Tuesday, December 16, 2014

CEO’s Update: Fall 2014

My personal goal is to channel the aspirations of the technology community to do more social good. More and more of my time is spent around both raising money and raising awareness of how much more could be done with technology to increase social impact. In this update, I’m delighted to be able to share Benetech’s latest efforts to do both. First, I’ll cover our biggest fundraising effort of the year: individual philanthropy is crucial to us; it’s the portion that makes 10X impact possible! Then I’ll share the latest stories on the impact of our tech volunteerism and human rights tech efforts as well our new tech leadership.

Highlights of this Update:
Join Benetech in Making the World Better for All
At Benetech, we touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals in often-difficult situations. From people in Latin America who face severe water scarcity to at-risk human rights defenders and students with disabilities, our users and their families are the ones who best convey the impact of our work.

Bookshare student member Brennan Draves and his mother, Lindsay, posing to the camera.
Brennan Draves and his mother, Lindsay Draves, at school.
Consider third grade student Brennan Draves. Brennan has Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment and blindness. His disability, however, does not stop him from flying through his homework assignments. He reads accessible ebooks from Benetech’s Bookshare library in braille format, and learns as quickly as his peers without disabilities. In fact, his reading skills are above average and he is on track to be an honor roll student. “Bookshare has made my homework easier,” Brennan says. And Brennan’s mom, Lindsay Draves, adds, “Bookshare has made it possible for my son to be excited about learning.”

We want students like Brennan—and disadvantaged people everywhere—to have equal opportunities to make their lives better. We’re thrilled that today’s rapid changes in technology are opening up tremendous new ways to address the problems they face. To do so, we definitely need your help.

That’s why we were excited to participate in the Skoll Foundation’s second annual Skoll Social Entrepreneurs Challenge, a fundraising campaign committed to strengthening the capacity of organizations like ours to accelerate impact on some of the most critical issues of our time. The Challenge ran for six weeks through December 5th. We competed against other participating organizations, racing against the clock to raise funds and secure matching funding from the Skoll Foundation. We did very well, and with the Skoll Foundation’s matching support, each gift to our campaign more than doubled its impact. As we look forward to 2015, we recognize that much work remains to be done, and we definitely need your continued support.

Are you excited about technology benefiting the world? It’s not too late to pledge your support for our work. To help now, please use the Donate Form on Benetech's website and give whatever you can. We build our tech-for-good products and reach dollar-by-dollar, and therefore every gift makes a difference for the people we serve. Thank you!
 
SocialCoding4Good
We are very excited about our SocialCoding4Good project, one of our Benetech Labs initiatives, which is working to increase the engagement of the technology sector with social good initiatives beyond just the scope of our own programs.

Within a short period, SocialCoding4Good has gone from a Labs pilot project to a growing community driving social impact. SocialCoding4Good brings together individual software professionals as well as corporate social responsibility teams from companies such as Cisco, Google, Hewlett Packard, LinkedIn, and VMware to volunteer their technical skills to nonprofit partners that develop and maintain free and open source software addressing critical social problems. SocialCoding4Good is a force multiplier: the nonprofit organizations we work with deliver the social impact; SocialCoding4Good makes them stronger.

For example, this summer, SocialCoding4Good organized “code sprints” at Google and LinkedIn during the companies’ volunteer service events, GoogleServe and LinkedIn for Good InDay. There it brought teams of Google and LinkedIn employees to contribute code fixes and key feature enhancements to the open source mobile tools of our nonprofit project partner Mifos, whose mission is to enable financial institutions to become modern and digitally connected providers of financial services to the world’s 2.5 billion poor and unbanked. Mifos can immediately deploy these new mobile features of its financial inclusion platform, which delivers world-class microcredit services that help open up new opportunities for the poor and their families.

To date, more than one thousand software professionals have signed up to lend their time and skills to SocialCoding4Good’s nonprofit project partners, and we are thrilled to support this growing contributor community with new leadership.

New Tech Leadership
Portrait of Benetech VP of Engineering, Mark Roberts
Benetech VP of Engineering, Mark Roberts
Since my last CEO’s Letter, we have also welcomed aboard a new Vice President of Engineering: Mark Roberts, former head of TiVo Engineering and Operations. Mark oversees the development, testing, and deployment of new technology across all of Benetech’s program areas, including Benetech Labs and SocialCoding4Good.

Portrait of SocialCoding4Good Developer Community Manager, Emma Irwin
Developer Community Manager, Emma Irwin
We are also delighted to have aboard Developer Community Manager Emma Irwin, who guides the SocialCoding4Good volunteers as they join and contribute to the growth and impact of our nonprofit software partners’ open source efforts. Under Mark and Emma’s leadership, SocialCoding4Good recently launched a new blog and forums, enabling its volunteers and nonprofit project partners to share their experiences and the community to better support our many new contributors.  

Human Rights
Our Human Rights Program continues to focus on helping activists and journalists securely document the stories of human rights abuses worldwide. Revelations about government interception of these confidential stories has caused us to redouble our efforts to lower the barrier to the use of strong, secure crypto software like Martus. Martus is our free, open source, secure information collection and management tool. Martus Desktop 4.5 and Mobile Martus 1.2 feature myriad updates, with a focus on improved usability. For example, Martus can now be configured in less than 10 minutes by anyone with basic digital literacy skills. These new releases take big steps forward towards helping communities interested in secure collection of crucially important stories of human suffering, whether on PCs, Macs, or Android smartphones out in the field. And we have even more improvements in our development pipeline.

As toolmakers, our ultimate impact is measured by what our users create with our products. Case in point is our team’s work with local LGBTI groups in Sub-Saharan Africa to help them establish independent human rights documentation initiatives. The capacity building assistance we have extended to our partners over the past three years towards organized data collection of human rights violations is truly bearing fruit. The documentation projects of our partners in Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have yielded so far six high-quality publications or reports about violations against LGBTI individuals in their communities. These are major milestones in our collective effort to build a culture of systematic, evidence-based documentation and advocacy work, and in our journey to make the defenders of human rights stronger in their fight against injustice and abuse.  

Conclusion
Thanks to the commitment of our supporters, partners, collaborators, volunteers, and staff, Benetech is increasing both the scale and scope of our work. We are determined to do far more for the millions of people around the world who most need the benefits of technology and are often the least able to afford them! We want to address pressing social challenges by prototyping new tools in areas outside our established programs as well as better serving and empowering our current user communities. Lastly, we want to go beyond what we can do on our own by igniting the larger tech community to engage in deploying technology for good. As a lifelong geek, I can’t imagine a more thrilling time to make this happen. I hope you join us!

Jim Fruchterman
Founder and CEO, Benetech

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