Friday, July 29, 2011

Daproim and Steve Muthee, its founder

As I noted in my first blog on my African trip, I was delighted with the entrepreneurial culture in Nairobi, Kenya. A social entrepreneur who very much exemplified this was Stephen Muthee, founder of Daproim, a data entry social enterprise based in Nairobi.
Steve MutheeWe were introduced to Steve and Daproim through the great offices of Leila Janah and Samasource, the "Give Work" people. Leila's dream has been to connect the people of East Africa with dignified digital work, and connecting Steve to our Bookshare team has been highly successful for Daproim, Samasource and Bookshare! It's part of what we call our social enterprise supply chain.
Jim Fruchterman shaking hand of data entry operator among banks of PC usersIt's so cool to come into an office in Nairobi's Central Business District and see a couple of dozen people working on transcribing textbooks for Bookshare's users with print disabilities. Steve wanted me to work my way around the office shaking everybody's hand! I was happy to thank everybody for their work on behalf of our Bookshare members, and letting them know how important that work is for giving our members an equal shot at education.

And, of course, that's just what Daproim is all about. It's a for-profit social enterprise, with a focus on employing disadvantaged people. Steve hires people from disadvantaged backgrounds, both from the poorer parts of Nairobi as well as university students with impoverished rural backgrounds and people with disabilities.

It was talking about the university students where Steve, a highly animated entrepreneur, gets even more enthusiastic. He wants to provide these students with a part-time job that provides for their school fees, the purchase of a PC and enough money to send some home. He notes that students with these backgrounds have already overcome great obstacles, and he sees that they have the skills and the motivation to do high quality data entry work. And, of course, it was that high quality work product that Samasource connected with us in the first place, and now has been sustained for several years.

Steve shared that the Bookshare contract really was the turning point for his business. Up until that point, Steve was doing the family and friends fund raising thing to keep his business afloat. Steve especially noted the support he received from his mother, a farmer in rural Kenya, for keeping Daproim going until the business took off. And, now he's expanded into other areas of the data entry business, which is now the majority of his business.
Jim demonstrating iPad applicationI wrapped up my visit by demonstrating our new Read2Go iPad application to Jackie, who Steve described as one of his hardest working data entry employees. Of course, I showed off a textbook!

I'm really glad that Samasource connected us with Steve and Daproim, and that the partnership is working so well. It so clearly shows the benefit of what the Rockefeller Foundation calls Impact Sourcing. We see it as having our limited money working twice as hard: once to get the service we need (textbooks transformed into high quality accessible form for people who have disabilities) as well as creating great digital jobs for people in disadvantaged communities!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Breakthrough on Global Access at WIPO in Geneva!

There has been a major breakthrough recently on international copyright negotiations in Geneva around improved access for people who have print disabilities. Through negotiations, four competing proposals have been merged into a single document supported in June by the Latin Americans (led by Brazil), the U.S., the European Union and others.

Here are some questions and answers I've prepared on this topic, based on my recent trip to Geneva to attend the first week of discussions on the issue.

1. Question: What are the two key points of the document?

• Countries should provide for a copyright exception in their national laws to allow nonprofit organizations serving people with disabilities to make accessible versions of inaccessible books and other content
• Import and export of such accessible materials shall be permitted

2. Question: Why is this a good idea?

Answer: A copyright exception makes it much easier for people with print disabilities to get access to the materials they need for education, employment and social inclusion. The United States enacted such a copyright exception (the “Chafee Amendment,” Section 121 of Title 17 of the United States Code), and as a result Americans with print disabilities have the best and most extensive collections of accessible books in the world. In addition, a copyright exception is a crucial mechanism for countries to live up to several of their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which many countries have signed and ratified).

3. Question: How would this help Americans with print disabilities?

Answer: Many Americans want to access materials from other countries, both in English and many other languages, for education, employment and cultural reasons. Allowing import of accessible materials from other countries would improve access for Americans with print disabilities. In addition, the two national organizations of blind people both just passed formal resolutions in favor of the treaty proposal.

4. Question: How would this help people with print disabilities globally?

Answer: People with print disabilities, especially in the developing world, lack fundamental access to content available to other people. This places them at a tremendous disadvantage in having equal opportunity, especially in the areas of education and employment. If these proposed provisions took effect, it would be easier for communities of people with disabilities to build their own accessible collections inside their own countries. In addition, countries with linguistic links to richer countries (i.e., the U.S., UK, France, Spain) would have access to crucially important cultural, vocational and educational materials.

5. Question: How does the draft document define print disability?

Answer: The current draft defines print disability in functional terms. For example, a person who “is unable to read printed works to substantially the same degree as a person without an impairment or disability.”

6. Question: What’s the big open issue remaining?

Answer: The draft document is structured so that it can be put forward either as a recommendation or a draft treaty. The advocates for people with disabilities strongly favor a treaty. They note that whenever industry wants intellectual property action globally, they only want a treaty: why should people with disabilities settle for a softer alternative? The European Union (especially France) does not want a treaty, and is supported in this by the United States. A two-step process has been proposed (recommendation followed by treaty), but the advocates have not seriously engaged in this option.

7. Question: Why do publishers and intellectual property industries object to a treaty?

Answer: It’s hard for the publishers to object to the idea of people with disabilities having accessible materials. Many authors and publishers have long voluntarily supported such accessibility through permissions agreements. However, publishers and related industries are generally against copyright limitations and exceptions, as part of a general effort to increase their control over intellectual property and business models and constrain technological innovation that threatens that control. The movie and recording industries have made the most negative statements about the treaty: [it would] “begin to dismantle the existing global treaty structure of copyright law, through the adoption of an international instrument at odds with existing, longstanding and well-settled norms.” But, they love anything that strengthens intellectual property regulations, of course.

8. Question: Why should the U.S. Government support this effort?

Answer: The United States under the current administration has made a laudable statement of support for accessibility for people with disabilities, and the need to strike a balance between the interest of publishers and the community of persons with disabilities. One key point: it’s been the law of the land in the U.S. for more than 15 years, and it’s worked great! If it’s good enough for the U.S., as one of the leading lights in both intellectual property regulation and inclusion of people with people with disabilities, it should be good enough for the rest of the world!


The goal is pretty clear: insuring that every person on the planet with a serious print disability has access to the books and other printed material that they need to get an education, make a living and be included in society. It is abundantly clear that the great majority of people in the world who cannot pick up a book and read it effectively are at a terrific disadvantage in society. This effort at WIPO, if successful, should change this sorry state of affairs!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kipp and Philip of the Social Development Network in east Africa

I've just ended an exciting three week long Africa trip to Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana. There are so many exciting people and organizations to talk about! One of my very first meetings in Nairobi, Kenya, was with John Kipchumbah (Kipp) and Philip Thigo of the Innovation Program of the Social Development Network.

I dropped in on them because Kipp had been trained on our Martus human rights software years ago and had been helping human rights groups in the region with using Martus. However, I was thrilled with the incredible range of activities I heard about during our dinner together.

Kipp explained that they wanted to take a broad approach to improving human rights, and so had expanded into other areas in the social sector. They felt these new initiatives would all contribute to a better human rights environment in the region.

One of the first areas was a budget tracking tools for Kenya, to make it easier for people to learn about budgeted amounts for their areas. Huduma makes it easy for people to complain about social services delivery (like, I went to the clinic but they don't have the drug I need).

Uchaguzi was a crowd-sourcing tool SODNET worked together with Ushahidi to deliver around the recent Kenyan referendum. They are also planning on tracking next year's elections in Kenya. Given the election violence of a few years ago, this is a major area of work in Kenya to help prevent a re-occurrence. They've also done a similar project in Tanzania and Uganda.

Our discussion of these projects and new ideas was exciting: the barriers to implementing new ideas with technology keep getting smaller. Even better, I think these technology innovations are best done in close touch with the community. I was impressed with the ambition, scope and execution of these projects, and their potential to advance social justice and human rights in east Africa!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Bookshare User Sends Haiku

A guest Beneblog by Lindsie Verma of the Bookshare Team

Hot Fall Sun hangs low

Cooling breeze ruffles oak tree

Beneath, small boy reads.

And now, as an old man, that boy is still reading. Thanks! –Don Meyer, Bookshare user.

We get a lot of emails from happy users, but never before have we received gratitude in Haiku-form! When we asked Don for permission to post his haiku, he said, "It was very gratifying to find that you, and your team, enjoyed the haiku. As I said to you before, that boy was me. Even now I can still see the sunlight filtering through the oak trees, the shadows, the life that surrounded me as I read poetry under the oaks in front of Crown Point Country School. Even as early as the third grade I had learned to sit quietly and observe everything with the whole of my body, all senses. I did not start to write poetry until my late thirties, though, when, finally, all the bottled up emotions began to emerge. I know, now, that my 'journey of a thousand miles' had already begun."

Born in the early 17th century, Haiku as a literary form was a product of the game Renga in which poets wrote alternating stanzas to create poems with sound unit counts known as "on." From this pastime grew the three-line, 17-syllable literary form we know it as today. This form of poetry has risen in popularity in the west, though it has come a long way from its beginnings in feudal Japan. Traditional Japanese Haiku tended to focus narrowly on nature, whereas modern Haiku take on a bevy of topics. Take for example Hipster Haiku in which the author rages against her urban setting, a far cry from the outdoor scenes set by Bashō. No matter the topic, Haiku spans the linguistic divide as a universal form of artistic expression.

Bookshare collection

Haiku books few but varied

For your enjoyment:

Cat Haiku by Deborah Coates

Gay Haiku by Joel Derfner

Haiku: Seasons of Japanese Poetry by Johanna Brownell

Hipster Haiku by Siobhan Adcock.

On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho by Matsuo Basho

Morning Haiku by Sonia Sanchez