Saturday, May 14, 2011

Benetech Truth #1: Social Change Through Technology

[Note: this is part one of seven posts on the Benetech Truths.]

The world has big problems. We need fresh, original solutions that are better than the status quo. Technology has revolutionized business, but bringing those breakthrough developments to government, education and the nonprofit sectors can take 5, 10, even 15 years. It doesn’t have to be that way.

We’re convinced that there are many innovative social applications of technology could make a 5X or a 10X or even a 15X improvement over status quo solutions.

At Benetech, our team is committed to using technology to drive positive social change. We want to see technology serve much more of humanity than just the richest ten percent. We use technology to create products and projects that serve humanity where the market will fail to go because they offer modest financial returns.

To create these breakthrough solutions, our team uses its skills to build upon the incredible talents and productivity of the larger tech community. We just bridge the gap between possibility and profitability. We see what’s already possible with technology, and build what we call the “last social mile.”

Our work to date repeatedly demonstrates bridging this market failure gap:
  • Our Literacy team has reinvented the traditional library for the blind, reducing the cost of producing an accessible book by a factor of 100 and ending the book famine that people who are blind or print disabled have faced for years. Through our Bookshare online library, they now have equal access to the books they need for education, employment and full participation in society!
  • Our Human Rights team is bringing the power of technology to the defenders of human rights. When activists speak truth to power, we help them to ensure that it is truth! We help to protect the testimonies of the victims of violations, as well as the safety of those who take their statements. We are database experts who help to answer the key question in human rights: who did what to whom? We are expert witnesses in war crimes trials, helping bring an end to impunity.
  • Our Environmental team is helping to bring results-based management to the conservation and biodiversity field. We want to help environmentalists do a better job of stewarding our precious natural assets. We help them to do more of what works, less of what doesn’t, and see that donor dollars are applied for maximum impact.
And we’re nowhere near done! We are expanding our new projects pipeline, growing our capacity to make social change through technology. We’re working hard on building our field: making it easier for other techies to follow their dreams of doing the most important work they can possibly do. We invest time in sharing how Benetech and other technology social enterprises work, and write essays and articles on how to start and run social enterprises. (To see one example, check out my recent paper “For Love or Lucre” on how to decide whether to be a nonprofit or for-profit when starting a social enterprise.) We’re also developing a new platform, Beneforge, to make it easier to engage with new and existing projects both inside and outside Benetech, applying technology to achieve positive social change.

We hope that you’ll join this movement and realize the true dream of the technical person: to work on challenges that Matter!

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