Monday, September 29, 2008

Celebrating 20 Years of Hadley China!

We came to Fuzhou for a celebration. Celebrating 20 years is a big deal in China. Banner about 20 Year birthday of Hadley in English and ChineseAs you might imagine, it's unusual for a U.S. nonprofit to have been in China for this length of time. The big celebration was held in our hotel, which I think is the nicest hotel in Fuzhou.
Presentation by Grace Chan of Hong Kong to Hadley leadershipMany top folks from around the country came for an all-morning event with more than a dozen speakers. They included representatives from different schools from around the country, the U.S. Counsel General, a Vice President from the Disabled Persons Federation and a delegation from Hong Kong. A lot of this was celebrating the achievements of Mr. Xia Rongqiang (Chester), the founder and principal of Hadley China.
Student with dark glasses at podium with flowersThe main curriculum at Hadley China is around teaching English. One of my favorite speakers was a young Hadley student who was quite talented and appealing. As we went around the country, we kept running into former Hadley students and teachers. It's clear Hadley has had a great impact on the blindness field in China.

Chuck Young and Mr. Zhang ZhongyanPart of the meeting was celebrating the first ever China Hadley director and donor, Mr. Zhang Zhongyan. Even though he didn't speak English (or more accurately, we didn't speak Mandarin), he was a lot of fun to have a few beers with.
Group photo of visitorsAfter the official celebration, we trooped over to the Hadley China offices. Since it's a distance education school, and all of the students and most of the teachers work remotely, it's quite a small office. But, we were all able to pack in!


My first stop in mainland China isFuzhou - 福州, the capital of Fujian Province. I had heard of the province, but was flabbergasted to not know the name of Fuzhou. Imagine overlooking a city of over 6 million people (described by a Fuzhou native as a "medium-sized Chinese city!"). That's the size of the entire San Francisco Bay Area.
Buildings under construction
I was also surprised by the wealth of this city. My first afternoon in town, I wandered the central shopping district. The products and prices seemed similar to what I'd see in the United States. I mean, the Nike shop and the camera shop had the same products and same prices as I'd expect to pay at a mall in California. In addition to the products and brands I knew, there were quite a number of China-specific brands (like 361 degrees and Sept Wolves). The department stores reminded me a lot of Macy's.
Jim Fruchterman with arms spread wide by a riverOne of the key leaders I met described China as "Europe in the cities, Africa in the countryside." Since I didn't get to see the countryside, I only was able to see the wealth of a mid-sized Chinese city. And, there was an incredible building boom going on. I felt like we kept driving by real estate developments designed to house 50,000 people each. I'd read about the incredible drive to house the newly urban, but these places were for people with money. Chuck Young, the president of Hadley School, said that much of this building hadn't been there just two years ago.
Picture of the West Lake in Fuzhou with high risesOur hotel was fabulous: and located next to an artificial lake first constructed more that 1700 years ago! The food was also incredible, and the hospitality tremendous. I had been prepared by travelers from past years to not eat well, but I didn't have a bad meal anywhere. Of course, I was part of a group getting top-flight treatment.
View of person sweeping from aboveThis isn't to say there aren't poorer people or sections in the city. There are plenty of people doing jobs like sweeping every inch of many areas (especially the high appearance areas). I ended up walking through some back streets and seeing much more basic (and much cheaper) shops and products.
Men repairing power lines by hanging off of them using a slingPlus, not all work is done to U.S. environmental or workplace safety laws (even in their weakened post-Bush state). I was surprised to watch linemen at work, literally hanging from the electrical wires!baby in cribOne place where we came face-to-face with tougher reality in China was the orphanage. Most of the babies were girls with disabilities, especially cleft palates. Our group was so affected by these girls that one of the women in our group raised $1500 that day to get the most severely impacted infants the operations she'd need to become adoptable. Her Chinese name meant "happy," so we nicknamed her Happy Hadley and hope she has greater opportunities.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dragonair Hauls Rami off the Plane

Our flight from Hong Kong to Fuzhou on Dragonair was made much more interesting when we had a ringside seat on a disability rights demonstration!
Rami in an airline seatRami Rabby is famous in the American blind community as the first blind foreign service officer working for the US State Department. It wasn't easy for him: he had to sue them because they wouldn't hire him even though he was highly qualified.

It might come as no surprise that Rami is attuned to discriminatory practices and willing to stand up for himself. Rami had been assigned a window seat even though he wanted to sit on the aisle like your typical frequent flier. So, he asked to switch seats with Jimmy Young (son of Hadley School's CEO, Chuck Young).
Airline official next to RamiThis caused some consternation among the airline staff. Apparently, they have a little manual that says blind people have to sit in a window seat. So, they asked Rami to move, claiming this was standard operating procedure (which it isn't, since we'd all travelled around the world as blind people or with blind people and this was a new one). They tried about ten times and about ten different ways. Rami's basic answer was that it didn't make sense to him and that they should explain why there was such a policy. They tried to pressure him by telling him he was delaying the flight, and Rami said that he was unembarrassable.

Folks coming down the aisle to get RamiGradually, more and more folks came onto the plane. Local airline managers, plainclothes and uniformed police, etc. The pilot said it was a regulation of the local aviation regulator (unclear if he meant Hong Kong or China). I asked if they had placed all of the Paralympic athletes to sit in window seats, but didn't get an answer.
Rami being levered out of his seatFinally, the captain decided to call in the police and have Rami hauled off the plane. I was busy taking pictures, and my companions thought I was nuts. Of course, I felt Rami was taking a much bigger risk!
Rami dragged off planeRami had obviously studied nonviolent resistance. He never raised his voice, but didn't cooperate with being hauled away. And, our plane got going almost an hour late.
Rami's empty seatOf course, we were worried about Rami being stuck in Hong Kong as we jetted off to Fuzhou. But, Rami was on a flight two hours later on China Eastern Airlines, which apparently doesn't have the same rulebook as Dragonair did! So, it seems to be just one airline's discriminatory practice in its zeal. This issue is probably related to the exit row seating requirement in the U.S. that keeps children and people with disabilities from sitting in an exit row (which one major blind organization fought unsuccessfully ten years back). But, this wasn't an exit row. So, it wasn't clear if they simply wanted disabled people out of the way in case of an emergency or what the reasoning was. I had to admire Rami for his willingness to stand up for disability rights.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First trip to China

I'm now on my first-ever trip to mainland China, thanks to the Hadley School for the Blind twentieth anniversary of their China school. It's unusual for a U.S. nonprofit to have a China branch, but truly amazing that it's been there for twenty years. Hadley's brand of distance education for the blind (and people who care about blind people) has been adapted to focus on teaching of English in China.Hong Kong skylineI've always wanted to have a reason to go to China, but there never was a strong enough reason to go for Benetech. Because of Hadley's reputation, their twentieth anniversary was the nexus for many of the top blindness folks from China to come help them celebrate. Since we're a partner of Hadley's (our goal is to be the school library for their students), Hadley's president, Chuck Young, invited me and other Hadley supporters to accompany him and his staff on this celebratory trip.

We started our visit in Hong Kong, visiting the three main nonprofits there serving the blind.

Blind person in Hong Kong at a PC, typing Braille chords

Our timing was great: we had excellent meetings in all three places. I learned a lot about how blind people deal with Chinese: I thought it would be a difficult language to make accessible. I saw this cool software where you type in using Braille chords the sound of the character you want (first picture) , and then it gives you a list of similar-sounding characters along with a brief description (second picture). For example, chord 'em', 'ee', 'en', and get "mean- to mean", "mean-cheap", "mean-nasty", "mien-face", etc.

After talking about Hadley's work in China, Chuck Young allowed me to address an audience at the university about how could be used in Hong Kong and China. This helped lead to several great conversations with the different agencies about Bookshare in China and Hong Kong.

Right now, we're obtaining many permissions from publishers to serve an international audience, and we'll have some interesting options for blind and print disabled people in Hong Kong. In addition, Hong Kong passed a copyright exemption just in the last year, and the leaders in Hong Kong are considering how to utilize this new tool. I'm excited about working with them, and hope it leads to doing a lot more in Hong Kong and in mainland China. Of course, the way is to provide a path to people helping each other: as technologists we're enablers. I found the people here eager to get to work. I guess that's a Hong Kong characteristic!

Old man and wife in a rowboat with umbrella
Of course, we were able to squeeze in a little sightseeing around Hong Kong, including a visit to the Aberdeen Harbor and catching the view from Victoria Peak. It's impressive what people in Hong Kong have done with their tiny patch of China.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More users for

It's typical to think of as being for blind people. But, we keep mentioning that there are more people with print disabilities than people with visual impairments. People with physical disabilities such as those from cerebral palsy often get significant benefits for access to alternative text.

We recently had a big article in SpeakUP, the journal of the United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. These folks create specialized systems to provide speech to people who cannot speak (or can't speak clearly) without technical assistance. Many users of augmentative communication devices also have a hard time using printed books. We're starting to work with the makers of these devices to add support for books, since they typically have text-to-speech capabilities built into them already.

We're glad that SpeakUP is spreading the word about to a new community of people who can really take advantage of accessible books.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fish Tale Has DNA Hook

I've written about Dan Janzen's idea for a DNA barcoding device, which you could use to identify the different kinds of life you encounter.

I recently was forwarded a post from David Duthie (of the UN Environment Program) that spotted a new application: truth in sushi labeling.

I have been a "fan" of DNA barcoding for a while now and believe that when DNA can be linked to the power of the Internet (DNA-museum-Google Earth) via a hand-held barcoder/barcorder - as suggested long ago by fellow BIOPLANNER Dan Janzen - then maybe biodiversity will have gained the power to truly inspire the general public and becoming an important "way of thinking" about the world around us.
Below is a story from the New York times that gives us a glimpse of what that world might be like - where two high school children, albeit with some good connections, can demonstrate that some NY sushi is not "kosher" - offering farmed tilapia at tuna prices. A few days earlier, I read an article where DNA-sampling of freshwater ponds can reveal the presence/absence of the invasive American bullfrogs even when normal monitoring techniques fail - this technique can even detect "ghosts" - species that have been but are no longer present!

Dan Janzen has continued to explore the power of DNA-barcoding, plus regular taxonomy, coupled with some extraordinary field-sampling (ecological forensic science) in Guanacaste National Park in Costa Rica, to probe the hidden diversity lurking beneath the surface of morphospecies - "Extreme diversity of tropical parasitoid wasps exposed by iterative integration of natural history, DNA barcoding, morphology, and collections" the latest in a growing series of papers is availble open access online at:

Given the choice between an iPhone and a barcoder to "talk" to the world's biodiversity, then sorry mum, but give me the barcoder every time!
Best wishes

David Duthie

Fish Tale Has DNA Hook - Students Find Bad Labels -

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Samasource wins contract with

We're busy expanding with the help of social enterprises all over the world. We recently signed a deal with a group in Kenya, and they were very enthusiastic about it!

Samasource wins contract with

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Zerodivide seeks new board members

I am on the board of the Zerodivide Foundation, which is an extremely cool foundation serving the underserved of California with technology. We're seeking new board members.

ZeroDivide™ Board of Directors Position Description
ZeroDivide is seeking candidates for its Board of Directors to serve for a three-year term commencing on February 1, 2009.

ZeroDivide Background

ZeroDivide invests in community enterprises that leverage technology to benefit people in low-income and other underserved communities. As a foundation, we do more than just write a check; through our community, philanthropic and corporate partnerships, we help nonprofit organizations find new revenue sources to become more self-sustaining.

We focus on technology. Whether the divides are social, economic, political or cultural, it is often technology that can help overcome these divides. Since our inception in 1998, almost $50 million has been invested through us in overcoming community-building barriers. But access to technology is just the starting point. Through mentors, professional networks and investor forums, ZeroDivide brings a deep knowledge of what makes a venture successful. We're collaborative, bringing a valuable vantage point that stems from having worked with hundreds of community-based organizations. Ultimately, we want to be the partner that community enterprises value most.

Throughout our work, we are guided by four principles:
  • Innovation
Changing the world requires new thinking. That's why ZeroDivide partners with grantee organizations that are willing to take bold, new directions. To keep pace with technological innovation, our own philanthropic vision is equally fluid, adaptive and effective.
  • Entrepreneurship
At ZeroDivide, we fund nonprofit organizations that employ new models of economic sustainability. We provide organizations with access to an ecosystem of business leaders and seasoned professionals. Community entrepreneurs leverage these relationships to find new team members, forge strategic partnerships and identify target markets.
  • Transformation
A core foundation of our institutional vision has always been to deliver relevant, impactful community-based philanthropy. We work to transform California communities and the lives of the people who live in them.
  • Leadership
We love helping organizations and community leaders achieve their full potential. Through our ZeroDivide Fellows program, our work with these community advocates has not only resulted in developing tomorrow’s leaders, but it has produced rewarding and lasting relationships.
We encourage community-based nonprofit organizations, community leaders, corporate partners and dedicated individuals to join us in creating infinite possibilities. By redefining the role of philanthropy, we are bridging the digital divide, reshaping communities and moving successfully toward a ZeroDivide.

Board Role and Responsibilities

Board Members act in the best interests of the corporation and its mission to serve all of the underserved communities of California, including populations who are low-income, of color, with disabilities, limited English speaking, seniors in need, and at-risk youth. ZeroDivide’s Board of Directors has 15 members. A Board term is three years, renewable once. The Board currently meets three times a year, generally in January, May and September. Members are expected to attend all meetings. Each member is expected to serve on two committees. All Board members are expected to consider this Board to be a priority and to be engaged, contributing participants.
In addition to the general requirements as discussed above, the Board of Directors is interested in potential nominees who have significant expertise in four areas:
  • Fund Development: Particular ability to open doors for funding partnerships with businesses, foundations, and individual donors – this is a priority and overarching need for all directors.
  • Corporate Finance and Internal Control: Chief Financial Officers, executive directors, Board members who have chaired finance or audit committees of foundations or nonprofits.
  • Technology Industry: Social entrepreneurs, information technology thought leaders, and executive/senior management in technology-related companies.
  • Philanthropy: Senior management or trustee level experience in a private, community or corporate foundation.
If you are interested in being considered for nomination to ZeroDivide’s Board of Directors please send a letter of interest, resume and a list of references by Friday, October 31, 2008, to:
Jackie Brand, Nominating and Governance Committee Chair
c/o Tessie Guillermo, President and CEO
425 Bush Street, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94108
You will be contacted by a representative of the ZeroDivide Nominating and Governance Committee regarding your interest soon after receiving your letter of interest. Please do not call the ZeroDivide office directly. For more information about ZeroDivide see

Thursday, September 11, 2008

ISIS - Internet Sexuality Information Services

Through the Full Circle Fund, where I spoke recently on a panel with Premal Shah of, I had the chance to meet the third panelist, Deb Levine of ISIS. It's great to meet a new technology social entrepreneur who is so on top of the latest social technologies! [Kiva's cool, of course, but everybody already knows that!]

ISIS has a mission around sex ed and STD prevention, and has an array of clever and innovative uses of the web and mobile communications to advance their mission. One social enterprise I was impressed with is their inSPOT sex partner STD electronic greeting card service. This service is supported by public health agencies to encourage notification of sex partners when someone is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). ISIS manages to get a very high click-through rate for this important notification.

Deb and I had a great brainstorm a few weeks after our panel, coming up with ideas for helping each other's projects. I think this is the great payoff for accepting speaking gigs and going to conferences: serendipity just happens more easily in person. It also makes me think there are more great social entrepreneurs out there coming up with new ways to use technology to help humanity, and I'm looking forward to meeting more cool folks like Deb.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Social Enterprise World Forum 2008 - Part Two

The Social Enterprise World Forum 2008 was great for gaining a perspective on an island with a great deal of innovative social enterprise. My guess is that roughly 80% of the attendees were from Scotland and the rest of the UK. Even though the legal regime is somewhat different, I found many parallels with social enterprisers here in the United States and around the world.
Jonathan Bland speaking at the Scottish Parliament building
One of my biggest concerns about social enterprise is how unknown we are in the U.S. to the general public and to policy makers. Here in the UK, I have a vision of where social enterprise in the United States could be in ten years. That's the length of time that Jonathan Bland, CEO of the Social Enterprise Coalition in the UK, said that he and his group have been at it. As I noted in the previous post, it's a major part of UK and Scottish government strategy to invest in and expand the social enterprise sector.

In the opening session of the conference itself, we heard from representatives of both the UK and Scottish governments. Phil Hope MP, Minister for the Third Sector, UK Government, was quite breathless about social enterprise and I took away a lot of snippets (the following are rough quotes).
Finance needs to take into account social and environmental returns. I hope you come away from the conference with deals. Step in when the market fails. A bit of government here can go a long way. Go where the market won’t go and demonstrate to the market what’s possible. 250 million pound fund for this. 10 million risk fund for that. Social stock exchange being discussed in London by the Rockefeller Fdn. London as a global social finance capital. Social investment wholesaler. Unclaimed money in bank accounts -> social investment. Govt as a champion of SE.

Another noteworthy speaker was Nigel Kershaw of the Big Issue Invest’s Social Enterprise Venture Fund. He's a real pistol: challenging the Lloyd Bank folks to kick money in with him. A radical VC, as it were. No idea of how effective he is, but well worth watching.
Sophi Tranchell
Just like in the U.S., I heard from rockstar social entrepreneurs as well as meeting people doing everyday social enterprise (and facing the normal struggles of enterprise). Sophi Tranchell of Divine Chocolate explained how her organization came to be 45% owned by the Ghanaian farmers coop that provides most of their cocoa.
Mel Young speaking
My good buddy Mel Young of the Homeless World Cup was the evening keynoter: he's got an exciting story to tell. Mel helped start the Big Issue in Scotland: the street newspaper social enterprise that any visitor to a significant UK town has been offered to purchase. Men drinking beer, especially Mel YoungI then had a wonderful tour of local pubs in Edinburgh, and I have at least one photo to remember it by!
Two women laughing, Clare Dove on right
As part of the festivities, I also got to try out Cèilidh dancing, which I was sort of able to fake my way through.
Dancer and Jim
One of the great things about social entrepreneurs is that they enjoy having a good time with each other. There's a common mission of making the world a better place that lends itself to conviviality!

I placed a more extensive upload of photos from the Social Enterprise World Forum 2008 on my Flickr pages.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Social Enterprise in Scotland: the World Forum

I’m here in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the first-ever Social Enterprise World Forum. There are over 400 attendees from twenty-five countries, all here to talk about how to use business to accomplish social outcomes. And Scotland is a logical place for such an event. “Social enterprise is a key part of the Scottish government’s social strategy,” says Ruth Parsons, Director of the Public Sector (Scottish government). Plus, the Social Enterprise Alliance is a cosponsor of the event, and we're scheduled to host the third world forum in San Francisco in 2010.

One World Shop sign
One of the fun aspects of social enterprise conferences is to visit the social enterprises. Before the conference was formally opened, there were three different study tours available to attendees. I visited the One World Shop and learned about the history of the fair trade movement. The UK is probably the leading country in the world for consumption of fair trade products, mainly because fair trade has become a mainstream concept in supermarkets here.

Exterior of the Soap Company

We then walked through Edinburgh on a lovely, sunny afternoon to the Soap Company. This social enterprise sells hand-made soaps, creating production and retail jobs. It’s part of the Forth Sector, a regional social enterprise group with a handful of enterprises.

Outdoor reception with man in kilt and sign saying Castle Cafe
The opening ceremony had a mind-boggling location: Edinburgh Castle. I haven’t been to a social enterprise conference where the opening event included viewing the crown jewels of the country! We had drinks overlooking the city, and the kilts were out in force. Scottish pipe band in kiltsThe introductory speechs highlighted the Scottish national government’s commitment to social enterprise, which is a noteworthy aspect of the sector here in Scotland and in the UK. The UK actually has a government minister for the Third Sector, who is focused on social enterprise (he’s due to speak on the second day of the conference). I also learned about devolution here in Scotland, which means that the Scottish national government now has responsibility for issues that used to be controlled by the UK central government. This makes the social enterprise scene just a bit more complicated here!
Jim Schorr in kilt in front of torch at castle
And, I got to see Jim Schorr, a fellow SEA board member, in his handsome rent-a-kilt!