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Showing posts from October, 2008

Colombia’s “False Positives”

Guest blog from Beatriz, one of Benetech's human rights team members in Colombia.

We Colombians are a resilient breed, accustomed to waking up to all kinds of distressing news and still somehow managing to go about our daily business. But today’s mood in Colombia is more somber than usual. El Espectador, one of the two most important national daily newspapers, screams out in today’s editorial: "Shame!"

After years of denying it and of accusing the human rights organizations that have been saying it for years of being guerrilla sympathizers, President Uribe finally admitted it: some members of the State security forces, primarily from the Army but some from the Police, may have been involved in "assassinations" of civilians, he said. The ugly truth is out, and it is being picked up by international media that can hardly be accused of cozying up to the guerrilla, such as the New York Times.

And the truth is hard to take in: Under pressure from their commander in c…

Benetech covered by ABC-News (San Francisco)

Just spotted a nice video piece on the SoCap conference that features Benetech as one of the new crop of socially responsible businesses. The San Francisco ABC News reporter/anchor Teresa Garcia came out and interviewed Kevin Jones of GoodCap, Tim Freundlich of Calvert and yours truly.

What was incredible about the Social Capital Markets conference was that a month before the conference, Kevin was worried about getting the 350 attendees he had planned for, since he had only 200-250 signed up. And then, Lehman Bros. collapsed and suddenly 650 people came!

It was exciting to see the energy around applying business to society's needs, even in the face of desperate times. I also appreciated Kevin connecting Teresa Garcia with Benetech: it's great to get the word out about both SoCap and Benetech!

Great Coverage of our Bookshare India Announcement

We just announced the launching of Bookshare.org in India, and the response from the Indian press was immediate.

The Times of India wrote For print-disabled, reading bestsellers is just a click away.

The Indian Express said Bookshare.org inks pact with three organisations in India.

And, the Hindustan Times also talked about our Online Library for the Blind.

It's exciting to see these results from the dedication of Viji Dilip, our Bookshare International Program Manager, and our Indian partners. Bookshare is all about sharing the efforts to make books accessible, and we're delighted to have strong partners for both producing accessible books and providing support to Indian people with disabilities.

M-Pesa is our hippo!

Technology really is becoming an incredible tool for empowering the poor. Whenever I see a great example of this, I get excited.

Vital Wave Consulting covers the opportunities in serving developing markets and one of their blog posts really grabbed me. In M-Pesa is our hippo! we get to hear the story of a cell phone banking service that gives the poor effective banking services in Kenya when the country's banks have declined to serve them. Other great comments from users of M-Pesa directed at traditional banks:
You closed our accounts and chased us like dogs. Don’t bark at us.
The sly person is in trouble when the fool gets smart.
And, Kenya is not the only country to discover this opportunity. The Philippines has had cell phone banking for years.

The common thread is prepaid cell service. You load up your phone with minutes with money. Why not trade your minutes for money back (for a small fee) or trade minutes with other people as payment for goods and services? These netwo…

President's Update: Summer 2008

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As many folks know, I try to send out quarterly updates on what's new at Benetech. Well, I just got my first one out in 2008! Regular Beneblog readers will know most of this, but it's always handy to pull it together all in one place.

Benetech Update: Summer 2008
I'm thrilled to be writing you this update, because this year is unusually exciting even by Benetech standards. I have incredible news: Bookshare.org recently won a $32 million competition. You can imagine the impact of Bookshare.org going from a $1 million per year enterprise in 2006 to over $7 million in 2008. This means new challenges ahead in scaling Bookshare.org to serve every single student with a print disability in the U.S. We are poised to grow not only Bookshare.org, but all of our projects. Here are the highlights of this update:
Bookshare.org for Education awarded $32 million over five years
Miradi, our new project management software for the environment
Human rights: the International Criminal Court, C…

Miradi and Conservation

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I was just able to attend an exciting conference in Vancouver, ConEx, the Conservation Learning Exchange. It was organized by The Nature Conservancy, but had folks from many of the other leading groups.

For me, it was a chance to meet practitioners using our Miradi conservation project management software. Right before I went to the conference I received a copy of the Proceedings of the Appalachian Salamander Conservation Workshop, held this past May. And sprinkled throughout the report were graphics clearly from our Miradi software!



While at ConEx, I had the chance to talk about our approach to agile, user-centered development. Jim Patell of Stanford's Business School (and the d.school there) gave his pitch for similar principles in his extreme design for affordability class: it was cool to see an academic approach so grounded in reality and making a difference!

At the end of the day, I was part of a meeting of leading conservation techies talking about how to share informatio…

Tim O'Reilly's challenge

Great article on Tim O'Reilly in the Los Angeles Times. From the story:

He is urging young entrepreneurs and engineers to stop making some of the sillier software that lets Facebook users throw virtual sheep at their friends or download virtual beer on iPhones, and instead start making a real difference in the world. He says it's not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.

I think this is awesome. We need a movement to form that is much bigger than Gates/Omidyar/Skoll (and Benetech!). The creative brains in the Valley have a lot to offer when they are motivated. Tim is the kind of person that holds immense influence because of his track record for spotting new trends.

We're huge O'Reilly fans: Tim has always been socially oriented and more than four years ago gave Bookshare.org a license to distribute all of his books to disabled people around the world. By taking that leadership position (and not suffering any arrows in the back for helping us), …

Beijing School for the Blind

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The Beijing School for the Blind dates back to the 19th century, back in the days where the colonial presence was strong.
The facilities are impressive, more or less brand new. The principal of the school, proudly showed off plans to expand the campus over the next few years, with high quality architectural site drawings that would have looked perfectly in place in Chicago.
Our team toured the school. Like many of the agencies we visited, China is also experiencing a significant increase in kids with multiple disabilities. So, in Hong Kong and in Beijing we saw sensory stimulation rooms for these children. These were quite familiar to folks like Frank Simpson of the Lavelle School in New York and Miki Jordan of the Junior Blind of America in Los Angeles.
We visited the English language classroom. We enjoyed getting a chance to chat with a couple of the students who were impressively fluent.
We were treated to a funny skit about Chinese tour guides for the Olympics.



As we headed out…

China Braille Press

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The China Braille Press was another impressive visit. Not only do they produce Braille in quantity, but the Press is also developing affordable technology for blind people such as screenreaders and talking ebook players. It's always a thrill to meet a new group that could be solely a traditional nonprofit, but is clearly thinking like a social enterprise!
The facility was several buildings in a compound on the outskirts of Beijing. The Wanping area it is in is being preserved. Apparently, the Sino-Japanese war in the 1930s started nearby, at the Marco Polo Bridge.
We visited a room full of Braille transcriptionists, mainly working on textbooks.
The software they use was apparently written at the Press. You can see Braille visually on the PC screen appearing as they type.
For high volume production, special metal plates are made. A programmed machine was punching the Braille into the plates. The Press has several Braille presses, including one they built themselves.
We also got to…

Fuzhou to Beijing

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After a wonderful final banquet with our Hadley China hosts, we got up early to head to Beijing.

I was impressed in the airport by a Starbuck's knockoff (check out the color scheme and typefont of SPR Coffee). I ordered a latte and was surprised to find I had just bought a US $12 cup of coffee.
Our flight from Fuzhou to Beijing was thankfully uneventful! In Beijing, we planned on combining visiting disability organizations along with a little bit of regular sightseeing.

The first disability group we visited was the China Disabled Persons' Federation, which is the main national group. It was founded by Deng Pufang, the son of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. I was a bit surprised that CDPF was pretty dedicated to advancing the rights of people with disabilities, but seemed notably unenthusiastic about the idea of blind people going to university. We had noticed that there were no blind people at one of the big universities we had visited in Fuzhou. There is still a feeling…

Fuzhou School for the Blind

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After celebrating the big Hadley birthday, we got down to visiting several nonprofit organizations that assist the blind. Our first stop was the Fuzhou School for the Blind.
When we arrived the students were gathered to greet us. We started with musical numbers.

We arrived in China just at the end of the Paralympics. So, paralympic athletes were a big deal. Turns out, three students of the school were on the silver-medal winning blind soccer team (the Paralympic site described it as Football 5-a-Side). So, we were able to visit with them and congratulate them on their achievement. Hearing that Jimmy Young is a soccer player and coach, they invited us out to play!
I vounteered to pair up with Jimmy. Soccer has always been my sport, and I even played collegiate soccer (ok, for Caltech, so that's not saying a huge amount)! First, we played sighted, but that's too much of an advantage. Normally, sighted people have blindfolds when they want to play. So, we closed our eyes …