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Showing posts from 2012

SocialCoding4Good Going International with Random Hacks of Kindness

It’s a terrific experience to spend a weekend hacking for social good. Knowing that you’re working with literally thousands of others worldwide makes it simply awe-inspiring.

That’s why we love Random Hacks of Kindness Global: 2 days + 30 countries + 3000 geeks working on making the world a better, safer place. Its mission is strongly aligned with our own at our SocialCoding4Good project: build awareness of technology serving humanity, engage technical volunteers to contribute their time and talents to design and develop it, and foster cross-sector collaboration to amplify its impact.

At RHoK Global in June 2012, we joined the RHoK Sustainability Project and invited participants to build solutions addressing challenges in accessibility or human rights, two core program areas at Benetech. One solution would be selected to receive technical development leadership and guidance toward application and organizational sustainability. We were deeply impressed by the creativity of the teams a…

Getting Close to a Treaty!

The latest session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) just concluded last week. The session was pretty successful, in that the Committee called for an extraordinary general assembly meeting in December with the aim of calling a diplomatic conference to finalize the Treaty for the Visually Impaired in June 2013. There is a draft of the treaty that was finished on Friday, November 23, and many issues have been settled over the last year or two of negotiations.  The rest of this post looks at this draft treaty in its current form.
Expert Advisors Review the Treaty for the WBU
I’ve been here in Geneva the last few days, meeting with the World Blind Union immediately after the SCCR session. The WBU convened a small meeting of experts to take a close look at the treaty draft from an operational and technical standpoint. They wanted a fresh perspective on the treaty text from the point of view of the …

Southeast Asia, Social Enterprise Accidental Tour!

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I just spent almost three weeks in Thailand and Laos on a combined work and vacation trip. Roughly once a year when I travel overseas, my wife Virginia puts up her hand and says “that’s the one!” So, we stretched out my visits to Bangkok, Vientiane and Chiang Mai to include some sight-seeing and, of course, shopping for Christmas presents in predominately Buddhist countries.

One of my business visits was to a long-standing social enterprise partner of ours, Digital Divide Data in Vientiane, Laos. I wrote about that visit in my last blog post: Digital Divide Data: our Partner in Laos. As I said to the DDD team, we love to make our money work twice as hard by choosing social enterprises as vendors. Not only do we get outstanding quality and value for our money, we also know that money is supporting a social objective by helping disadvantaged people build assets financially and experientially. We call it using the social enterprise supply chain. An unexpected bonus of this trip w…

Digital Divide Data: our Partner in Laos

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Benetech is a tech social enterprise.  While our activities often creates jobs beyond the core high technology jobs around software development and user support, we don't see it as our core competency.  When we do something that creates entry level jobs in quantity, we reach out to social enterprise partners who specialize in job creation and training.  We call this our social enterprise supply chain. We really love this approach, which we think of making our money work twice.  Our social enterprise partners not only deliver a high quality product or service at a fair price, they also are using the revenues to train disadvantaged people who otherwise wouldn't have these opportunities.
For example, our Bookshare online library for the blind, uses several different social enterprises to do data entry and proofreading work on textbooks.  Our first partner in this work was Digital Divide Data, an organization that has an outstanding training program in the area of data entry and …

Benetech Featured on the Giving Library

Benetech applauds the efforts of philanthropic organizations and individuals who pay special attention to improving the very practice of philanthropy. To create as much public good as possible, philanthropists need information about the performance of potential grantees: whether they have clear, measurable goals and the organizational capacity to realize them. The recently launched Laura and John Arnold Foundation Giving Library is a unique resource that provides this information about nonprofits through engaging video interviews. We’re delighted that Benetech was selected to be one of the first 250 nonprofits spotlighted on the Giving Library.

The Arnolds saw the need for the Giving Library after experiencing multiple barriers to researching nonprofits they were interested in. They felt that, in order to make informed, strategic giving decisions, it wasn’t enough for them just to read about those nonprofits via their own websites or other databases that list charitable organizations…

Bookshare and the Power of We

With technology, you can do incredible things, but with a galvanized community of supporters who work together toward a greater good, we can do anything. Benetech’s Bookshare library is living proof that real, transformative change happens through partnerships and by helping people unleash their talents and energies. It is the Power of We that changes the way we create transformative positive change.

Blog Action Day is today, October 15, and the international community of bloggers is blogging about this year’s theme, The Power of We. I’m excited to contribute to this topic in honor of the multitudes who work together to make a difference in the world through Bookshare, a global asset we have built with joint efforts of education, technology, publishing, student, parent, and volunteer communities.

By partnering with all these stakeholders, we reinvented the traditional library for people with print disabilities and brought modern ebook technology to this underserved community. We blew…

The Story in the Numbers

On Financial Narratives and Financial Footnotes: The Truth Is in the Fine Print

Guest Beneblog by Teresa Throckmorton, Benetech's CFO and VP, Finance

In a previous blog post, we shared the Seven Benetech Truths: the core values that define our identity and culture, that guide our work, and that tell our story. As Benetech’s Chief Financial Officer, I’m pleased to take this opportunity to give you some insight into what these core values mean to me when it comes to our daily financial management and to setting up overall financial direction for a sustainable social enterprise. Let me focus here on two of our Truths: Right Stuff Right and Open Over Proprietary.

From my perspective, to do what’s right in the right way means not only to conduct business ethically or to get the accounting done to the highest standard. It also means to get the narrative that emerges from our financials right, to communicate that narrative effectively to our stakeholders, and to help other social enterpr…

Upholding The Social Bargain: Bookshare and Copyright Compliance

Benetech's largest social enterprise is the Bookshare online library for people who are blind or otherwise disabled when it comes to reading print. We have the privilege of being able to serve people with disabilities in large part because of a generous provision in U.S. copyright law. The Section 121 copyright exception (often known as the Chafee Amendment after the Senator who introduced it in 1996) makes it possible for Benetech to scan just about any book and make it available to this community. We don't have to pay a royalty, and we don't have to ask for permission.

The publishing industry and disability organizations both agreed on this provision of copyright law. The deal was: help people with disabilities that can't access books and don't hurt the economic interests of the publishers (and authors). At Benetech, our commitment is to uphold that social deal.

How do we uphold the social bargain? 1. Ensure that only people with qualifying disabilities get acce…

SocialCoding4Good: Mobilizing Technology and Volunteerism for Transformative Impact

Benetech, like many nonprofit organizations building open source software for social good, often relies upon the contributions of experienced software developers to help its solutions grow and scale. We frequently have more volunteers than we have projects; while at other times, we have a list of tasks we could get done -- if only we had the people.  Often there's a mismatch between the skills of a volunteer and the skills required by our projects.  Last year, we found ourselves asking two key questions:

What if we could build upon the enthusiasm and momentum that spring out of increasingly popular weekend hackathon-for-good events, and channel them towards existing, sustainable humanitarian free and open source (HFOSS) projects?What if there were a website that software industry professionals could visit to discover open source organizations like Amara, FrontlineSMS, or The Guardian Project, and learn about their technical volunteer opportunities?
With a seed grant from the Knigh…

Opposing Salesforce.com attempt to TM "Social Enterprise"

I've been working closely with Kevin Lynch, the CEO of the Social Enterprise Alliance, on countering the efforts of Salesforce.com to attempt to trademark the name of our entire field, Social Enterprise. Kevin and the SEA today launched an Initiative To Protect the Meaning of Social Enterprise, supporting the efforts of our peers with Social Enterprise UK in their "NotInOurName" campaign. Here is the letter I'm sending to the USPTO supporting their initial recommendation against granting this registered trademark in the U.S.


August 28, 2012
Michael Webster, Examining Attorney
USPTO Law Office 102
Commissioner for Trademarks
Alexandria, VA

Re: Trademark Application 85492013, by Salesforce.com using the mark “Social Enterprise”

Dear Examiner Webster:

We note with interest the Examiner’s Office Action of March 13, 2012, stating the initial reasons for rejection of the referenced application. On behalf of our nonprofit organization, Benetech, and the thousands o…

Benetech, Bookshare and Google Summer of Code

Many thanks to Thushan Ganegedara for this guest post about his summer open source project.

I’m Thushan Ganegedara, a 3rd year undergraduate from the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. My interests are Mobile Development and Computational Intelligence. My first-ever experience with Google Summer of Code has been with Benetech. I have realized that Benetech is indeed “technology serving humanity.” I feel fortunate to work with a set of employees who are technically competent yet very friendly and helpful.

My project is associated with the ‘Go Read’ Android application. Go Read is a free e-book reader that people with print disabilities can use to read Bookshare titles. Go Read searches for books based on title, author, etc., or gets the latest/popular books using the Bookshare API. Additionally Go Read downloads books from Bookshare’s collection using the Bookshare API. Bookshare has a rich collection of books, newspapers and magazines…

President’s Update - Spring 2012

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Telling the Benetech story better is crucial to our future: crucial to making the social change at scale that we consider the essence of innovation. It also helps with recruiting employees, volunteers, and donors!

In 2012, we’ll be rolling out new branding, new media, and new stories all with the goal of getting better at what we do and raising our impact.

However, the very first step we took was to ask our team to describe the core values that make us who we are. We asked “What is true about Benetech, what are the truths that define our identity, our culture, and the values that drive our work?” Rebranding is about telling our story better, not changing our core values. Our team articulately expressed direct, succinct truths that required no editing. They just worked!

This President’s Update isn’t about our latest news, not about our newest projects or accomplishments. Instead, I’d like to share with you the Seven Benetech Truths. I hope you find them as interesting and inspiring as…

There Are No Online Security Shortcuts for Human Rights

At Benetech, we're thinking about human rights activists everyday. We're not human rights advocates: we're a group of technologists and scientists dedicated to helping the human rights movement be safer and more effective. We prefer to work mainly behind the scenes, helping the activists pursue their mission of improving respect for human rights, advocating for policy change that advance rights and sometimes even obtaining justice against the perpetrators.
However, there are times where we need to weigh in on a technical issue that impacts human rights activists. Following an admiring Wired.com profile of the web-based chat program, Cryptocat, a fair amount of discussion ensued about the security risks of using a tool with this kind of web-based design. The relevant Wired.com editor responded with an endorsement for use by Middle Eastern dissidents of Hushmail, an online web mail site with a similar design.
The discussion, and this (to us) risky recommendation from a publ…

Meet the Bookshare in-house summer volunteer team!

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Bookshare, Benetech's online library for people who are blind or otherwise print-disabled, is fortunate to have a variety of summer interns and volunteers working in our Palo Alto office this year. Our main focus has been our text book image description project. Our summer volunteers write text book image descriptions, review and revise descriptions, provide technical assistance, and proofread children’s books with new image descriptions. We’re especially grateful for the participation of two blind Bookshare members, who have provided input on how to write the best image descriptions. Volunteers have also helped us prepare for the ACB and NFB summer conferences, and contributed to our marketing, collection development, and international departments. We are sincerely grateful to our enthusiastic and dedicated group of volunteers. Here is more about each one in their own words!

Nilofer Chollampat
I’m a Natural Science major at U.C. Davis with minors in Education and Statist…