Friday, November 28, 2008

China Social Entrepreneurs

On my recent visit to Hong Kong, I was able to see the amount of excitement and interest in social entrepreneurism. One had to assume there's a lot going on in China, too, but it's hard to connect with.

I just received an update from KK Tse entitled The Most Inspiring Story from the Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship, talking about 1KG More, a social enterprise that implemented Voluntourism: combining backpacking with delivering books and other gifts for rural Chinese children. Their latest venture:
Twin books are a pair of selected books for children. If one book is sold in cities, another book will be donated to rural children. The owners of these two books will become a “twin”. Through the twin code in the book, the children in cities can find contact information of rural children on Twin Book’s website and make communication through letters with rural children. The twin book project sold over 2000 fairy story books in 2007 and more than 1000 rural students benefited from it. Now 1KG More has five full-time staff and a stable group of volunteers. In April 2008, 1KG More registered as a company and aimed to operate as a social enterprise model.

When I followed up with KK, I found out the story had originated on with an article on the Global Links Initiative entitled Voluntourism - A New Kind of Holiday. Turns out that GLI is busy linking up the world with more information about social entrepreneurship: quite cool!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Getting a Genset in Chennai

We have a partnership with the Worth Trust in Chennai, India, to do data entry for Bookshare.org, funded by the Lavelle Fund. I blogged about it in May: Scanning in Tamil Nadu. Our international Bookshare.org manager, Viji Dilip, recently wrote about making a change in what kind of capital equipment to get Worth Trust to help carry out their work:

Strange as it may sound I grew up with hearing this often, "Everyone please save all your files now as the current will be going off in the next five minutes." OK, there were no computers when I was growing up in India but the current going "off" was very common. Sometimes for an hour or two and in summer for several hours at a stretch when the Electricity Board scheduled power cuts for every city . These power cuts could last from anywhere from an hour to three hours in the afternoon depending on when the supervisor at the EB came back from lunch. "There was no current" was our equivalent of "The dog ate my home work" as power cuts would happen routinely in the evening and nights as well.

So when Venkataraman, the manager at Worth Trust asked me if he could buy a generator instead of a scanner as there were frequent power cuts I could totally relate to it. However I was not sure Lisa would approve a "Genset".

I was totally surprised when Lisa thought that it was a legitamate request and that a generator would help reduce the loss of precious processing time.

This generator should support the computer lab and the air conditioning that is required to keep the computers from getting over heated.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I am Potential

Our Bookshare.org team is delighted that we've just added I Am Potential, by Patrick Henry Hughes to the Bookshare.org collection. Patrick's story is getting a lot of deserved attention nationally as a significantly disabled college student who hasn't let disabilities stop him from pursuing his dreams.
What is even cooler is that Perseus Books, Patrick's publisher, reached out to us during the production process to make sure that the book was available to people with print disabilities. Even coolerer (I know that's not a word, but this is a blog so it's ok), is that Bookshare.org is plugged on the copyright page of the print book with the phrase:
Alternate editions for the visually impaired are available through Benetech at www.benetech.org
So, Bookshare.org users are invited to check out Patrick's book, and everybody else who's interested should buy a copy! And, thank you to Perseus Books for going the extra mile in ensuring this book is available to everybody.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Seeing the United Arab Emirates

I went to Dubai for the first ever Summit on the Global Agenda. The Summit pulled together experts on roughly seventy different topics to discuss the current and future state of major issue areas: areas as varied as water, mining, nanotechnology, governance, economic development, economic meltdown (kidding) and so on.

Obviously, there was a lot of buzz about the financial meltdown, especially in a place like Dubai that has built itself up as a major international business center (Dubai as an emirate has relatively little oil compared to some of the other gulf emirates). I spent the day before the council driving around the United Arab Emirates and a bit in Oman. The UAE are in an incredible state of construction: I don't know of many places on earth (other than China) where so much has been built so fast. Out in the middle of the desert, you would encounter brand-new freeways, or towns that seemed to have been plopped down in the middle of nowhere.
This one small town seemed to have been carved out of the rock in the middle of a mountain range.
Dubai City itself has the world's tallest building (which I only caught in the distance looming out of the smog). The resemblance to Los Angeles was striking: this is another community created in a desert land that tends to haze and smog (lacking rain, I guess). Dubai is constructing giant offshore developments in the shape of a palm, and even a development that will look like the world (an opportunity to buy an entire representational country?). I could see some of this construction off the coast from my hotel room in the distance, with dredges spewing sand onto an artificial shore.
I welcomed the opportunity to check out the country: it's actually not that big and by driving around all day was able to get a quick view of points east of Dubai (on the Gulf) to the Indian Ocean and drive across the border into Oman.
Of course, one of the investments made by the emirates has been in mosques. There were a fair number of striking and reasonably brand-new mosques around the country.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

To Dubai on an Emirates Airbus 380

My current business trip started by heading for Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I had been invited to attend the Global Agenda Council meeting organized by the World Economic Forum. It was easier to say yes than usual: I'd never been to Dubai or the region, and the government of Dubai and Emirates airline offered to fly me there business class!

Two flight attendants at the bar on an Airbus 380I was stunned when I found out in New York that the plane I was boarding was the new Airbus A380, the massive, double-decker airliner. The entire second floor is first and business class, and the first class (which I didn't get to see) is famous for having showers. The experience was wonderful, although I must admit I slept soundly for at least eight hours.
Jim Fruchterman behind the bar on an Airbus 380When I got up, I hung out in the bar taking pictures (of course). I had slept through the night and into the late afternoon in the Middle East. We flew over snow-capped mountains in Turkey.

View of A380 wingtipI was surprised a little later to realize that we were flying over Iraq. It seemed ironic, to be encased in this latest and most luxurious flying conveyance, drinking fine wine and eating good food, while Iraqis and Americans are still dying and struggling to bring peace to that troubled land.

Flying down the Persian Gulf, alongside Iran's coast, we arrived in Dubai.

Welcome to Dubai signI headed to my hotel to get some sleep before touring the Emirates on the day I had before the Council's started meeting.

My full set of pictures are on Flickr: Dubai, UAE, Oman and Airbus 380 - a set on Flickr

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Bookshare Bulletin

Stack of books next to text: Bookshare Bulletin, News and Events for the Bookshare Community
We've just started up a new publication, The Bookshare Bulletin. It's amazing to me how much our team has gotten done over the last year! There are easily a dozen articles in this first issue about our new website, international work and many more.

I'm quite excited about a new initiative which is the last article in the newsletter. We've now made it easy to report quality issues with Bookshare books, and we have a new wiki-style webpage where all of the reports are posted and updated as the issues are resolved. It's part of our campaign to upgrade the quality of all of our Bookshare content, and to let our users know exactly what we're doing. We think that making this completely transparent will be a big boost to our credibility, while engaging the entire Bookshare community in making our books the best they can be!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Print Access for All: Anna Reid in Chennai

This is a guest blog from Anna Reid, an Amherst student who interned with Bookshare.org International this past summer. I received a copy of her reflections and asked if I could share it with more people. Thanks to Anna for saying yes, and for sharing her experiences!

Reflections on an internship with Bookshare.org in Chennai, India


Made possible through support from the Amherst College Center for Community Engagement

Anna Reid, religion major, class of 2010

Anna Reid with Worth Trust staff Anna Reid with employees of Worth Trust, a South Indian organization that provides vocational training and employment for people with disabilities.

Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that all people deserve "the right to seek, receive and impart information." Today, millions of people are denied this basic human right because they are not literate. A related, but slightly different and less recognized issue, is the fact that people with disabilities such as blindness often have limited access to printed materials, even if they are well-educated. According to a 2002 WHO estimate, there are 162 million visually impaired people in the world. Over 90% of these people live in third world countries, where books and newspapers in Braille or other alternative formats are very difficult to acquire. Even in the United States, access to printed materials can be a significant challenge for people who are visually impaired or have other disabilities that prevent them from reading standard print.

This summer I interned with an organization called Benetech, a U.S.-based non-profit that addresses unmet social needs through innovative technology solutions. One of the programs developed by Benetech is a digital library called Bookshare.org. Bookshare.org allows people with qualifying disabilities to share and access thousands of books in digital formats that can then be downloaded and read using text-to-speech computer software or Braille devises. This program is making it significantly easier for the print disabled to gain quick, cheap, and independent access to the information that is necessary for full participation in today’s society.

Bookshare.org has been very popular in the United States, and is now working to make its service available in other countries as well. Expanding to meet global need brings a number of new challenges, including collection development for new audiences, gaining author and publisher permissions for worldwide distribution of materials, and forming partnerships with organizations that can spread the word about Bookshare and manage membership and customer support outside of the U.S. As an intern, I was working for Bookshare in Chennai, India, as their "on-the-ground" person, doing outreach and helping to establish a structure that will support their service there.
Hindi plus BrailleAn example of a Hindi phrase translated into a phonetic Braille code

My internship consisted of two basic components. The first was to work, through an organization called Worth Trust, with a group of disabled employees that Bookshare has hired to scan and prepare books for the India collection. I collaborated with people at Worth Trust to develop techniques that will improve the efficiency and quality of their work. I also served as a mediator and problem-solver, mainly by helping to facilitate communication between the employees, their supervisor, and the U.S. Bookshare managers.

The second part of my internship was outreach. I visited schools, group homes, and organizations for the blind and disabled in and around Chennai in order to share information about Bookshare.org and to discuss how Bookshare might be refined to better serve people with disabilities in India.

The opportunity to work with many different organizations as a Bookshare.org representative gave me a wonderful glimpse into the Indian disability services system. The work was often slow, and communication was sometimes difficult. Everything I learned about disability in India, however, about the incredible challenges of social discrimination and limited resources as well as the inspiring work being done by individuals and organizations there, strengthened my interest in this field. There is enormous potential for finding cross-cultural solutions to issues of disability and print access. I returned to Amherst excited and full of questions. I am now pursuing these questions through a study of disability issues in the United States and India.

I am extremely grateful to have had this internship opportunity, and would encourage anyone who is interested to consider helping improve "print access for all" by volunteering with Bookshare.org.

www.bookshare.org