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Showing posts from 2013

From all of us at Benetech...

Dear Friends of Benetech,

As we wrap up another busy year, full of milestones and exciting accomplishments, we’d like to take a moment to simply say thank you. Whether you've volunteered your time, made a financial contribution, attended one of our events, or helped to spread the word about the work we’re doing – thank you! We couldn’t do it without your support.

We hope you’ll join us as we continue to explore the next big ideas and make 2014 an even more successful year!

Wishing you a happy holiday season,

Jim Fruchterman
Founder and CEO

UC Santa Cruz Students Volunteering for Impact with Bookshare

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I’m delighted to share with you today a wonderful success story from our Volunteer Program. UC Santa Cruz students who participated in our volunteer pilot project—proofreading textbooks for our Bookshare collection—have done a fantastic job proofreading over a short period of time three entire textbooks! This means more than 2,300 pages of text and an amazing gift for the 250,000+ Bookshare student members we serve.

Our Volunteer Program Manager Brenda Hendricksen and Volunteer Program Coordinator Madeleine Linares have been working on this pilot project with UC Santa Cruz Professor of Computer Engineering Roberto Manduchi. Professor Manduchi, whose research focuses on assistive technology for persons with visual impairments, is an old friend of mine. Several months ago, he approached me and offered to involve his entire class in proofreading Bookshare textbooks. I’m delighted this idea has turned into a successful project with such a splendid outcome!

A group of over 40 of Roberto’s…

Nonprofit Advocacy Can Be a Force Multiplier for Social Change

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This post originally appeared on Arabella Advisors' Greater Good blog as part of the series Impact 2014.

For many years, people frequently suggested that Benetech, the nonprofit tech company I founded and lead, get more involved in Washington, DC policy and legislative action. “Isn’t that where good ideas go to die?” I’d say, dodging the recommendations. Our longest-term donor, the Skoll Foundation, went so far as to introduce me to a DC-based advocacy firm. My reaction was that this kind of advocacy work was a luxury we couldn’t afford.

I was wrong.

You see, several months later, the federal Department of Education challenged us to compete against a well-respected national nonprofit 60 times our size in a bid to provide accessible educational materials for US students who are blind, dyslexic, or otherwise print disabled. Against all odds, we—a novice bidder with a less than $1 million-a-year program—won a five-year, $32.5 million contract to do just that. We were elated and eager…

President’s Update: Fall 2013

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You may already know that I plan in earnest to provide my personal President’s Updates as quarterly informal reports, but that all too often I fall behind on this well-intended schedule—as is the case with the update you’re reading now!

Don’t get me wrong: I love writing my updates. However, technology is transforming innovation at its core and our team at Benetech does quite well in leveraging this “innovation at warp speed” for social good. In fact, we’re doing so well in that respect that I get to engage more and more in new opportunities to advance our nonprofit mission—but less in writing my updates.

In all seriousness, 2013 has been an incredibly busy and productive year for us. I’m excited to share highlights from our work and its significance for the multitudes we serve. Highlights of this Update:
Global LiteracyHuman RightsBenetech LabsCommunicationsGlobal Literacy

Bookshare celebrated a double milestone this summer, reaching over 200,000 available titles in our collection a…

Doing the Right Stuff Right for Human Rights

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This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post

In December 1981 soldiers of the Salvadoran Army’s Atlacatl Battalion entered the village of El Mozote, where they murdered hundreds of men, women and children. Although reports of the massacre appeared in the United States, Salvadoran army and government leaders denied them and, all too soon, El Mozote was forgotten.

It wasn’t until 1993, when a reconstruction of these events by American journalist Mark Danner first appeared in The New Yorker, that the full story of the El Mozote massacre was brought to light and sent shock waves through the international community. I was aghast that it could take a dozen years for the world to believe the massacre had happened. The tough question that ran through my mind was: How can we as technologists in Silicon Valley help prevent this kind of atrocity?

A decade later, in 2003, Benetech—the nonprofit tech company I founded and lead—launched our Human Rights Program to address this very question…

Mobilizing Impact at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting

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“Mobilizing for Impact.” That was the theme of the ninth Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting that President Bill Clinton, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton recently convened in New York City last month. At CGI Annual Meetings, leaders from across sectors do more than just developing new ideas or getting inspired: they come together to take real action to address pressing global challenges. I had the honor of attending CGI 2013 where I announced Benetech’s latest Commitment to Action.

I’ve just had the chance to reflect on how cool CGI 2013 and some of the ideas I’m still processing!

From the opening “Mobilizing for Impact” panel moderated by President Clinton and featuring Bono, Khalida Brohi, Christine Lagarde, Mo Ibrahim and Sheryl Sandberg (including Bono’s hilarious “Clinton” impersonation, as well as Ibrahim accusing most of corporate attendees of exploiting Africa); to a 1:1 conversation with President Obama and President Clinton about the benefits…

Support Bookshare for Veterans

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The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimated earlier this year that about 3 million veterans, or 14 percent of the total veteran population, had a service-connected disability. For veterans with visual impairments, traumatic brain injuries or other disabilities, reading standard print is difficult, if not impossible. For them, Bookshare—Benetech’s Global Literacy initiative and the world’s largest accessible digital library for people with print disabilities—opens up a lifeline to reading.

Today through Friday, November 22nd, you can give disabled veterans the gift of reading via Bookshare by joining Benetech’s Bookshare for Veterans crowdfunding campaign.

This campaign is part of the Social Entrepreneurs Challenge, an effort launched by the Skoll Foundation in partnership with The Huffington Post and CrowdRise in order to support leading social enterprises. All the organizations participating in the Challenge are recipients of the Skoll Award for Social Entre…

Majora Carter’s Eco-Entrepreneurship

Majora Carter is on a quest to save the world one community at a time. That’s because she believes that no one should have to leave his or her neighborhood to live in a better one. Granted, this is an audacious goal, but Majora’s unique approach to urban renewal has already led to successful revitalization initiatives in her native South Bronx, N.Y., and she’s well underway bringing positive change to many more communities. Her rise to the position of a renowned urban revitalization strategist is no surprise when you witness firsthand her relentless energy and entrepreneurial spirit. I had the pleasure of meeting her earlier this year for an exciting conversation.

Majora’s life journey is an inspiring story. She grew up in Hunts Point, a South Bronx neighborhood that for decades was plagued by poverty, violence and ecological degradation. Naturally, she was eager to escape. Education was her way out, but when she signed up for graduate studies at New York University, she returned to …

I Need a Good Lawyer

No, we’re not being sued (and we want to keep it that way). However, the time has come when we need a really smart attorney to join Benetech and help us navigate the intersection of technology and social good.

Benetech has some of the juiciest and most exciting range of legal challenges I can imagine: the great majority of our legal work concerns intellectual property and human rights. We’re operating at the forefront of copyright limitations and exceptions, both in the United States and globally. We serve human rights activists in more than 100 countries. We’re deep believers in the benefits of openness, which means we publish open source software and create open content under Creative Commons licenses. We are consulted by policymakers, legislators, rightsholders, companies and activists for our insights. We’re not an advocacy organization, but our technical insights are in great demand from advocates.

We get a huge amount of pro bono assistance from the legal profession, both b…

Objecting to Accessibility Weaseling

Last week, the National Federation of the Blind and 22 organizations serving people with disabilities filed detailed objections to a petition from a group of makers of e-reader devices led by Amazon to be exempted from accessibility requirements under the relatively new Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Benetech was a proud endorser of these objections (under our legal organizational name of Beneficent Technology, Inc.).

You might ask: why would an organization that in many ways provides a competitive alternative to e-readers object to e-readers being exempted from accessibility requirements? Wouldn't that create more demand for our Bookshare online library?

It sure would create more demand for Bookshare in the future, but our primary goal is not to sustain Bookshare, although we will as long as Bookshare is needed. Our primary goal is to ensure that people with disabilities get equal access to the books and content they need for education, emp…

Congressional Testimony Statement before the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet

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On August 1, 2013, I testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet on the subject “Innovation in America: The Role of Technology.” In my prepared statement, I explained why well-balanced intellectual property laws inspire technology innovation and social good, and described how our Bookshare initiative models the good that copyright exceptions can create. Here is an excerpt from my written testimony, as originally featured on Benetech's Blog:
We build our work on strong foundations laid down by other people and companies, whether it’s the open source ecosystem of the Internet, or proprietary software or content. We don’t create solutions from scratch: our innovation is adapting existing raw technology to meet the needs of the users in the social sector. We call this building the last “social mile.” We depend on an intellectual property system that works and is friendly to innovation. Concepts like fair use, open s…

Big News in Benetech's Human Rights Program: New Funding and Enhanced Tools!

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This post originally appeared on the new Benetech's Blog.

Secure tools to document human rights violations, such as those developed by Benetech’s Human Rights Program, have become critically important in efforts to pursue reform and seek justice—and in keeping human rights defenders safe. When widely deployed, these tools have the potential to make lasting impact by empowering people to fight abuse and advance democracy.

In recent years, the possibilities of what can be achieved with human rights fieldwork and advocacy has expanded as the worldwide use of mobile phones has increased and significant advances have been made in Internet and mobile technology. We’re excited to share that our Human Rights Program has been awarded a two-year, $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) to realize some of those possibilities.

As the largest single grant in our Human Rights Program’s history, "On the Frontier of Secure Techn…

Welcome to Benetech's New Site! (and...)

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We've just launched Benetech's new website. This is my Welcome post that originally appeared on the new Benetech Blog.

On behalf of the Benetech team, including our Board of Directors, I’m delighted to welcome you to our new website and formally introduce our newest program area: Benetech Labs! At Benetech, our goal is to create positive social change through technology. Telling our story is an important way we’re able to accomplish that goal—it allows us to generate the interest and support necessary to develop technology that helps countless people around the world. With this new site, we hope to better share our story and the impact of our work in a clear and consistent way across our four program areas, which encompass a diverse set of initiatives, products and services. Look around—there’s a lot that’s new. We’ve updated our brand identity. We’ve made things more engaging, adding more images and video along with the ability to share and comment on content. We’ve started a…

What is in the Treaty of Marrakesh?

The View from an Authorized Entity  Many Bookshare users (and potential Bookshare users!) have been asking about the Treaty of Marrakesh (formal name: The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities. What’s in it; what does it mean; how does it affect Bookshare members?

In the popular online acronym, IANAL (I am not a lawyer). However, as the founder of the Bookshare online library, we have a great deal at stake in how the Treaty gets implemented. Although it might seem like a complicated document, we’re really excited about it because we think it will greatly improve global access for people with bona fide print disabilities. Here’s our laymen’s take on the major provisions of the Treaty.
The Treaty of Marrakesh, Top Issues: What’s the goal of the Treaty? The goal of the Treaty is to end the book famine for people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. Ultimately, this community …

When Flexibility Becomes an Operating Principle: Lessons from a Nonprofit

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This post originally appeared on CSRwire Talkback.

The staff at Benetech, the nonprofit tech company I lead, recently came together to answer this question: “What values define our identity and drive our work?” It was a very meaningful exercise for our entire team, resulting in what we call “The Seven Benetech Truths.” Among them are truths like “We Get Stuff Done” and “Value Flexibility” — highlighting that we focus intensely on results and upholding our commitments, while also being flexible about how we get the work done. For many in the nonprofit space, being “flexible” and “getting stuff done” don’t always go hand in hand. But for an organization like Benetech, naming them as part of our values and putting them into action has led to better ideas and stronger products. Our most recent initiative, SocialCoding4Good, and last week’s launch of its Corporate Partner Program, which offers companies a new, skills-based volunteering channel for employee engagement and their pro bono i…

We Have a Treaty…and It’s Great!

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I’ve been actively advocating for an international copyright exception model that would greatly benefit people with disabilities, as anyone who has read my blog over the years can attest! My passion at Benetech for the last twenty-five years has been making technology tools to meet the reading needs of people who are blind, dyslexic or have other print disabilities. After all, Benetech’s Bookshare initiative is the largest online library serving people with print disabilities in the world.  We help more than 250,000 people with print disabilities thanks to our U.S. copyright exception. We could serve many more with a comparable international model.

Last month, leaders from around the world gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco, with the hope of taking a huge step forward and designing that international model. I’m excited to report: they did just that. The “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled,” wh…