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Showing posts from 2015

Why Your Country Should Ratify the Marrakesh Treaty

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Access to information and knowledge is a basic human right and a necessary first step towards personal, economic, and social development. Yet around the world, over 100 million individuals are denied this basic right. They include people who are blind, visually impaired, have dyslexia, or have a physical disability that prevents them from reading regular printed books. The good news is that there are now unprecedented opportunities to transform the lives of these millions by removing barriers of access to information —and this is where you can help. The international legal landscape for people with these disabilities dramatically changed on June 28, 2013, when the World Intellectual Property Organization adopted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. This historic international copyright exception treaty paves the way for a future in which people who cannot read regular printed materials ca…

A Worthy Read: National Education Technology Plan

I just finished reading the National Education Technology Plan, and I can recommend it to anyone interested in the future of technology in American education. 

These kinds of plans can be impenetrable, but I found this one quite readable and understandable.  It is full of examples of interesting ed tech from for-profits and nonprofits, as well as local, state and federal government agencies.  I found the explanations good, and the first part of the plan is well worth reading to understand some of the trends in educational applications of technology.

Of course, one thing might be that accessibility is put right up top, front and center!  I liked this quote:
In addition to enabling students with disabilities to use content and participate in activities, the concepts also apply to accommodating the individual learning needs of students, such as English language learners, students in rural communities, or students from economically disadvantaged homes.  Universal design gets a lot …

Mr. Jim Goes to Washington (and New York, and Nairobi, and Seoul, and Kampala, and Boston…)

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Like many other leaders of nonprofit organizations, I travel an unreasonable fraction of the time. I recently hit three million lifetime miles on American Airlines. Not sure whether to celebrate or mourn this milestone.
Why do I do it? Why do my peers do it? We know that the carbon impact of all that travel is bad for the planet, and the personal impact of all that travel is bad on our bodies.
We travel because we think it’s the most effective way to spread social change. We travel because there is no substitute for human interaction. We travel because we need to raise money, and we won’t get it unless we get in front of the donors.
For the more senior social entrepreneurs, we can travel because we have leaders and teams that are usually better than we are at running the organizations we head and/or have founded. We travel because it‘s the best use of our time in finding the partnerships, insights, and the money our teams need to create more social change. Lastly, we travel to advoc…

Rockstar Nairobi Social Entrepreneur

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Carol Wanjiku is the CEO of Daproim. She’s an incredible social entrepreneur I just visited with in Nairobi, Kenya. She runs a for-profit social enterprise named Daproim that provides data entry services using disadvantaged students as their primary workforce.

We go way back with her firm. In 2008, we were the first customer of Samasource as they were getting started. Samasource connected us with Daproim in Nairobi to proofread books for our Bookshare project. Bookshare is our large digital library for students with disabilities such as blindness or dyslexia. We use digital ebooks at Bookshare’s core, which can easily be turned into braille, large print or digital audio (using synthetic speech technology). We had just won a large contract to deliver high-quality accessible textbooks to students with disabilities in the U.S., and we needed more help. Samasource connected us with a winning team, and we’ve been using Daproim ever since.

I visited Daproim four years ago, and wrote abou…

Help Wanted: Wildcards!

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Are you someone who is burning to make a difference? Someone who values doing good over a whopping salary? Do you want flexibility in your job? Benetech wants to hear from you! It’s hard for most organizations to accommodate nonstandard approaches to work. There are jobs that need doing, and most places have a standard model for doing them. However, Benetech is not a standard place! Consider what makes Benetech unique:

Women Majority: The majority of Benetech’s executives, managers, professional staff and overall team are women. How many tech companies can say that!Rights-focused: Advancing the human rights of disadvantaged people is central to our work. We help the people who most need it, not those who can most afford it.Flexibility: We expect the work to get done, and provide our professional staff a high degree of flexibility on how to get it done.
What’s the catch? Well, we’re a nonprofit: organized as a charity. And while we pay quite well by nonprofit standards, there is no …

Open Source Means Strong Security

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“Your secure software is open source: doesn’t that make it less secure?”

This is a recurring question that we get at Benetech about Martus—our free, strongly encrypted tool for secure collection and management of sensitive information, built and provided by the Benetech Human Rights Program. It’s an important question for us and for all of our peers developing secure software in today’s post-Snowden environment of fear and worry about surveillance. We strongly believe not only that open source is compatible with digital security, but that it’s also essential for it.

Let me explain with the following analogy:

Think of encryption as a locked combination safe for your data. You may be the only one who has the combination, or you may entrust it to select few close associates. The goal of a safe is to keep unauthorized people from gaining access to its content. They might be burglars attempting to steal valuable business information; employees trying to learn confidential salary informati…

Are You Passionate about Technology and Social Good? Benetech Needs You!

Guest post by Betsy Beaumon, President, Benetech
We are seeking visionary leaders to join Benetech in applying technology to advance the rights of disadvantaged people around the world. Technology is playing an ever larger role in increasing respect for human rights and delivering better services, and we have two rare opportunities to lead world-class tech-for-good programs. Benetech is hiring new Vice Presidents for our Global Literacy and Human Rights programs.

You are the leader we are looking for if you see the combination of social good and businesslike management as the answer to pressing problems throughout the world. You are someone who dreams about using your management and leadership skills and love of technology for social impact, exceeding the bounds of what a regular for-profit business can do.

You’ve come to the right place: Benetech.

We are Silicon Valley’s deliberately nonprofit software company. Benetech is organized as a nonprofit, but run like a business. Our goal i…

Proud Father and Husband: Concert in Palo Alto

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Every once in a while, the Beneblog features something of personal importance to me.

I'm very excited (and proud) about an exciting concert coming up soon in Palo Alto. My daughter, Kate Fruchterman, will be returning briefly to the area the evening of June 17th to give a concert.  Kate will be heading to Europe this fall to sing professionally in Italy for the Turin Opera Company, as the winner of one of three Opera Foundation Scholarships.

As I said at the Skoll World Forum this year after hearing Monica Yunus, the famous opera singer and daughter of leading social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus, Kate is another proof point of the proposition that geeky social entrepreneur dads can have beautiful opera singer daughters. 


But, there's more!  The accomplished pianist Virginia Fruchterman (who I happen to be married to) will be the main accompanist at the concert at St. Mark's Church.  In addition, Lauren Osaka, flautist, and Phil Kadet, the NYC-based jazz pianist and compos…

Optimistic about Marrakesh Treaty!

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The World Blind Union’s (WBU) Right to Read campaign for ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty just concluded two days of meetings in Berlin, Germany. The attendees were mostly the regional coordinators of the campaign, and the news was good. I found the optimism exciting: it seems like we’re moving quickly to getting twenty countries to ratify the Treaty. It even seems likely that it could happen in 2015!

A highlight of the meeting for me was going through the list of countries that have already ratified, will or probably will ratify (in WBU’s opinion), and those that possibly will ratify in 2015. The score:
Have ratified = 8Will or Probably Will = 14Possible = 17 The Treaty goes into effect three months after 20 ratifications have been formally deposited with WIPO, so it’s looking great! The hope is to be able to celebrate the milestone globally on December 10, 2015, Human Rights Day.

In North America, Canada was rated as “probable” and the USA as a “possible.” There is a fair amou…

Silicon Valley Gives to Bookshare

Tomorrow is an exciting day for our Bookshare online library for students with dyslexia or visual impairments.  We have incredibly generous matching grants from two of our dedicated tech entrepreneur supporters, Bernie Newcomb and Lata Krishnan.  Tomorrow, Tuesday May 5, 2015, is Silicon Valley Gives day, where donors from around the world will find their contributions to organizations based here matched by local donors.

We love reading, and we know how important being able to read a book is to educational and employment opportunity.  Each year, we provide more than a million books that are spoken aloud, enlarged or made into braille for students who can't pick up a print book and read it because of a disability.

We've never done a crowdfunding campaign specifically for Bookshare, and tomorrow we'll find out if some of our 350,000 users and their families are able to express their appreciation by helping match these challenge grants. And we need help: our annual federal f…

Skoll World Forum: My Annual Heart-Mind Feast

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My favorite conference of the year is the Skoll World Forum in Oxford. That’s still the case even after attending the Forum for eleven straight years as of last week! Why, after all these years, do I love going back?

First and foremost, it’s the people. This is my posse, the global social entrepreneur community, as well as the people who appreciate and support them. Everybody there understands the issues at the intersection of social good and innovation at scale. That is why conversations at the Forum start where conversations elsewhere end. Thanks to the environment of trust and effectiveness, there are nearly one hundred people on my list of follow-ups from last week!

The programming also works well for me and most of my fellow social entrepreneurs. That’s no accident: since its inception, the Skoll team has continuously improved the Forum. The event starts with two-and-a-half days of the Skoll Convening: a gathering of all of the current and former Skoll Awardees. This year’s Conve…

Contemplating Boulder and Social Impact

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Social enterprise. Technology. Contemplation.

I just spent several stimulating days in Boulder, Colorado, thanks to an invitation from my longtime friend and social sector leader, Chuck Lief. Chuck is the president of Naropa University, but we first met when he was leading the Greyston Foundation, a pioneering social enterprise known for originally making brownies for Ben ‘n Jerry’s ice cream while employing formerly incarcerated individuals as the primary workforce. Chuck and I were involved with the founding of the Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) in 2000, the nation’s association for organizations using the tools of business to accomplish social good. Chuck was the second chair of SEA and I succeeded him as the third chair. So, we go way back in our shared commitment to growing the social enterprise movement.

Chuck had been suggesting for quite a while that I come to Boulder both to speak to Naropa students and connect with the vibrant local tech scene. Last week, I had the pleasu…

Donor Spotlight: Lavelle Fund for the Blind

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What is it like for a nonprofit to have a successful, lasting partnership with a private philanthropic foundation? And what are some of the social benefits and impact that may result from such a relationship?

At Benetech, we’re fortunate to have had long-time support from funders who have been willing to bet on us. One foundation that has been a committed supporter of our work is the Lavelle Fund for the Blind. I’d like to share our experience with Lavelle, where they took a series of calculated risks in grantmaking.

The Lavelle Fund exemplifies the tremendous social return that bold philanthropy can create. Embracing measured risk, The Fund has been willing to make early bets on Benetech, and has repeatedly chosen to invest in our prototype projects. These projects ended up becoming successful and found sustainable funding streams, allowing the innovation to go to scale without needing continued funding from Lavelle. That’s what a lot of foundations would love to see happen: in this…