Monday, April 24, 2006

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 all get a chance to meet Patrick soon!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

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.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

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 applications.

So, given the strong incentives to broaden the social entrepreneur tent to every social endeavor, how do we deal with this? Well, it depends on your objectives. For me, telling someone they are not a social entrepreneur has almost no reward and a fair amount of negatives. For a foundation like Skoll, which has to narrow their lists down to a tiny fraction of applications, they also don't have to tell people no about their status as an SE: they have plenty of great bona fide SEs to choose among.

If you really care in a particular case, I use the same filter when someone self-identifies as an entrepreneur. Did that person really create something new, either as a startup or a novel approach in an existing organization? In the final analysis, most people are going to use the "I-know-it-when-I-see-it" test.