Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mozilla and Bookshare: Volunteer Power!

Guest blog by Pavi Mehta, Volunteer Coordinator

Open source champion kicked off seven days of service earlier this month: September 14-21st thousands of people donated over 6000 hours of their time to good causes in their communities as part of Mozilla Service Week.

Through one of our engineering volunteers, Aravind Gottipatti, Benetech/Bookshare received an invitation to help them kick-off the week. Betsy Beaumon, Carrie Karnos, Rick Costa and I visited the terrific Mozilla offices in Mountain View last Monday to give the team a big picture view of what Benetech does and present a range of volunteer projects that they could dive into right away. Workstations were set up in their spacious lounge and through the course of the afternoon volunteers swung by to help type in children’s books for our collection (pre-selected books that for various reasons are easier to transcribe than scan). The following Friday a team from Mozilla paid Bookshare a visit and after a brief tour and exciting demos of our legendary Chopper-Scanner and various reading tools they sat down to do more transcribing for us, also pitching in with a backlogged data entry project! Over the week their volunteers helped us put in several reviews, added a dozen books to the collection, received a basic Bookshare proofreading tutorial and learned more about our engineering volunteer opportunities – several expressed interest in staying involved past the end of Service week.

As evidenced from their comments on the site and a couple of blog posts they enjoyed the experience of “Getting to know the Neighbors” as much as we did.

“On Monday, Benetech Bookshare came to Mozilla and did a great brown bag info session about their program. I then spent a few hours (along with some other fellow Mozillians) transcribing children’s books. It give me a warm fuzzy feeling to think about the children that will be able to read some of these books now because I was able to volunteer a few hours of my time.”

Blog posts: An afternoon at « Week in the Nee ; Its easy to help « Jane’s Ramblings

All in all a great start to a new way of partnering with organizations in the community and opening up our volunteer opportunities to more and more interested, talented and generous people in the area!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Human Rights Breakthrough in Guatemala | Smithsonian Magazine

Inside naked light bulbs reveal bare cinder-block walls, stained concrete floors, desks and filing cabinets. Above all there is the musty odor of decaying paper.
No, this is not a description of Benetech’s Palo Alto, California headquarters. Rather, this is a hot-off-the-presses Smithsonian Magazine article about our Human Rights Data Analysis Group’s work in Guatamala. HRDAG, as we affectionately call the group, is working with the archive of the now disbanded Guatemalan National Police, which as the Smithsonian puts it, was “implicated in the kidnapping, torture and murder of tens of thousands of people during the country's 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996.” Check out the whole story here. And don’t forget to look at the photo gallery, which features some great pictures taken by Benetech’s Communications Director Ann Harrison. One photo features Patrick Ball, director of Benetech’s human rights program examining documents from the archive.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Miradi all over the world!

It's easy to forget how technology spreads. I just heard about the use of Miradi and the Open Standards in the Axios Delta in Greece. They have just released their management plan (in English). What a thrill to see our software used to figure out how to conserve an exciting nature area I've only just now learned about!

And, we're getting reports from all over the world of Miradi being used in countries like Indonesia and China, among many others. Looking forward to seeing more plans and more stories of conservation in action!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The International Institute of Social Entrepreneurship

A Guest Beneblog by Viji Dilip,

This summer I visited the International Institute of Social Entrepreneurship (IISE). Situated on the banks of the Vellayani fresh water lake, on the outskirts on Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, India , IISE is a testimony to social enterprise at its very best. This is another venture of Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg who founded Braille without Borders in Lhasa, Tibet. IISE is an institute that has been established to train participants (age 18+) who have the right initiative, motivation and potential to establish and run their own social projects.

Paul took great pride in showing me around the three acre campus that has been built with eco-friendly materials . He has incorporated rain water harvesting, solar water-heaters, bio glass plants, “Nothing is wasted here, not even human waste” joked Paul.
Several buildings with peopleThe campus, that feels like a holiday resort and an university at the same time houses the International Institute of Social Entrepreneurs. Sabriye and Paul have put together a strong program to enable and empower social entrepreneurs with visual impairments from across the globe. This year they had 23 participants from 20 different countries and in 2010 they will train 40 students to , “run their own social projects” The program that is run with the help of a few staff and catalysts, has a two month internship also built into it. The participants would get hands on training at a non profit organization in India and will train in all aspects of non profit management. The program also requires the students to create a real life project as a part of their training, a project that will be useful to the community, thereby ensuring that the institute contributes to solving some of the issues faced by the community at the same time they train their participants.

IISE is getting ready for their second year and are actively looking for catalysts who want to be role models and discussion partners for the participants, inspiring them to be the force of positive social change in our world.

Sabriye and Paul never cease to amaze me with their innovative ideas and high energy. They truly live by Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world”

More pictures

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Lost Symbol - In Bookshare already!

The hottest book in publishing is already in Bookshare in high quality digital text. Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol launched yesterday to tremendous sales. Although it's digitally available on the Kindle and other ebook platforms, these aren't accessible to our Bookshare members. Thanks to our team to making sure our users have equal access to cultural phenomena like The Lost Symbol!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bureaucrats with Clue

Last night I was able to meet Vivek Kundra, the new Chief Information Officer of the federal government, at an event organized by Full Circle Fund and the Craigslist Foundation hosted by IBM at their offices on Market Street in San Francisco. For me, it's an amazing change. In the last month, I've been able to meet Obama's CIO, the new CTO, Aneesh Chopra, and the head of the White House Office of Social Innovation, Sonal Shah, all in small group settings where every attendee got to speak.

These three are hopefully representative of the technology and innovation agenda of the new administration. They are all coming out to the San Francisco Bay Area, a hotbed of tech and innovation, primarily to listen. But, it's also clear that they have a really clear grasp of many of the issues facing innovation in the federal government, tempered with a healthy dose of reality.

In the tech area, Vivek Kundra noted that the annual IT budget of the federal government is $76 billion. Imagine if 5-10% of that were spent more effectively: that would change the course of billions of dollars.

I'm excited, and looming forward to engaging further in discussions with these leaders and doing what I can to help them bring the federal government into this century!

Here's some background on these three key White House staffers.


Aneesh Paul Chopra joined the Obama Administration this Spring as the nation's first chief technology officer. Previously Virginia's secretary of technology, Chopra will "promote technological innovation to help the country meet its goals from job creation, to reducing health care costs, to protecting the homeland," according to the White house. Silicon Valley heavy Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media thinks Obama made a great choice. "Chopra has been one of those who have taught me the most about how we can build a better government with the help of technology."



Vivek Kundra is the nation's first Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO). Formerly the chief technology officer the nation's capital city, Washington DC, his job now is to direct "the policy and strategic planning of federal information technology investments and is responsible for oversight of federal technology spending," according to the White house.



Sonal Shah, Former head of global development initiatives for, joined the Obama Administration in April as the first director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, a new office. Shah, an economist, is already blogging for the White House on topics such as strengthening civic participation and open government.