social enterprise.

I was delighted to see the latest web site in Hong Kong about social enterprise, the Hong Kong Social Enterprise Resource Web. It's great to have this movement making an impact around the world!

Clinton Global Initiative

I am listening to Senator Clinton right now, as the Clinton Global Initiative makes it to its last couple of hours. The conference has been very interesting: great people and speakers, and an unusual format (the demand that every attendee make a specific commitment to social change). I think it really has catalyzed commitments: Richard Branson made a 3 billion commitment yesterday in the area of climate change. Our commitment is smaller, but really exciting to me: taking Bookshare.org international.

All we have to do is to raise $1.4 million and get a lot more publisher and author permissions!

I was particularly impressed with Queen Rania and King Abdullah of Jordan (who spoke yesterday morning and evening respectively): very well spoken given the incredibly difficult situation in the Middle East.

Lightning Strike!

Things are really hopping around Benetech today! I was just named a MacArthur Fellow and the phone is ringing off the hook and the emails are streaming in.

Because the MacArthur process is secret, I don't know who to thank for this, so I'm thanking everybody! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Soon I'll be remembering everyone I should be thanking, but I should start with my family, the Benetech team (including our board and advisors) and of course our supporters, all of whom made this honor possible!

Extreme Makeover Goes Bookshare.org!

A Bookshare.org member is going to be featured this weekend on on TV on Extreme Makeover. Cindy, one of our volunteers, shared the following on our volunteer listserv (and she said it better than I could!):

The opening episode, two hours, of Extreme Makeover, Home Edition, features the home and family of one of our bookshare members and active volunteers, Vic Llanes.

The show is this Sunday, from 8-10 p.m. on both coasts; my guess is it will be 7 - 9 central, but you can check your local schedules. I've been in correspondence with Vic for a couple of years now. I googled and read some articles about the show after he told me about it, and it sounds as if there is going to be a lot of wonderful new technology in the house to make living easier for the family. Vic and his mom, who lives with him, are blind as a result of a [de]generative eye condition which his two daughters also have, and he has a son who is deaf. I never thought until I read one of the articles about the problems …

Outstanding Volunteer Scout

Our volunteers are essential to accomplishing Benetech’s mission. From time to time, I like to highlight the contributions of particular volunteers.

Today, I'd like to honor Matthew Devcich, a high school student and aspiring Eagle Scout, who chose to focus his major Scout project on Bookshare.org. Our Bookshare.org team was delighted to work with Matthew, who was meticulous in his preparation and organization. He pulled together volunteers from his community, involved the local public library in Chantilly, Virginia, and scanned and proofread 24 books. I saw his completed project workbook, and it was impressive. The books were beautifully done as well.

Matthew, and the people he engaged to help with his projects, exemplify the values of our Bookshare.org volunteers: people who love books and want to lower the barriers to accessing books for people who have disabilities that affect reading. They make Bookshare.org a vibrant and effective library and deliver on our mission of …

NPR : Guatemala Police Archive Yields Clues to 'Dirty War'

One of our hottest human rights projects is our work in Guatemala, helping with the huge secret police archive that is being analyzed there. National Public Radio's Morning Edition had a great story on the topic this morning, and Benetech's very own Patrick Ball was quoted talking about this as the largest secret police archive ever made available to the human rights process.

Be sure to check out the transcript of the piece.

FOR-PROFIT OR NONPROFIT?

This post from the npEnterprise Listserv

Allen Bromberger does some great pro bono work for the field by answering questions on the npEnterprise list, which is the official list of the Social Enterprise Alliance (where I am proudly a founding board member and am in my last term).

After the question of where to find capital, the question of structure is the next most frequently asked question posed to me by aspiring social entrepreneurs. The question is not an easy one to answer, and involves both legal/tax and style/moral aspects. Allen does a fine job of covering the legal/tax angle and references at the end of his post a good paper from REDF that touches on the style/moral aspects.

FOR-PROFIT OR NONPROFIT?

From Allen Bromberger

(When considering how to structure your social enterprise) The two most important issues for you are liability and taxes. If you run the business inside your nonprofit, rather than a subsidiary, the nonprofit will be responsible for any financial and legal…

IWith.org - A Spanish Tech Social Enterprise

IWith.org - A Spanish Tech Social Enterprise

I have just gotten back from a great family vacation (may post a picture or two) where we ended the trip up in Spain for five days. It reminded me of this cool social enterprise group I have been in touch with, founded by Jordi Duran (originally from Barcelona). Jordi's background is similar to mine (but he's much younger!): successful high tech entrepreneur turning to the social applications of information technology.

They have a large array of IT projects focused on the Spanish speaking NGO world. They are doing a big project in Guatemala around open source software for the Maya community (including translating Open Office into Kiche), as well as several technology initiatives including Application Service Provider (ASP) implementations for NGO IT needs. I am hoping to stay in touch and learn more about Iwith.org in the future.

Disability Benefits 101

A great example of what technology can do when it is designed with people at its center is the new website: Disability Benefits 101: Working with a Disability in California. I ran into the guy who runs it, Bryon MacDonald of World Institute on Disability, at a recent event of the Community Technology Foundation of California.

DB101.org is designed to help guide the person with a disability who is considering going back to work. It turns out that figuring out whether working helps or hurts you is much more complicated than figuring out your taxes! So, this website takes you through the process for a given job and shows you roughly what to expect.

I liked the demonstration Bryon showed: straightforward language around a very complex and inaccessible topic. I hope that it becomes a major part of getting more people with disabilities who want to work into the workforce!

Route 66 Hits the News (and the road!)

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Great article today in the San Jose Mercury News. Palo Alto company's innovative software uses photos to teach the developmentally disabled. We really appreciate our local partner, C.A.R., in testing Route 66 and giving us lots of great feedback.

We enjoy working with Benetech's funders, who share our passion for changing the world. Dave Severns and his family's foundation has been our lead funder for Route 66. Dave takes supporting Route 66 seriously, and just got back from a road trip where he drove Route 66. We appreciate this as the beginning of our comarketing push with the Route 66 highway!

Our other main funder is the Special Hope Foundation, which just surprised us with a follow-on grant for Route 66 this month! I think they knew we needed funding for the next phase of Route 66, now that we are spooling up our efforts. So, our engineers are forging ahead with new features for Route 66.

Katrina IT Musings

Katrina/IT musings

I've been corresponding with a college friend of mine from Caltech, CJ. She did a lot of work on the hurricane aftermath (she's an expert on hazardous waste, and a gazillion other things). I thought her comments would be worth posting. They remind me a lot of Rod Beckstrom's ideas that I posted earlier about IT support following a disaster.


Hi Jim,

I think you phrased an interesting question about the IT community's role in helping.

A smart emergency management person once said that anything is useful in emergency response if it reduces one of the following:
Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity or Ambiguity
which is phrased with the acronym VUCA. The IT community would be more with the "U' part of this from my perspective.

The two places I looked for mechanisms are the
(1) United Nations APELL program (Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies on a Local Level)
and
(2) the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan, whic…

My Latest President's Update

Four times a year (theoretically), I put out a more comprehensive update on Benetech's doings. It took me over six months to get this latest one out, partly because so much has been going on. And, it's pretty uniformly good stuff!

So, if you haven't seen it yet, please enjoy my latest President's Update.

Route 66 Goes Public

We just launched the Route 66 Literacy web site. It has information about the Route 66 concept and includes a pointer to a public demo site with free sample content.

I really appreciate the funding we have had for Route 66 from the Severns and Special Hope Foundations: it's made it possible for us to go this far. We also just received news of some additional funding and are continuing to develop the technology further. I think Karen Erickson's creation has terrific potential for expanding literacy!

Cell Phone Literacy Ideas in China

I just had a great meeting with Jenny Zhao where we talked about the cell phone industry in China. Jenny manages the China operations for a global cell phone technology company. One of our dreams for the Route 66 technology is that it could be used to teach reading to people all over the world, in English as well as other languages. Having the chance to talk to an expert like Jenny helped me understand the development environment, which cell phone capabilities are widespread in China as well as practical differences in the issues that would be facing us in a country like China. This is an example of why I like my job so much: top people are especially excited to share their knowledge when the topic is doing something socially beneficial.

Of course, it could be years before we do something like this in China, but the seed's been planted!

Andy Graduates!

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On occasion, I get to post family pictures to my blog. This one is noteworthy, as my son Andy just graduated from high school. As the Palo Alto Weekly put it (and put the picture on the cover of the paper): "Andy Fruchterman jumped up on a friend's shoulders to celebrate among the throngs of graduating seniors and their loved ones at Paly."


Photo from the Palo Alto Weekly

Concept from Rod Beckstrom

Rod Beckstrom, prominent Silicon Valley tech executive, was in Pakistan during the great quake (although not in the quake zone when the big one hit). He passed along some interesting requirements that are well worth thinking about. I am sure that Rod's concept is doable: may be being done already deep inside Google! Here are the comments I received from Rod:

When I was in Pakistan one month after the quake, I met with multiple groups involved in information sharing among the various thousands (literally) of NGOs and governmental groups. Basically there were no effective electronic means of communication. The only meaningful communication took place P2P as people called each other or in the daily and weekly meetings held at the two army centers in the region. Each center had a large tent with different transparencies, such as "destroyed schools," "destroyed mosques," or "destroyed hospitals" or "road blockages." The key data on these transp…

NetSquared Conference

I'm at the NetSquared Conference yesterday and today. Pretty exciting: this sort of thing would have been hard to imagine not so long ago!

Our new CTO, Patrick Ball, was attending and spoke on human rights. Patrick occasionally injected his reality checks into the proceedings. I spoke on revenue models for socially motivated businesses, on a panel moderated by Vince Stehle (of Surdna Foundation) and with Clara Miller of NFF and Lee Davis of Nesst.org. Although we drew the 520 pm timeslot, I think we did a good job of putting some energy into the last session of the day!

There was a lot of interesting stuff in the plenaries, but I especially enjoyed Ethan Zuckerman's talk about advocacy and citizen journalism. The point I really resonated with was to "get out of the way" of the authentic voices of people from around the world.

Bookshare.org quote

Bookshare.org Excitement

Lots of great things happening with Bookshare.org. I just got back from Geneva, where I took advantage of being invited to the UBS Philanthropy Forum (very cool conference, maybe more later!) to discuss international Bookshare.org. I was able to meet with two key people from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as well as the head of the International Publisher's Association, Jens Bammel. These were substantive and informative conversations, and are crucial parts of taking the rapport with the publishing industry that we've developed inside the U.S. to the rest of the world.

WIPO has just published an important paper on the area of access for people with disabilities, and Bookshare.org is extensively profiled as an important model.

And, of course, our team receives a constant stream of great feedback from people with disabilities, their teachers and families. I wanted to share something I was just copied on from a mother of a Bookshare.…

48 million Guatemalan Secret Police Documents

On Wednesday, May 10, the Guatemalan National Police Archives Project found a bottle filled with petrol in flames on their premises. It was apparently an attempt to intimidate the project to secure and preserve the estimated 48 million police records found by the Human Rights Ombudsman's office in 2005.

Benetech's Human Rights Program is helping the Ombudsman's Office in Guatemala with the Archives Project. Benetech staff Tamy Guberek, Romesh Silva and Daniel Guzmán are currently in Guatemala City helping the Ombudsman's Office to refine and implement a series of statistical pilot studies conceived by Benetech's Human Rights Program Director Patrick Ball. A volunteer group from the American Statistical Association has provided invaluable guidance on the statistical sampling issues. The knowledge gained in the pilot will to guide the overall design and implementation of a large-scale scientific study.

To date, the history of state violence in Guatemala has been under…

Important Book on Technology in the Social Sector

Jonathan Peizer has been one of the most influential thinkers in my evolution with Benetech. Patrick Ball introduced us early in our transition to the new Benetech projects (Bookshare.org and Martus), and JP became our first funder of our Martus project through the Open Society Institute. His insights about technology in the social sector have been especially valuable.

Jonathan has just published a new book: The Dynamics of Technology for Social Change.

Here's the review I wrote for the book's listing on Amazon.com:

As a long-term leader in the field of social applications of information technology, I want to strongly recommend Jonathan Peizer's new book, THE DYNAMICS OF TECHNOLOGY FOR SOCIAL CHANGE. IT in the social sector is exploding, and yet many projects are not as successful as they could be. Jonathan has incredible learning and perspective to share from being at the center of this field over the last 15 years through his vantage point at George Soros' Open Soci…

Route 66 Literacy Beta Users

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Route 66 Literacy began its first beta at Community Association for Rehabilitation, Inc. (C·A·R) in January, here in Palo Alto, California. C·A·R is a nonprofit organization for children and adults with developmental disabilities (mental retardation, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, autism, and other neurodevelopmental conditions causing developmental delays) and other disabilities who live the Silicon Valley area.



We were delighted by the feedback from the users and the C·A·R staff about the results, and we're planning to press ahead to raise money to take this project to the next stage.

Nonprofit Online News: Asking the Wrong Questions

Asking the Wrong Questions

Michael Gilbert is a fascinating observer of the application of technology to social objectives. I quite enjoyed a recent article of his looking at technocentric approaches to technology assessment. As a techie, I have to keep reminding myself of these issues!

Patrick Ball is our New CTO!

Benetech is all about applying values in the development of technology. I’m excited to announce the appointment of someone who lives these values as our new Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Patrick Ball! Finding the right person for CTO is one of my biggest goals this year, and it didn’t dawn on me initially that Patrick wanted to move onto a broader stage from his position as the head of Benetech’s Human Rights Program. However, it quickly became clear that this was a rare opportunity to take advantage of Patrick’s global reputation in human rights and in technology.

Patrick’s role as CTO will have strong exposure outside Benetech as well as our primary tech leadership job. It’s essential that Benetech’s public face be more than just me, and I’m excited about having someone as dynamic and smart as Patrick spreading the word about values in technology development in general, and Benetech’s mission in literacy, the environment, landmine removal and human rights in specific. I hope you …

Speaking at PARC and UoP

I should announce my speaking gigs more often: I'll be speaking tomorrow (Thursday) at the PARC Forum about Benetech: 4 pm April 20, 2006. Friday afternoon, I'll drive to Stockton and give a similar talk at the University of the Pacific. I am really getting into speaking: having a lot of fun telling stories and getting people excited about social entrepreneurship.

World Computer Exchange

PCs for poor students.


I had a great meeting with Timothy Anderson, the head of the World Computer Exchange, on a recent visit to Boston. I have watched his project as it's grown over the past few years. They take thousands of used PCs (but still decent ones, they are starting to focus on Pentium IIIs) and ship them by the containerload to schools in the developing world. The way they drive the cost down is doing it by the containerload: they ship 400 PCs at a whack in a container. This pushes the cost per PC well under $100. They operate on a partial subsidy basis: the local schools have to find some of the money, WCE funds some of the cost, and then a sponsor needs to be found to supply the last $25 or $40 of the cost per PC. Timothy says they could be five times bigger if they had more sponsorships.

This is one of those ventures that takes the burden of used PCs and turns it into an asset.

Do Social Entrepreneurs Exist?

I'm responding to Paul Light's first post on Social Edge:
Let There Be Light: 1. Do social entrepreneurs exist?

The question of "social entrepreneur" being too exclusively applied is somewhat amusing to me. For me, the two main reasons to identify as a social entrepreneur are:
1. You get to meet people who are much more like you than typical nonprofit or for-profit leaders, and
2. It's a fund raising hook.

Like a lot of long term social entrepreneurs, I was one for a decade before I heard the term. But, I have to admit I have gotten a ton of value from being labeled as one, both in terms of great peer interaction and funding.

On to the amusing part! One of the enduring facts about humanity is its response to incentives. Because of number 2 above, there is a strong incentive to self-identify as a social entrepreneur. Carl Schramm of Kauffman Foundation has joked to me that many traditional nonprofit organizations have rebranded as social entrepreneurs in their grant …