Monday, June 25, 2007

How America is betraying the hungry children of Africa

One of the things I often talk about in my public speaking is the continuum that goes from pure profit orientation to pure charity. Most social entrepreneurs I know operate somewhere in between, and for good reasons. Charity is an important and good thing, but charity can be a powerful negative force when misapplied. My example of this is the abusive use of foreign aid in ways that support the giver and damage the recipient. A book I read that made a big impression was "The Road to Hell" by Michael Maren, who described how U.S. food aid played a big role in the destruction of Somalia couple of decades ago (helping lead to the continuing problems of today).

Steve Cisler heard me mention this book recently and sent me a spot-on article from the Observer, How America is betraying the hungry children of Africa. The article shows how we manage to damage agricultural economies and the sustainability of countries with food aid, this time in Malawi. Why are we shipping many tons of American corn to a country that has a bumper crop this year, when it would be cheaper and better to buy Malawi corn? Why indeed?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Raising the Floor Op Ed in Sacramento Bee

Just published my first op ed on the raising the floor concept yesterday in the Sacramento Bee, Everyone deserves access to technology, online world, co-authored with Prof. Gregg Vanderheiden. This op ed was derived from remarks I made to the California Emerging Technology Fund's Roundtable recently.

I want to sound the call for the technology community to get behind raising the floor for everybody around the planet. It's something within our power, and it will bring out the best in our community.

The opening paragraphs are excerpted below:

As technology races ahead at an ever-increasing pace, more and more of society's activities are moving into an online digital world that requires unfettered access. Although many of us may feel like we're falling behind technologically, large groups of Californians face barriers that block their access to the online world. People with disabilities, seniors, the poor and those without strong reading skills are facing ever-increasing obstacles to technology use. Since technology is becoming essential to education, business, personal finance, politics, entertainment and shopping, if we don't do something, we may find someone we love, or even ourselves, left behind.

We need to commit ourselves to delivering a base set of technological capabilities to all people, starting with Californians. At an affordable price, everybody should have access to communications technology and content to meet their personal, social, educational and employment needs. We need to raise the technology floor so that all of our citizens have at least the basic tools they need to participate in our modern society.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Working to Change the World: Talk at Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University invited Bill Coleman (founder of BEA and Cassatt), Jeff Miller (VC at Redpoint Ventures) and me to speak recently on the topic of "Working to Change the World." It was a great hour of conversation around social change and the tech community's role.
Jeff Miller, Bill Coleman and Jim Fruchterman on stage
The show will be broadcast on Thursday, June 14th, on KLIV radio, 1590 AM in the Bay Area, and is also available as a video on the STS (Center for Science, Technology & Society) website. Some excerpts from the event, courtesy of STS:
Jim Fruchterman seated next to sign for SCU's Center for Science Tech & Society
“Here in Silicon Valley, we control immense wealth, immense intellectual property. We have connections, we understand how to solve problems and the world needs our involvement. My message is that the barrier to getting involved is much lower than you may think,” Fruchterman said in his opening comments.

“The University right here is putting together the ingredients. We have some of the best minds and mentors… we have the programs started. The opportunity is for us to take it to the next level. The key is not just being able to create great technologies, it is being able to make them available in a sustainable way to people around the world,” said Coleman.
Bill Coleman, seated with mic
Peggy Gibbs of Benetech was able to take some great pictures of the event: thanks, Peggy!

Martus Growth

Benetech has been seeing incredible growth in our Martus projects over the last year!

We now have over 60,000 bulletins which have been backed up to secure Martus servers by over 1000 users across the world. This represents 400% growth over last year. This tremendous growth is due in large part to the continued use of Martus by our partners working in Guatemala with the National Police Archive, and projects gathering data about Burma, Iraq and the Philippines. Because Martus is free and open source software that does not require users to register with Benetech, these educated estimates of users are almost certainly underreported.

As the number of organizations and users of Martus grows, it has become increasingly important for us to support product enhancements to meet the needs of these significant user groups. We just released Martus 3.1 which focused on performance enhancements for our large users. It includes a feature to notify head quarters accounts when there are new field bulletins to retrieve (useful when projects are spread across a variety of field sites), and speed enhancements for accounts with large numbers of bulletins. We will continue to add features and functionality to support our users as they scale their projects with Martus.

For more information about Martus, and to download the latest version, visit the Martus website.