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Showing posts from February, 2010

Volunteers to get a day at Disney!

I just found out that our Bookshare volunteers can sign up to get a free day at a Disney park. Just put in our zip code "94306" at the foregoing link and you should see the opportunity there. Volunteers who do a chapter's worth of image descriptions for a student textbook will get their day pass. The program will stop when a million certificates have been given out for all sorts of volunteer opportunities.

Market Failure in Global Health Technologies

New ideas for Benetech projects come to us from interesting people all the time. The challenges that people bring are rarely technology problems: they are market problems. One repeating theme came to me during a recent and fascinating meeting with Professor Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the Director of Rice 360, the Institute for Global Health Technologies.

Rebecca was looking for help with a familiar problem. Her students at Rice University have been busy inventing new tools and equipment for global health. Many universities do similar things, but Rice goes a key step further. Their students actually go into the field, work with local medical professionals, and learn their real problems, their real pain points. They design solutions in response to these pain points, and bring them back into the field for real-world feedback.

So far, so good. But, what happens after doctors in Africa rave about how successful this or that invention are in their hospital? How do you go from ten or twe…

Counting the Uncounted

Our Human Rights team specializes in counting the uncounted: shining a light on the numbers of people who have disappeared or have died who often do not show up in official accounts. Just this week, we released a new study on the Colombian state of Casanare.

“History, victims, and the survivors need to know how many people have been killed and disappeared in Casanare,” said Tamy Guberek, the study's lead author and the Benetech Human Rights Program Latin America Coordinator. “We must determine how many victims of violence in Casanare have never been accounted for by any documentation project. This report provides invaluable estimates of the number of invisible victims. If we cannot name all the victims, at minimum, we can count them."

One of our findings was a pattern that we've seen in other conflicts: often, officially reported deaths go down while actual disappearances go up. Makes you think about what was going on, doesn't it?

My Davos remarks on IP

I had multiple chances to plug my ideas around a more open approach in Davos, and found a sympathetic hearing, given some exciting activity in the same area. Nike launched the GreenXchange, and the Young Global Leaders had a humanitarian patent licensing concept that seemed promising. My main talk was at a session on commercialization of university research. Here's what I said.

The underlying goal of spinning off university research is seeing that society actually benefits as much as possible from the immense investment we make in research. Commercialization is a proxy for societal impact: if it sells, it's a pretty good indicator of social value.

However, there is a problem with this: market failure. What if an innovation could be of great benefit to society, but doesn't make enough money? My favorite example is in the pharma area. Imagine two drugs. One would save 100,000 lives a year, but they are almost all poor people in the developing world. The other drug helps…

Total Engagement

I just finished reading the book Total Engagement. It's rare that I read a book that has me wondering if the authors have caught a glimpse of an unexpected future, and that ten or twenty years from now people will be looking back and saying: that was the book that spotted this crucial trend. Having lived in Silicon Valley for many years, I'm used to having that experience of being exposed to the future ahead of its time. This could be one of them.

The thesis is simple. Millions of people pay each month to participate in massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). I've tried them, and I have friends (and kids) that have been totally sucked into them. They punch a bunch of psychological tickets for humans: the game designers know what they're doing. The book discusses how this is done:
an epic story line(we're saving the galaxy from the Crumlons)clear paths to advancement, with transparency about your skills and performance
intensely meritocratic so…

Bookshare user on the leading literary edge!

This comment came to our volunteer email list today, and I got permission to repost. It captures the power of Bookshare so well:

Just had to share this with you guys. My husband went out to dinner last night with a friend. His friend mentioned that my husband really ought to look into getting a Kindle for me, so I could read what everybody else is reading (a Kindle probably wouldn't work for me, but the thought was kind).

So my husband told his friend about Bookshare, and how Bookshare staff and volunteers and outsourcers get books scanned and proofed and available. His friend said that sounded nice but thought that if I wanted to have access to current books and a wide variety, I really needed a Kindle.

Chuckle. My husband asked his friend for an example, and his friend gave him the name of a newish and off-the-beaten path book. Guess what? I'd already downloaded it from Bookshare and read it, and my husband knew that because I'd mentioned the title to him, and told hi…