Showing posts from 2004
I had a rewarding time at the WRI Bottom of the Pyramid Conference last week. The basic concept was that business can help the 5 billion people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. My takeaway is something that many people has pointed out: that the cell phone has become an incredible engine of change for the poor. Earlier this year, I remember buying roasted cashews from a woman on the street in Maputo, Mozambique, who had her wares balanced on her head. Her ability to balance things continued to amaze when she answered her cell phone. The presentation by Smart Communications of the Philippines was especially cool: they are turning the cell phone into a wallet for the poor. You can make cash withdrawals from your phone at McDonald's and thousands of other businesses. Almost all of their business is prepaid, and SMS is a huge part of the business because text messages are much cheaper than calls.
Check out the Wish List. This contains a list of books we'd like to add to our digital library for people with print disabilities, Books donated to should be tax deductible, since is operated by Benetech, a qualified tax exempt organization. Give the gift of reading this holiday season!
Technology and Human Rights Talk My talk this week at Stanford was videoed and placed on the EE380 class website. I covered our Human Rights program, including the Martus Project and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (which joined Benetech last year). This is based on a talk I gave in Sri Lanka last year at the University of Peradeniya, but with a heavier technology component given the engineering audience. Benetech is lucky to have a team of people who are making a big impact on the global human rights scene, by providing science, software and support for those advocating for human rights.
Laptops roasting by a wood fire Imagine if you will, a group of free/open-source software internationalization/translation/localization evangelists gathered in an artist's studio in snow-covered Warsaw, heated by a wood-stove, but with high-speed wireless internet access! That's the report I had today from Anna Berns, who is a product manager for our Martus Project. She attended the LocalisationDev event last week in Poland and got a great deal out of it. We're actively translating Martus into roughly ten languages. This event was organized by Tactical Tech and Aspiration , two of the sparkplugs in the social movement around free and open source software. Check the Wiki at the above link for more information. News has the ability to move quickly! On Monday morning, the 2004 National Book Award winners in fiction and nonfiction were made live on our site, providing rapid access to these books to readers with disabilities. Announced in the middle of last week, these two new books are two outstanding accounts of remarkably different histories. In the fictional "The News from Paraguay," author Lily Tuck weaves romance and imperial ambitions into an intricate and imaginative portrait of life in 19th century Paraguay. Kevin Boyle, a professor of history at Ohio State University, won the nonfiction prize for "Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age," is a 1920s courtroom drama about the murder trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet, who purchased a house in an all white neighborhood in Detroit with some serious consequences. Both of these books are timely additions to the Bookshare collection.
I am delighted that our Martus Senior Product Manager, Marc Levine, has been chosen as a ZeroDivide Fellow by the Community Technology Foundation of California (CTFC). When I spoke to the first group of ZeroDivide Fellows last year, I realized what a great opportunity this would be for an activist like Marc. It's been hard sitting on this news for a while, but the formal announcement went out while I was traveling. It is definitely exciting, and brings a closer connection between the technology leaders in the social sector here in California and Benetech.
I hit a major personal milestone last week: I stepped down from my last executive job in the for-profit high technology sector. I was the founding CEO of RAF Technology, Inc. from 1989 to 1995, and have been the Chief Financial Officer since then. For the last few years, it has been a part-time job as I have had a very strong Controller in Alwynn Lewis. But, there were stretches in the last year where RAF needed me 15-20 hours a week, which was hard to do on top of my more-than-full-time job at Benetech. Last Friday was my last day as RAF's CFO. Dave Reeves is joining RAF as a full time CFO, which is what RAF really needs as it continues to grow. I'll stay on as a board member. RAF does some very exciting work, such as routing the mail for the US Postal Service or playing a significant role in the US Treasury's website. I hope RAF continues to grow successfully! However, I'm happy to shed the responsibility and dedicate even more of my attention to B
The summit last week on digital libraries for the disabled was quite exciting. It was fascinating to meet with major players from the different libraries around the world and talk about how to build the global digital library. We are working together to refine our outcomes, but it was gratifying to see how in tune we all were with the general objectives. To a great extent, the motivations are similar to what created our project: a desire to share limited resources and reduce the massive duplication of effort that goes on in making the same books accessible in different places to different people. Microsoft made considerable efforts to support the summit and these objectives. Their press release shows their appreciation of some of the issues we're facing: Gates Stresses Value of Digital Technology in Making Information More Accessible to People with Vision or Print Disabilities.
The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship tried something new this year for their annual summit . Rather than being held in Geneva at the headquarters of the World Economic Forum, Pamela and her team moved the summit closer to some of the social entrepreneurs by holding the event in Brazil. The best part of that move was including something called "Live the Experience," where attendees were able to visit social entrepreneurs before the summit. I went to Rio de Janeiro and visited Vera Cordeiro and Rodrigo Baggio. Not only did I get to experience the work of these two exciting entrepreneurs, but I also was able to meet their management team and talk about the challenges and opportunities of growth. The first program I visited was Saude Crianca Renascer , run by Dr. Vera Cordeiro. She was a physician in one of Rio's large public hospitals, and saw a problem pattern of hospitalization, discharge, re-hospitalization and death. Poor kids came in with health
I just returned from Brazil yesterday: an exciting and meaningful trip that I'll talk about more later, I hope. Today I was at the beginning of the Microsoft Global Library Forum, and Bill Gates spoke to our (reasonably small) group. Gates was well informed about most of the technical issues around this meeting, which is the heads of libraries for the print disabled from around the world. Some of his key points were: - Longhorn (the next version of Windows due out in two years) is going to have more disability features built in, especially along the lines of speech recognition. Still, speech reco is not going to be at a level where people use it commonly instead of typing (he projected that more like 6 years out) - Thinks that small devices are going to be very exciting for book content. Alluded to their investment in as an example of a product that justifies low prices/high volumes. - The low price/high volume theme was sounded frequently: used to position Mi
The social entrepreneurship movement is very important to me: after being a social entrepreneur for ten years (and not knowing the term), I found out that there is a vibrant national and international community around this. Although we are doing a myriad of different things, these are the people I feel are my community. We have common challenges and a common interest in changing society. Peer learning is the most valuable part of participating in these groups: I learn a great deal from my peers and hope to have some learning to offer in return. I'm between two major events in the field at moment. I recently came back from the Social Enterprise Alliance Stoweflake Funder's program. I was able to attend a funder meeting by virtue of being on the SEA board, and because our methods of choosing social enterprises to invest in are similar to those of other funders. The meeting was exciting because it focused on building a capital market for social enterprise (with a North Americ
Benetech's human rights programs are going to be a key part of the Technology for Human Rights: International Colloquium being held in Amherst early next month. It's part of the growing movement to use technology to support the fight against human rights violations around the globe.
I've had many opportunities to give talks over the last few weeks, in a wide array of venues. Usually, I'm giving the general Benetech social entrepreneurship story, talking about how technology can be benefiting humanity even more, to audiences as varied as the Palo Alto Rotary Club, a Stanford Business School class, and a cocktail party for one of our funders. At the Venture Philanthropy conference, Robert Levenson of Social Profit Network and I talked about the relationship between venture philanthropist and investee. At the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, I was on a panel with three other nonprofit CEOs talking about board relationships (Benetech's board is much more like a venture capital company's board than a typical nonprofits!). At the National Repository Summit held in Princeton, we covered the challenges faced by organizations trying to serve disabled students with textbooks. Last week in Kansas City, I talked to college reading centers about the
From time to time, I recommend organizations that I believe are important. One that I am especially enthusiastic about is the Social Enterprise Alliance . SEA is the grassroots group formed by and for social enterprisers, the people who operate businesses in the social sector. I first met this community in 2000, as I was shifting from operating a single social enterprise and getting ready to start several at Benetech. I attended the annual meeting, which was called the Gathering. Even though my technology background was completely different than everybody else at the Gathering, I felt completely at home. Here is a group of people who understand both business and social mission, and how to work them together to improve lives. I became a founding board member of the organization and continue to serve more than four years later. If this interests you, I encourage you to join as a member and get involved. Social Enterprise Alliance Membership. Together, we are growing a
The nature of demining operations: foreign aid This post (one of a series) will concentrate on the big picture issues of demining operations at a national level. First of all, demining is mainly funded through foreign aid. And, this foreign aid is often channeled through national governments. For example, the U.S. is a very large funder of demining efforts through the State Department (and USAID). Maybe this offsets the U.S. Defense Department's lack of willingness to sign onto the international treaty banning landmines. Let's say the State Department gives your government two million dollars to spend on demining. What do you spend it on? Paying salaries of demobilized soldiers and rebels? Or, do you buy expensive technology solutions? Answer: you generally use it to pay staff and then buy what you have to in order to equip those folks. It has been noted to me on multiple occasions that demining is a critical jobs program in post-conflict countries. Demining pays well an
Ethan Zuckerman blogged my talk at the Berkman Center last week. He did a good job capturing the spirit of the discussion. Ethan Zuckerman's Weblog : Jim Fruchterman's talk at Berkman We talked about intellectual property and its interaction with disadvantaged communities. We talked about books, software, drugs and instruments, and how to bring the benefits of these ideas to the world's disadvantaged communities.
Benetech's Director of Human Rights Programs Patrick Ball contributed a chapter to a recently published volume by the Society for Applied Anthropology entitled Human Rights: The Scholar as Activist . Ball's chapter looks at the application of data mining and statistical techniques to human rights, and he reflects more generally on the role of science in human rights activism. He concludes "Of course, human rights work is about much more than methodology. It is about right and wrong framed in the legal and moral dimensions of international human rights instruments. But by doing the technical work right, we can greatly strengthen our ability to make claims about human rights, and ultimately, to advocate for a more respectful world." Patrick's point is the essence of Benetech: by doing technical work right, we advance society's broader interests.
The opportunity to talk to brilliant people is one of the best parts of my job. I've been in Boston this week, and had the opportunity to visit WGBH/NCAM (nation's leading captioning group for the disabled), National Braille Press, as well as folks at BU, MIT and Harvard. The proximate cause for being here was delivering my oldest child to college (Jimmy is now a freshman at Brandeis U.). Normally I like to talk to students, but the timing at the beginning of the academic year was not ideal. I did get the chance to give a talk to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. My buddy Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Geekcorps, is a Fellow at Berkman, and he set up this talk on short notice. We were able to talk about the complete range of technology and intellectual property issues. I came away with a handful of great ideas (such as the possible marriage of digital talking books and community radio in Africa) and offers of assistance with some of the legal
The Landmine Problem: introduction We have been studying the landmine problem for some time. The Benetech approach is similar to the standard high technology approach: try to understand the customer's needs and see if a novel solution can deliver a better solution. Different members of our team have spent time with leaders in the humanitarian landmine field, and we have learned a great deal. As we begin planning for such a solution, synthesizing some of that learning is important. There is a great deal of information out there, but our point of view is different and we hope useful. I hope to share some of this learning from our team in the BeneBlog in this and future blog posts. Point One. It's complicated. The landmine problem is complex and multifaceted. Surprise. However, it's even more complicated than we guessed, even in the narrow area we are looking at, which is mine detection and removal/destruction. We aren't even dealing with the other parts of t
Benetech likes to respond to customer demand, and this sometimes is surprising. We've never had the ability to donate to Benetech or its programs as a link on our website. Lately, this has come up from people who have been looking for that link and unable to find it, especially for, where a specific donation can be linked to a tangible benefit, such as the purchase and scanning of a book for people with disabilities. We looked at this, and have chosen to partner with, an organization with common values and methods to Benetech, to implement this functionality on They do a good job of delivering both the security we require and the look we desire. If it works out well, we'll expand it to our other projects and Benetech itself. If you make a donation, let me know how it went. Customer feedback is critical! - Donate Now page.
I'm very proud of the people who work at Benetech, and that pride extends to our alumni. Brendan Nyhan was an outstanding member of our team, doing great things for us while running the Spinsanity website. Spinsanity has been one of the nation's leading political websites, deconstructing spin from both sides of political aisle. Brendan is now getting his doctorate in political science at Duke, and just published his first book. All the President's Spin is just out, and promises to deliver the same kind of analysis that has made Spinsanity an important part of the political debate. It's already in Amazon's Top 50 Sales Rank. Check it out!
Benetech is pleased to announce that we have finalized a contract with the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation (CAVR) of Timor-Leste (East Timor). Benetech will conduct statistical analysis of the Commission's four databases, including personal testimonies, gravesite registries, military unit deployment records and a retrospective mortality survey. Our goal is to assist the Commission in making scientifically defensible findings about the total extent, patterns, and levels of responsibility for fatal violations which occurred between 1974-1999. Our analysis extends the fieldwork and technical advice in information management, data collection and data processing that Benetech field consultants have provided to the CAVR over the past 18 months. Our analysis will complement the CAVR's legal, qualitative and historical findings.
Last week I was reading the Sunday paper (the San Jose Mercury News) and I saw a speech that Jeff Skoll gave upon receiving a major philanthropy award. It was great to read about the nice things he had to say about Benetech in his Commonwealth Club speech ! I also saw an article in the Mercury yesterday about the Social Entrepreneurs boot camp at Santa Clara University. This event has gotten some great press and news around the field, and I will presenting there on Wednesday and participating on the business plan review panel on Friday. I'm looking forward to hearing from these entrepreneurs, some of whom we are already working with. These are just two manifestations of the progress the social entrepreneurship field is making. We need to keep the momentum up!
As some of you know, we started providing newspapers and magazines through as  a prototype project with NFB's Newline project.   I just received a user email that made me excited.  I checked back and was granted permission to quote this! Since the NFB convention in Atlanta, I've been periodically downloading the national magazines that have been made available. This morning I downloaded The New York Times. It's hard to conveny to my sighted friends what it's like to be able to sit down and read a publication as this at the same time that they've purchased the same publication. Thank you so much for your efforts and dedication. The real plus is that I can "read" the various publications without cluttering my house or recycling bin with paper. Also thank you for the ability to download books on so many subjects. With the work of the team at Benetech and the various volunteers who scan and send the books a dream has come true for so many
After a great vacation with my family, I'm back in town for a while, working on strengthening our team. In addition to recruiting for a senior manager for our enterprise, we have just opened up a position for a new Vice President of Marketing . It's exciting to build our team further, and I am especially looking forward to talking to our leading candidates. From my discussions with many top people over the past years, it's clear that quite a few are burning with the desire to mesh their business background with an opportunity to serve society. If you know of someone outstanding, please send them the link to our openings . Benetech needs more management bandwidth to tackle our expanding needs and opportunities.  These are rare opportunities, and I know that we will be able to find the right people to build Benetech to the next level. 
I had the honor of addressing the National Federation of the Blind Convention this past week. We aren't ready to release the press release, but I did get the ok to post my remarks. Here they are: Remarks for the NFB 2004 Convention on and Newsline Jim Fruchterman, President, Benetech Hello, Federation!! The dream of Benetech has been to make print access for the blind as easy as it is for the sighted. Even easier if we can! We have been pursuing this dream for over fifteen years, first with our affordable Arkenstone Open Book reading machines, and for the last two years with is a place on the Internet where people can work together to make accessible books available to the blind. The number one source of our books are blind people volunteering to make the books they scan available to the rest of the community of blind people. Blind people pick the books in Who's in charge of our collection? You are!
It's time to grow the Benetech team again! Over the next few months, we'll be searching for new employees and fellows to join us in saving the world with technology. Our first position to be formally posted is for the head of our project. Alison Lingane, who did a great job of designing, launching and operating for the last three years, has stepped down to take a job (outside Benetech) that involves less travel to better match her family priorities. This is an opportunity to run one of Benetech's flagship enterprises and join my management team. I'd love to find someone with both relevant business skills and a passion for serving humanity's needs! The job description and response instructions are already posted on our website. If you know somebody outstanding: point them in our direction!
More stories from my recent trip to Africa. Although Benetech has no projects planned in the area of HIV/AIDS, I was interested in learning more about this. Being part of the Schwab Social Entrepreneur program, I had met Garth Japhet from South Africa, who works in this field, and I wanted to understand more of what he does. I attended a dinner at the Africa Economic Summit on the topic, and what was surprising was how little interest the business community showed in it. The attendees joked about how it was the "usual crowd," of NGO leaders, religious leaders such as Archbishop Ndungane (Tutu's successor), pharma company staff and the handful of business leaders with an active interest in the topic. People shared stories from the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I was interested enough in learning more to take off for a tour of facilities in Maputo the next afternoon, hosted by the Catholic Community of Saint'Egidio , a group well known for having
One of the issues I was exploring on my trip to Africa was the expansion of the use of our Martus software there. When we started working on Martus four years ago, we didn't look too closely at Africa. We assumed that Martus would require PCs and telecommunications that didn't exist there. Times have changed dramatically. Cybercafes are found in quite poor areas. And, of course, there are many human rights and social justice issues in Africa. We have multiple projects going right now in Sierra Leone. Our big news is major support for more work by Benetech in Africa, thanks to the U.S. Department of State. We're just announcing this project. State has an active program tracking the state of human rights around the world. There's more in the press release, and we will be expanding our efforts in Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria. We are already working on the translations of Martus into Arabic and French.
I am just back from the Africa Economic Summit in Mozambique. I was very impressed with President Chissano, the former Marxist revolutionary who is stepping down next year after leading his country for 18 years. His embrace of business development, reform, and advancing the interests of his people made quite an impression on me. He also has a terrific sense of humor. I usually doze off when politicians start their pre-programmed speeches: Chissano was riveting and real. Chissano Urges World to Note Positive Changes in Africa I'll post more stories and ideas from my trip to Africa as I get back into the California swing of things!
I'm working from Maputo, Mozambique on this U.S. Memorial Day. Today I've been talking to humanitarian demining groups about our proposed mine detector. Last week in South Africa I was discussing adaptive technology for the blind and software for human rights groups. Our Martus human rights software was just covered today by the San Jose Mercury News in an article entitled Software Helps Rights Groups Protect Sensitive Information. Martus is continuing to grow and expand in its impact!
I've been in South Africa for just two days and have had several exciting meetings. My base of operations has been the IDP Africa Forum 2004, a conference for organizations serving the blind throughout Africa. I have had several great conversations about the state of adaptive technology for the African blind, and am getting good ideas for how we can help over the next few years. I also have been meeting with human rights groups. Patrick Ball is here working on the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission data analysis. Looking forward to when that report gets issued. I spent some time yesterday at the University of Pretoria, talking about both disability technology and human rights. Reminds me of some universities in California in terms of climate and feel. There is no substitute for personal connections and experience, and I'm looking forward to learning a lot more over the next ten days.
My May President's Update has just been posted. This is my quarterly (roughly) update to Benetech's stakeholders on what we are doing. This update is chock full of news: there's a great deal cooking in Palo Alto and around the world. One exciting news item is Benetech receiving the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, which expands the already great support from the Skoll Foundation. I highly encourage you to check out the update. It will give you some idea of the scope of Benetech's efforts to bring the benefits of technology to the people who need it most! is moving quickly to expand in serving the needs of students. eSchoolNews just did a very nice story about and schools with quotes from teachers and Margaret Londergan at Indiana University. offers 17,000 royalty-free texts.
Benetech exists in the social entrepreneurship sector. This article, from the Wharton School, takes a critical look at venture philanthropy. Even as a relentless booster of the benefits of venture philanthropy, I have to admit that their core conclusion is correct: that pure venture philanthropy is still a small segment of the philanthropic funding sector. But, new ideas often have small market share early on. The real question is: do they deliver the results? I believe that the rapid growth of venture philanthropy is continuing because it delivers good results, and that much of this investment is not explicitly labeled venture philanthropy. Does venture philanthropy work? | CNET
Benetech's Dr. Patrick Ball has just been awarded the ACM's 2003 Lawler Award for humanitarian contributions using computer technology. The ACM is the leading organization for computer science professionals. It's exciting to have one of our own honored by the technology community, and for the open source software that Patrick has so passionately advocated for.
This is so cool! We now have manuals in Thai for our Martus human rights software. We've been working with our partner, the Asia Foundation, to do the Thai translation. That's in addition to English, Russian and Spanish. And more are on the way: we've started work on French and Arabic as well.
I just got back from the Minnesota Statewide Vision Conference in Duluth, where I gave the keynote address on one of my favorite topics: cell phones as the future platform for adaptive technology for people with disabilities. It's entitled "In the Palm of Your Hand," and is based on my JVIB (the main journal in the visual impairment field) article of the same title. It was great to sit down with many teachers of visually impaired students and hear from them first hand about their kids and their needs. It's easy to forget how complicated the technology can be when you work on the creation of it day to day. One of the things I learned that amazed me was how many of the students with vision impairments have other disabilities (such as cognitive disabilities). One of the great ideas I heard from a teacher at the conference was the need for an "OnStar for the cognitively impaired." OnStar is a service for high-end cars that has GPS and cell phone capabil
Check out Social Edge , which is an incredible on-line community of people engaged in social entrepreneurship and the ideas that support the field. Created and operated by the Skoll Foundation, it has a wealth of information. Skoll also manages to engage the leaders of the field to participate in on-line discussions: people like Muhammud Yunus, Jed Emerson and Jeff Skoll (cofounder of EBay) come to mind.
The NTEN conference was great. It was especially good to meet many international eRiders , the technology folks who work with nonprofit groups (often known in North America as circuit riders). We had great conversations with people from Africa and other regions. The NTEN conference was immediately followed by Penguin Day, a conference of free and open source software developers (such as Benetech, Debian and OpenACS) with nonprofit groups and eRiders. Today is also the day that a major article of mine was published by the Association for Computing Machinery, the main computer society (aka ACM). Entitled Technology Benefiting Humanity, this article gave me a chance to make the case for technology social enterprise. I hope you get a chance to read it and spread it around. The technology community is ready to get more engaged!
There is no substitute for travel, unfortunately. To make real progress as a field, people need to get together and interact. To a great extent my job is going to conferences and meetings! My team at Benetech then help with the winnowing process of which of the myriad possibilities should be pursued. They are my tether to reality, because there is far more that needs to be done than Benetech can possibly take on. Right now I am in the middle of a run of major conferences. A couple of weeks ago, it was the Social Enterprise Alliance's annual meeting, the Gathering, which I blogged at the time. Last week, it was the CSUN Disability and Technology conference , the biggest conference of the year in North America on this topic. Highlights for me were the small meetings with leaders in the field, which I'll spotlight just a few. My good friend, Gilles Pepin, is the head of VisuAide in Quebec. Gilles and I have worked on numerous projects together, inclu
Our work to expand access to educational material has a new partner! Indiana University has been scanning many books for its students, and we're excited that Margaret Londergan and her team have decided to share those books with other universities in the U.S., using our service as a legally authorized intermediary. and Indiana U. Partner for Greater Access. This announcement comes on the heels of our launch of Institutional Access, a program developed specifically for educators to meet the needs they have identified to serve their students with disabilities.
One of the side effects of Benetech's growth is that it's getting harder to keep track of all our activities. I just saw a reference to our new HRDAG team's work with Human Rights Watch, a relationship that we value very much. Thanks to the work of HRW, we've been given the opportunity to analyze the workings of a secret police prison under Chad's former dictator. Our work in Chad is an affirmation that all human rights violations matter, and that science and technology can play a role in seeking the truth. Here's a report on our preliminary work on this data. Hissene Habre - The Political Police Files.
I will be spending the rest of this week at the Fifth Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance , here in San Francisco. The conference actually sold out for the first time ever! The excitement around nonprofit social enterprise is energizing. My speaking gigs will be on intellectual property and the nonprofit (protect those assets!) and "Making the Pitch," which is about how to convey the opportunities presented by social entrepreneurship. I am also running for re-election to the board of the SEA: I've been on the board since the original organization, the National Gathering of Social Entrepreneurs, was formally organized in 2000. The SEA is a home for Benetech and its team: it's our peer group. These are the people in the nonprofit sector who are excited about using the power of business to make effective social change happen. We face many of the same challenges, and the opportunity for peer learning exchange is at the core of the attraction to be i
Good article on nonprofits using blogs to communicate their voice, creating by the good folks at N-TEN. Some quotes from yours truly on why I think the BeneBlog is important. Check out the article in Nonprofit Quarterly: What's a Blog, and Why Should Nonprofits Care? .
My latest article was just published as an N-TEN Forecast, The Power of Technology Social Enterprises. I have been thinking about the technology community needing to take on a larger role in addressing society's problems. This article discusses how social enterprise works particularly well with technology. I was excited enough about this that I'm already drafting a much longer article for another publication. I can feel a talk coming on already! Comments welcome.
Last week, Tom Parks of the Asia Foundation and I gave a talk at the World Affairs Council called Innovating Information Technologies to Protect Human Rights . The talk went well and is available on-line as an audio stream at the preceding link. We were talking about the Martus Project , Benetech's human rights documentation and monitoring software. The Asia Foundation and Benetech partnered on the first country launch of Martus in the Philippines. I covered the background of where Martus comes from and how the technology works. Tom talked about the real world experiences of using IT in the human rights field across the different islands of the Philippines. Because Tom and I are both pragmatic technologists, we were able to talk about what the real issues are (and not engage in hype). They are rarely technological: most of the issues are around organizational dynamics, power relationships, trust. Human rights activists are human! As would be expected, 80% of the acti
Benetech achieves our goals with a great deal of assistance from people who share our dedication to technology better serving humanity. We are especially blessed with incredible volunteers., our on-line electronic book library for people with disabilities, is built by volunteers. These folks are dedicated to the concept that access to books should have no barriers. They spend many hours scanning, proofing, cataloging and reviewing our collection, now over 15,000 books. I'd like you to check our - Volunteer of the Year. Carrie has done an awesome job, and her contributions help thousands of people with disabilities attain truly independent literacy.
I'm just coming down from the Davos experience: it was incredible. For a social entrepreneur like me, the opportunity to attend the World Economic Forum is a rare opportunity. The founder of the WEF, Klaus Schwab (and his lovely wife, Hilde), underwrites our participation to encourage business and government leaders to engage with social leaders in solving the world's problems. And, they do engage, with enthusiasm. Outside the normal power structure of the corporation (or government), these leaders are interested and clearly stimulated by talking directly with other attendees about these issues. The interactions are at a peer level, without the normal screening that typically protects these leaders. I can't begin to list the fistfuls of great conversations I had in my week in Switzerland. I talked to high tech corporate leaders, the heads of foundations, education ministers of different countries, several billionaires, major religious leaders, nonprofit (NGO in i
The World Economic Forum opened today and I gave my first presentation to one of the opening sessions: the 2004 Technology Outlook. It was fun to do, and a pleasure to be on the stage with the CEOs of Akamai, 3Com and an IT security company and the IT Minister of Egypt. Although the focus is on technology and business, it was great to get the chance to talk about the broader applications of technology. World Economic Forum - Annual Meeting
We just posted my latest President's Update on our website. Roughly quarterly, I provide an update on all the latest at Benetech. 2003 was a great growth year for us, as we've built up and Martus and now are adding two major new projects for 2004: the Human Rights Data Analysis Group and Bookaccess. Please enjoy the update, and thanks for your help in realizing the dreams we have at Benetech of technology fully serving humanity!
I was recently able to address the World Blind Union's Asia Pacific meeting and give the keynote address, In the Palm of Your Hand. This talk, and the journal article of the same title published in the Journal of Vision Impairment and Blindness, set forth our vision of a world where inexpensive cell phones become accessible tools for disabled people around the world. The used cell phone of five years hence probably has the processing power of today's PCs, plus a built-in camera. Imagine what could be done with that platform with the right software!
Benetech in Central Asia! Marc Levine, our globetrotting Martus Senior Product Manager, just got back from a two week trip to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He was invited by our partner, Freedom House, and spent his time training human rights activists on Martus. Marc brought back some digital photos along with his stories of the human rights situation in Central Asia, as he gave a brownbag lunch talk for our team. A critical part of Benetech's work is experiencing the human side of our work in addition to the technical part, and it especially helps our technical staff to hear more about the people who use our software and the challenges they face.