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Showing posts from November, 2006

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, …