Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Many Davos

Amazing how fast we slide right back into "real life." Davos was only a couple of days ago and already I'm neck deep into my normal work.

It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the many faces of the Davos experience. Each person attending has many options to choose among, and you can't do it all. Here are just a few of the Davos' I saw in action last week.

Deal Davos (aka bilateral Davos)

You come to Davos to meet with a handful of specific people who are also there at the same time. Your time is dedicated to a moderate room in some Davos hotel, as your team runs a steady stream of key customers, suppliers and potential partners through. Davos as nexus for minimizing global travel.

Political Davos

You see Davos as a place to get exposed to leading politicians from around the world, where you can hear Tony Blair, Angela Merkel and King Abdallah of Jordan and a hot of others. A place where American politicians get exposed to world opinion and protest, not so much from the folks outside the gates of the WEF, but from leading businesspeople around the world.

Educational Davos

You get educated on the big issues facing your business and society (often the same issues). Top experts explain these issues with a depth and sophistication you rarely get elsewhere. You have interactive workshops and role playing with 40 other CEOs, digging into issues from completely different vantage points. I especially enjoyed the Digital Piracy workshop where a handful of us had to develop and present the "Commercial Pirate's Manifesto!"

Sporty Davos

You get to drive fast cars. Ecologically friendly fast cars. Skiing and sledding and snowboarding and cross country. Parties of every way shape and form, especially tuned for customers. Music and arts experiences.

(Global) Society Davos

You can spend all of your time on social issues, hanging with the heads of NGOs (the international name for nonprofits), major labor unions, religious leaders and of course the social entrepreneurs. You can learn more about the environment, about human rights, about development aid, about the digital divide, about microfinance, about healthy food and about disaster response. I was excited to be part of two sessions about improving disaster response through technology and corporate engagement with NGOs.

Ideas Davos

You get to see lots of inventions and new company ideas: a huge variety. I saw a 3 Watt LED light bulb as bright as a 60W bulb but cool enough to hold in your hand. I saw a pair of adjustable eyeglasses for kids in the developing world that cost less than $1 a pair to make. I heard about medical advances to combat strokes and diabetes. My favorite of these was an invention that you swallow and it takes pictures of your digestive tract, instead of needing the dreaded sigmoidoscopy. It was nicknamed "the light at the end of the tunnel!"

Young Davos

You get to meet up and coming business, media and political leaders: the people who will likely be at Davos in the future. I enjoyed seeing Mayor Gavin Newsome and his girlfriend, who I thought was just a gorgeous actress but also turned out to be a top Stanford Business School graduate. Plus, the WEF is staffed by an army of brilliant young people eager to change the world, people like Jesse Fahnestock who used to run for us.

Friendly Davos

You get to spend lots of time with people you know through Davos over the years or other aspects of your life. The pressures of day-to-day work aren't there, and you can spend an hour impromptu with someone you had always wanted to meet. In a past year, I got to spend an hour chatting with David Baltimore, Nobel Laureate and then-president of Caltech, my alma mater. At an alumni event, I would get 60 seconds!


You can't do it all, as I said above. The hardest decisions to make are what to not do. What blend of the Davos cocktail will you have is a big challenge. For example, I decided this year to avoid political Davos because I thought other things were more important to my work. The richness of the experience lets you give up on some parts and still feel like you didn't shortchange yourself. But, it's very hard to get enough sleep!

I walked away with easily 60 business cards of people with whom I should be following up. Some of them will get involved with Benetech and that will be great. Some will send new people my way and vice versa. Some of them are on similar paths to mine and I know we'll be helping each other advance. Davos is just another branch of the great karma bank.

Hope I get to go back again!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Malaysia Party

Every year there's a big party at the WEF on the last night (Saturday). Countries vie to sponsor the main event, throwing a big show and serving up their best food. Of course, the reason is economic development. After the opening show, we were treated to a short video extolling the virtues of investing in Malaysia. Knowing their audience it prominently featured a beautiful golf course (and of course beautiful Malaysian women). I was surprised how attentive the audience was to this commercial. Willing participants in a transaction of an evening of entertainment for a four minute video.
Malaysian dancers
The Malaysians had brought a dance troupe, and it was fun. It had more of a feeling of a traditional cultural experience than last year's India party (which was Bollywood to the max). After singing some Malaysian songs, the four top singers switched to popular (American) music. Lots of Motown. And of course, we were dancing up a storm. There was also two other venues for music: one was sort of a jazz nightclub with jazz duos and the other had South African singers followed by recorded dancing music.
Blurry picture of dancing
My challenge on these parties is that they go very late. Because I'm staying at the Schatzalp, the last train up the mountain leaves at 2 am. If you miss it, the next train is at 6 am! And, there were some people who ended up on the 6 am funicular. Of course, I caught the 2 am train and ended up in the lounge of the Schatzalp talking about the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) project and getting a CD of Amazonian music from my Brazilian buddies (the big column in Brazil's major Sao Paolo paper was entitled (Jungle Boys go to Davos!).

Saturday in Davos means protesters

Over the five years I've attended the WEF, the level of protesting has gone way down. I like to think that inviting social entrepreneurs and other representatives of wider society has played a role in this. Of course, the issues are different and the U.S. presence seems lower.
Uli the protester wearing a placard standing on a snowy street

I did run into a nice protester on the street. Uli was protesting against the Swiss banks taking five times more money in from the developing world than it puts back out. His direct concern was about corrupt elites that stash their ill-gotten gains in Switzerland. He was advocating for legal changes that would allow more transparency in such cases and permit countries to recover looted assets. We had quite a pleasant chat.

Of course, not all of the interactions were pleasant. One night after a party, one of my fellow social entrepreneurs got hit in the head by a snowball thrown by some punks shouting slogans. However, my buddy felt it was just drunk kids acting up rather than a political act!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Social entrepreneurs at Davos

People are often surprised when I tell them how social entrepreneurs are well received at Davos. We're full participants in panels, including being speakers. I think the reason for this integration is the strong support of the WEF's founder, Prof. Klaus Schwab, for the regard of social entrepreneurs.

One great example of this was a major reception held last night with the following hosts: Marc Benioff (CEO of, Prof. & Mrs. Schwab, Michael Dell, Peter Gabriel (rockstar and founder of Witness), Alan Hassenfeld (Hasbro) and Marilyn Carlson Nelson (Carlson Travel). The reception was held in honor of social entrepreneurs and marking the release of a new book edited by Marc Benioff entitled The Business of Changing the World, which is a compendium of essays about business people and their engagement with the social sector. I had some great conversations with people explaining what Benetech does.

Talking to other Social Entrepreneurs

At least half of the highpoints of this week in Switzerland are the interactions I have with other social entrepreneurs. I feel very much at home with these folks, which are my peer community. Last night I was talking to John Wood about his book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. He gave me the direct advice of a social entrepreneur in the middle of marketing his first book: immensely useful.

Moving on to dinner, I sat next to Garth Japhet of Soul City in South Africa, a doctor/social entrepreneur who leads an organization that uses media to influence behavior that affects HIV/AIDS. Garth was able to give me (in less than ten minutes) the reason why HIV spreads so much more quickly in southern Africa than in most other places in the world. He explained that immediately after infection, you are extremely infectious for around three weeks until your immune system beats HIV down to nearly indetectable levels. He noted that while southern Africans do not tend to have a larger lifetime number of sexual partners, they tend to have longer term relationships with multiple partners at the same time. Because a person might be with several long term partners in that several week initial peak infectivity, you will infect several people (and you are less likely to use a condom since it is a long term partner and not a one night stand). And if your partners are similarly oriented, they could infect several more people. Garth noted that a single infection leads to many more infections given this profile compared to societies where you might have as many sexual partners over your lifetime, but where the likelihood of having multiple partners during this three week period is much less.

Like many of my conversations with social entrepreneurs, I feel like I have a window into a crucial social issue from someone with an unparalleled vantage point. And, I get to have at least a dozen of these in-depth conversations every time I come to Davos!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Kinds of Things You can Do at the WEF Davos

Davos is more than eating, drinking, and paneling (speeches). Significant numbers of other activities are here, and they are often unusual.

Cool cars

Every year Audi offers advanced driving courses. This year, BMW has a significant presence with its hydrogen-powered 700 series sedan. There are a handful driving around, as well as display units. Outside my hotel there is one of these, up on top of the mountain. You can ask for the chance to drive one, too!
BMW hydrogen-powered 700 series sedan, with demo woman in front in warm coat

Dialogue in the Dark
Andreas Heinecke
Andreas Heinecke is a social entrepreneur that I met over twelve years ago. He runs an experiential exhibition where you have the chance to spend a couple of hours doing everyday tasks in complete darkness, with blind people as your guides. It's obviously not the same thing as being blind, but it does prompt some reassessment of disability and ability, and for many people it's a chance to lose some of their fears about the dark (and maybe even blindness!).

Know Your Numbers

PwC runs a wellness test opportunity where they take your blood and give you a cholesterol test as well as a high blood pressure test. I thought I knew all about this subject, but I learned a tremendous amount about my particular type of lipid issues (low good cholesterol and high triglycerides). I went two levels deeper into the science of my particular issues and learned about a special test developed by UC Berkeley (an hour away from where I live). Very enlightening, and maybe will help reduce my chances of heart disease!

Funny Quote of the Day
I was in a session on disaster preparedness, and the guy next to me showed me an email on his BlackBerry. At first, it was a generic message from a WEF meeting organizer apologizing that their session had been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. However, I burst out with a snort when I read the final line:
We deeply regret this incontinence.

Internet Governance

I attended the Internet governance panel this morning (lest you think that Davos is all play and no work). Fascinating panel: Vint Cerf (Google), Michael Dell(), John Markoff (New York Times), Hamadoun Toure (ITU), Jonathan Zittrain (Oxford) and moderated by Paul Saffo (Institute for the Future). Just a few snapshots:

John Markoff did an effective job of telling us how bad things are. Botnets (infected PCs under the control of bad guys) represent over 10% of the PCs connected to the Internet. Microsoft Vista illegal copies are already for sale in China, in spite of Microsoft's efforts. According to Microsoft, over a third of illegal copies of their OSs come with trojan infections pre-installed. He noted that Microsoft has spent tremendous amounts of effort in Vista protecting premium content. By extension, wondered what things would be like if Microsoft had spent as much efforts on protecting your private information. His bottom line:
It's as bad as you could possibly imagine!

Jonathan Zittrain made a strong analogy that the Internet today is as structurally weak as AT&T's telephone network was back in the days when you could get free telephone calls using a Cap'n crunch toy whistle.

I can't quote Vint Cerf or the ITU guy (didn't ask permission), but they brought good perspectives to the panel. Michael Dell stayed on corporate message. Wasn't clear that we made much progress on the stated topic, but I did miss the first few minutes!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Davos Flavor

I hope to share a little of the flavor of Davos as we get into what's going on. Davos is a little mountain town in a valley with ski slopes on both sides. There are basically two main drags around the town, an upper one and a lower one, that meet at the two ends of town and make a long winding oval. City buses and shuttle minivans circle around the town, mainly running around the racetrack (which is one-way in several areas). The Congress Center is in the middle, and that's where the big events happen. But many other events are scattered around the hotels of Davos, and it can take 25 or 30 minutes to walk between the most far flung ones.

Last night I went to the Blogger's nightcap at a hotel at the eastern end of Davos. I came out after midnight and found that there were no buses or shuttles running anymore, so I just walked back to my hotel's funicular. That's not a term I use frequently! It's a train that takes you from town level up 1000 feet to the Schatzalp hotel, which sits well above the valley. Like several hotels in Davos, it's a former TB clinic, and was featured in Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain." I hadn't eaten dinner, and so ended up getting food at the one bar I found open while walking more than half the length of the main drag! I ran into some fun Brazilian social entrepreneurs I hadn't met before (based in the Amazon) and we ended up drinking beers and swapping stories well into the night.

And, that's a key part of the Davos flavor. Yes, you are meeting people you want to meet or people you already know. But, the magic comes when you let serendipity lead you forward. Almost everyone here does something interesting, and you are more likely than not find a common interest with someone you would never would have a priori guessed would be passionate about human rights, or technology, or the political situation in Bangladesh, or environmental change, or...

And of course, the best place to meet people are in the six person minivans. Last year I jumped into one and sat across from George Soros. People are accessible and interested in knowing more about everybody, and it creates a real opportunity to accelerate three month's of new meetings into three or four days.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Schwab Social Entrepreneurs Summit 2007

We're wrapping up an intense couple of days here in Zurich, and I take the spectacular train to Davos this afternoon. The event here in Zurich is the Schwab Social Entrepreneur Summit, where roughly a hundred social entrepreneurs get together with global leaders to advance the movement.

Sunday was a day of content aimed just at the social entrepreneurs. We discussed leadership, recruiting and succession, among other topics. This content has been driven by requests from the SEs themselves, looking for help in developing their leadership style and their organizations. Many of the SEs are senior, having been leading their organizations for longer than a decade, and many longer than that. Succession issues: how do we build an organization that will outlive our involvement, and how to approach recruiting a successor to the founder, was a session that I moderated. My panelists were Jeroo Billimoria, a serial social entrepreneur from India who founded Child Helpline in India and took it global (as well as starting three other social enterprises); Tom Friel, the Chair of Heidrick & Struggles, the global recruiting firm; Bruce Pasternak, CEO of Special Olympics (and the first CEO not from the founding Shriver clan); and Jennifer Broggini, board member from TechnoServe (member of the search committee that found successors to her father, the founder of TechnoServe).

On Monday we were joined by a dazzling array of global leaders who are interested in social entrepreneurship. Schwab Foundation board members Paolo Coehlo (the noted Brazilian author), Zanelle Mbeki (first lady of South Africa) and Hilde Schwab, the co-founder of the Schwab Foundation. Notable attendees included Larry Brilliant, the head of, Jonathan Greenblatt, founder of Ethos Water, Ron Grzywinski, founder of ShoreBank, Tim Wirth, head of the UN Foundation, Matthew Bishop of the Economist, and scores of other similar luminaries. The foundation community was also well represented, especially the Skoll Foundation. Skoll and Schwab have the two leading social entrepreneurship networks for senior practitioners, and it's great to see them working together to advance the movement.

Tuesday was kicked off by Jacques Aigran, the President of Swiss Re, the insurance company that hosted the summit at their elegant facility in Ruschlikon, a suburb of Zurich.
Villa at Swiss Re conference facility
Aigran noted that Swiss Re was interested in several aspects of the SE field, including bringing insurance to the developing world, as well as being involved in the global warming crisis (which he feels will disproportionately hurt the poor in the developing world). Hilde Schwab declared the Schwab commitment to making social entrepreneurs better known throughout the world. Her best example was Muhammed Yunus, who is also a board member of the Schwab Foundation, who of course won the Nobel Peace prize last year. She noted that Yunus worked for twenty years before anyone in the West noticed!

Out of all the panels I attended, I especially wanted to let you know about the kickoff panel on Monday. The panel was moderated by Greg Dees of Duke University, one of the leading business school professors tracking and analyzing the social entrepreneurship movement. He pointed out that SEs are all about breaking away from charity and alms giving and focusing on pragmatic problem solving. Mirai Chatterjee of the Self Employed Women's Association in India explains social entrepreneurs as private initiatives that used business models around financial sustainability, self-help and empowerment. Her inspiration for this work included Gandhi, who of course was all about self-reliance!

Matthew Bishop of the Economist Magazine made some interesting points. He continued the theme of claiming social entrepreneurial status (we had earlier heard that insurance was an SE as well as Gandhi), by explaining that the magazine had been started in 1843 to remove trade barriers in the UK, which were hurting the poor by driving up food prices. His analysis of global entrepreneurship is that it has gone through a revolution in the last thirty years, driven by transparency and innovation in capital markets. Breakthroughs by entrepreneurs are followed by productivity improvements embedded in more traditional organizations. He foresees a continued drive towards improving effectiveness as the relationships among states, corporations and private individuals evolve. We've come to recognize the limitations of the nation state, especially around innovation. He also forecast an evolution in capital markets and a rise of intermediaries in the SE field.

Roger Martin, dean of the U. Toronto business school, talked about the need to drive new skills into the business school community, especially improving the teaching of entrepreneurship and trying to teach empathy. Bill Drayton rounded out the panel. As the founder of Ashoka, the biggest and oldest global network of social entrepreneurs, he's known as the godfather of the movement.

The final quotes are from the man of the hour, Larry Brilliant, the new head of Everyone in the SE movement is waiting to hear more about his vision for, since anything seems possible for Google. Larry described his ten months at Google as drinking from a firehose, and explained:

This is the morally most challenging moment in my life,
but I've never felt more alive!

He also announced that Microsoft (and I think Yahoo!) and Google are planning to work together in the area of disaster preparedness.

It was a gratifying couple of days, and I've only scratched the surface. But, tonight I'll be in Davos and getting ready for the next phase of this trip!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

World Economic Forum - Davos 2007

It's that time of year when social entrepreneurs get to hang out and carouse with the world's leaders. I'm en route to Switzerland for two conferences (or, a pre-conference and a conference).

This is where many of the key global players from the social entrepreneurship field get together, under the auspices of Klaus and Hilde Schwab. The first event is the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur Summit. Klaus is the founder and head of the WEF. And, later in the week I move to Davos for the World Economic Forum - Annual Meeting 2007.

I very much enjoy blogging from Switzerland, and sharing my experiences. I feel it's a privilege to attend, and appreciate the enthusiastic engagement social entrepreneurs receive from the most senior corporate and government leaders. The leaders who take a week out to attend Davos are very interested in global issues, both as these issues impact their business but also their families and the world.

This will be my fifth Davos in a row, and I am definitely far more comfortable than I was the first time. The key epiphany I had was how human the Davos attendees are. This is a chance for them to interact directly with other people without the all-encompassing cocoon that normally surrounds them.

This is a place where their concerns for their children and grandchildren can be openly expressed rather than being deemed inappropriate for polite business conversation. These are real people who yearn to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

I look forward to sharing the (nonconfidential) parts of the conversations I have, and hope that at the end of this coming week you feel slightly heartened about the future!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ben Rosen and the Poool commuting technology

I just had breakfast with Ben Rosen, founding partner of the Sevin Rosen venture capital firm and now retired. Ben's firm was the lead investor in my first startup 25 years ago. As a matter of fact, Steve Dow, who was the associate who found us way back then, is still an active partner with Sevin Rosen and is one of Benetech's advisors. Ben is also on the board of Caltech, which is my alma mater.

I wasn't surprised to find that Ben has a great idea for a technology social enterprise, and it was fun to talk about it. Ben's been thinking about global warming issues for quite a while, and came up with an idea that could be implemented quickly and make a major impact on pollution and congestion. The concept is improved ride sharing technology for commuters to make carpooling more practical. Ben grabbed my attention with the following quote about the problem:

Traffic is worse than it's ever been...
but better than it will ever be.

More people and more cars in the U.S. (and many other places) combined with minimal new roads will increase our problem. Ben continued by describing automobile commuting as a transportation system that typically operates with 20% load factors, because a typical car could hold five people and usually holds one! Imagine an airline that operated with that kind of load factor.

There are existing ridesharing matching services, but they haven't had the dramatic impact needed. The particular aspects of Poool (the working name for the software) is a web-based service that matches employees of large employers together. Because you are all going to (more or less) the same place, you can implement something that looks like a hub network with the place of work at the center rather than gazillions of point to point connections. By adding in some fail-safes (like a backup motor-pool or taxi for the few who missed on connecting), you could have a system that is more flexible and adapts to ad hoc carpooling instead of fixed carpools. Imagine the cost savings to the employer if fewer parking spaces were needed for employees. Imagine the benefits to society if we reduced even 10% of the commuting burden: getting rid of traffic congestion would save more than 10% of pollution and time.

Poool could be built today, but it's not clear that the incentives are quite right for adoption by large employers. Although there are obligations on employers to address mitigation of traffic impacts from their commuting employees, these are relatively weak. But, I have a feeling that as a society we're moving in a direction that will make Poool (or something similar) more likely. We already have companies giving large incentives to buy hybrids, or paying for public transportation, or removing the de facto subsidization of free parking.

There are many more details to the Poool concept, but that's the essence. It's a great idea that could help society, but where the financial structure right now does not seem to offer an attractive for-profit opportunity.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Warning: Benetech does not make grants to individuals

Bogus "Grant Letters"

If someone contacts you purporting to be from Benetech (or Grant Approval, Inc., or anyplace else) and making an unsolicited grant to you: this indeed is too good to be true. Apparently some people have received fake checks purporting to be from Benetech and requesting money in exchange for "taxes." These checks (to you) will bounce, and are not from us. And, the fraudsters don't want you to send checks to our main (and only) office here at 480 California Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306 USA. Any other address is a scam... Plus, we don't make grants to individuals.

This is fraud. And, it's not from the real Benetech. Real nonprofits don't operate this way. This is another variation on the scams that have been around for many years.

Of course, real checks sent to our real address marked as donations are welcome. But, call us first, so we know that's what you really want to do!!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

President's Update

Here's my latest President's Update.

Benetech's momentum continues with some fantastic news. I was awarded one of the 2006 MacArthur Fellowships. Our biggest challenge now is finding the right people to join our team. If you know some great folks (especially techies) who want a job that embodies their values as well as paying a competitive wage, please send them my way!
Highlights of this Letter:

* The MacA (!)
* Recruiting technical talent
* Selected Project Updates
o Route 66 Literacy demosite launches
o is going international
o Guatemalan secret police archives

The MacA

Getting an award like the MacArthur Fellowship is pretty humbling, especially one that embodies the built-in challenge that justifies the confidence shown by the awards panel. These awards are based not so much on past achievements, as an expectation that you will do something exciting in the future. Of course, the MacArthur people make a big deal out of the lack of obligation or reporting ("you'll never have to talk to us again," said Daniel Socolow, the head of the program). But, I don't feel that way!

The big question everybody asks me is what I'm going to do differently. And my answer is not much: I'm just going to do more of what I've been doing. However, the fellowship does give me much more flexibility: I don't have to justify spending Benetech's funds for something that isn't directly connected to our current projects. For example, I'm planning on going to India and Bangladesh next month for the first time, and to Uganda and Sudan next year.

One thing I am definitely going to do is write the book I've been kicking around for the last five years. By announcing this in many press interviews, I've managed to create lots of external pressure on myself to get this done! Speaking of the press, it is clear that they really get my overarching goal: to engage more of the tech community in serving the 90% of humanity we haven't been focusing on (yet). We featured many of these on Benetech's website. Our local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, did two great pieces on Benetech, a business section feature story and an exceptional column by Mike Cassidy entitled An Executive Does Well By Helping Others.

The great news is how much attention social entrepreneurship is getting. My two closest peers in California have both gotten MacArthurs (Victoria Hale this year and David Green two years ago). And, the godfather of the social entrepreneurship movement, Muhammad Yunus, received the Nobel Peace Price this year!


To accomplish the great things we've promised our communities (and our funders!), we need help. This kind of help comes in all forms, but we're particularly looking for technologists willing to join our team in Palo Alto. Under our new CTO, Patrick Ball (see my last President's letter), we are building a tech team to work on our incredibly varied list of projects in literacy, human rights and the environment. If you know some brilliant developers who want to actually get paid to change the world, put them in touch with us.

In addition to recruiting additional talent to our team in, we're also recruiting advisors and donors from the top echelons of the tech community. And, the most committed and dynamic folks from that crowd may have the chance to serve on our board of directors. If you know someone like that, send her (or him) my way, too!
Route 66 Literacy

Our newest project is Route 66 Literacy, and it includes a demonstration site that anyone can try out. Our initial focus is on serving people with cognitive disabilities who want to learn to read. A key feature of Route 66 is the Teacher Tutor, which helps the inexpert but motivated teacher (parent, volunteer, teacher's aide, rehab professional) teach reading. Goes International

This year marked my first attendance at the Clinton Global Initiative. CGI puts great emphasis on getting each attendee to make a new commitment to global society. My commitment was to take international, including raising the money for making that possible.
Bill Clinton and Jim Fruchterman
We have already received a commitment from Microsoft and an unofficial commitment from a major Silicon Valley leader which will enable us to get this effort launched next year (but we still have more to do!). We've also received in-kind support from the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation, which is organizing attorneys from around the world to help get us the permissions we need to bring books to disabled people around the planet.

The Guatemalan Secret Police Archive

I love to tell the stories of users of our technology: it makes the impact of our creations real for our team. My new favorite is how the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office of Guatemala (PDH is the Spanish acronym) uses our Martus human rights software. Guatemala has a sad history of large scale human rights abuse. Few of these violations have ever been prosecuted. One of the primary institutions responsible for this history was the National Police: the secret police force that was "so inextricably linked to violent repression, abduction, disappearances, torture and assassination that the country's 1996 peace accord mandated it be completely disbanded” (Kate Doyle, National Security Archive). Last year, the National Police archive was discovered, with an estimated 80 million pages of documents. Buried in these documents could be the answers to the questions of thousands of families about loved ones who disappeared during the last thirty years.
Stacks of documents with archive worker
The first step in the process of assessing these documents was a pilot project to sample them. If all of the documents sampled were office supply requisitions and pay stubs, it would not be worth the considerable effort to wade through these literal mountains of paper.

In 2006, Benetech staff assisted in the scientific sampling of 1500 documents, the summaries of which were entered into the Martus software by our partner, PDH. Evidence of human rights abuses figured in 15 percent of the documents examined, with detentions, bodies and disappearances being most frequently found. PDH and Benetech are getting ready for the next phase of this ground-breaking work.

The world needs a lot more help than Benetech or I can provide. Please keep encouraging everyone you know to get more engaged in the important work of bringing the many opportunities we possess to every person on the globe!