Showing posts from 2007

Barcoding Life, response from the innovators

I recently posted in the Beneblog on Barcoding Life, based on a dinner with Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs. I just received a response from these two dynamic scientists, and felt it was well worth sharing! If there ever was a circumstance where a "single" technology - a dirt cheap back pocket reusable DNA barcorder - will transform people-disease-people relationships and equally transform people-biodiversity relationships, this is it. Yes, it needs the gadget and it needs the global DNA sequence snippet library for all species. The former seems really to be emerging, wanting only a $10 m nudge. But I see the latter, quite literally tens of millions of identified and vouchered DNA barcodes, as the huge task ahead of us (and as of this year, a bit behind us as well). This is a task where speed counts both before wild biodiversity is gone, and to incentivate keeping it in the game. The peculiarity of this task is that there is already a global army of biologists and tax

Braillebug Reading Club

I'm excited about our growing partnership with the American Foundation for the Blind, the leading foundation focused on blindness issues. One thing we just did was to fill in the last few missing titles on AFB's Braillebug Reading Club. The Braillebug web site is dedicated to promoting Braille to students who could benefit from learning Braille. Now, we have all of these recommended children's books for Braille readers on in excellent quality. Because all blind students in the U.S. now qualify for, this means that these books can be quickly downloaded into Braille displays or printed out with Braille embossers. We look forward to adding future books to as new titles are chosen for the Braillebug reading club.

Social Enterprise and the Small Business Administration

Benetech was recently featured in a report to the President (of the U.S.) on small business. There was a chapter in the report entitled Social Entrepreneurship and Government, and Benetech was one of the case studies used (see pages 36-37). Author Andrew Wolk, a Senior Lecturer at MIT on Social Entrepreneurship, focused much of his discussion around the concept of how social enterprises were a socially useful response to market failure. He covers some other great social enterprises such as ITNAmerica (a novel approach to senior-focused paratransit) and Kaboom! (building playgrounds in poorer communities). One of these days it would be great if nonprofit social enterprises were eligible for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants: these federally funded competitions often request proposals in areas (such as disability tech) where the market is unlikely to lead to a viable company but where a nonprofit social enterprise could very well become viable.

GreenDimes: Stops Junk Mail.

One of the most important gifts I'm celebrating this holiday season are the things I didn't get: many, many pounds of junk mail catalogs, many of them duplicates. And, it's accomplished through a great social venture: GreenDimes , whose motto is Stop Junk Mail. Save Trees and Help the Environment Greendimes automates the process of taking yourself off of mailing lists with a simple web application. There are actually a few catalogs we like getting, but that represented less than 5% of the junk mail we get, and we can keep getting those. Greendimes works through the hoops you have to jump through: a few of the direct mailing associations make it hard and require a postcard to be sent in for each address requesting exclusion. So, the Greendimes folks mailed us the postcards to sign and send in. And, they do battle with unreasonable junk mailers on our behalf (apparently Victoria's Secret is the worst). It's a terrific service, and I'm sure it's made a

Barcoding Life

Interspersed with all of my day job work (spending half my time on for Education right now), I get to have exciting meetings with social entrepreneurs with incredible ideas. Last week, I had three of those meetings! Here's the first one: My very first ever angel investor, Sheldon Breiner, contacted me on short notice to ask if I wanted to have dinner and a brainstorm with Winnie Hallwachs and Dan Janzen , a pair of U Penn professors with a dream: a handheld barcode reader for life. The concept is that Joe Average can walk into his backyard (or his field), and find out what species there are there. What's that ant? What bird left a feather in our garden? What's this plant doing here? The concept of DNA barcoding is deceptively simple: you choose a particular section of genetic material shared by all animals, but where a 600 or 700 base sequence is pretty much unique to each species. That means you can collect a whole bunch of data from specimens and hav

Lauren Weinstein on Google

I've been a long-time subscriber to Dave Farber's IP list (for Interesting People). I frequently see comments from Lauren Weinstein's blog. He writes very well, and is a frequent critic of high tech companies on privacy issues. This week there was a great post, Lauren Weinstein's Blog: For Google and Others, Few Good Deeds Go Unpunished, where Lauren gave a very interesting and even somewhat sympathetic analysis of Google. The most interesting part for me was: I simply don't sense in Google today the sort of utterly predatory attitude toward its users that does seem to pervade some other major Internet-related firms. This is not to say that I agree with all Google policies -- as regular readers of this blog know. But I believe it's safe to say that even many (or most) Google employees also don't necessarily agree with all of Google's policies. It seems clear from public statements that even the Google leadership feels internally conflicted at times r

Landmine Detector Project Lessons Learned

Confronting failure is tough. There's a tendency to bury failure and hide it. In the for-profit sector, failure tends to be pretty obvious. You know how well an investment firm is doing because they have to publish their numbers. A tech company that bombs is quickly recognized as such. The social sector is well known for being risk averse, and this creates incentives to only discuss successes (or to portray borderline or failing efforts as successful). I believe that we need to embrace failure. Better to have failed boldly on occasion to have never dared at all. The world's problems are too big and important to be addressed solely with timid measures. Earlier this year, I and the leadership of our humanitarian Landmine Detector Program made the decision to put the project on ice. Ted Driscoll, a noted serial entrepreneur now turned venture capitalist, had been working to create an affordable humanitarian landmine detector from military-funded explosives detection te

Two plus hours with the Friends of Benetech

Earlier this week I was invited to speak on an on-line conference by the Friends of Benetech, an independent support group for our digital library for people with print disabilities. They have a neat technology for an on-line audio and text chat room. There were more than fifty people on-line with us, and the entire talk was recorded and placed on the web. I love this kind of opportunity that technology makes possible. Any user or volunteer now gets the chance to question the CEO of a service they care passionately about (and believe me, they do!). Would other nonprofit agencies operate differently if the people they served had a regular chance to question the leadership directly and frequently? Greater accountability is essential to progress in the social sector: this is just one start. Earned income is another way, of course. I'm looking forward to doing this regularly in the future: it keeps me on my toes!

Social Simulators

I've seen two social simulator projects in the last couple of months, and they are both worth exploring. The first was at the NCTI: National Center for Technology Innovation » 2007 NCTI Technology Innovators Conference, where I had a blast keynoting. The first project was Social Simentor, which is aimed at helping people adapt their behavior to the workplace. It has broader applications, but we were definitely talking about using this for people with disabilities that affect their interpersonal behavior. It's an early prototype, but I could see the potential of this approach to teaching social skills for job readiness. The second project is from Australia. Reach Out! is an online role playing game, called Reachout Central . Reach Out! is an organization that serves at-risk youth, and ROC is a way of allowing youth to play an on-line game that helps illustrate social interactions. I've played it for a while, and thought it was well done. It's Australia-centric,

The Kindle: Pretty Cool! Kindle This is the first ebook product that gives me a vision of where the book is going to go. I am imagining students with complete libraries without having to carry twenty pounds in their backpacks! And, while not perfect, it gives a vision of where this technology will go. Sort of like the iPod: not the first of its type, but the one that pointed the way forward and ignited the field. I bought my Kindle on the first day of availability, and received it the day before Thanksgiving (2007). By the end of Thanksgiving, I finished reading my first book, Stardust. It's comfortable to hold and to read. The flash at each page turn was initially bothersome, but quickly faded from notice. The textsize is handy for someone with aging eyeballs like mine. I haven't read the manual: it's pretty easy to figure out. What makes this an extraordinary device is the combination of wireless ease with the e-ink display. Here are my three downsides: 1. The display is really black milestones hits 35,000 Books! It's always exciting when we hit another milestone like this. The milestones are going to be coming ever faster, now that we have the for Education project (funded by the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education). We're committed to increasing our rate of title growth by a factor of four or five while improving quality. Mr. Jim and Ms. Lisa go to Washington Lisa Friendly and I just spent a fascinating week in Washington. Apparently, winning a competition for the largest award made by OSEP in memory (ever?) caused quite a stir. Although we are well known in the national and international disability field, it's been about ten years since I spent much time in DC (last time was the original Section 508 federal advisory committee in the 90s). We need to now spend a lot more time acquainting Washington decision makers about why OSEP made an inspired choice in selecting as the provid

Brighton Beach Brainstorm

The best part of my job is brainstorming with brilliant, passionate people around social issues. On my visit to the UK last month to launch International (check out as an inital example), Kevin Carey of HumanITy invited Hiroshi Kawamura, the new President of the DAISY Consortium and me to lunch on Brighton beach. Although it was October, the weather was even nicer than California. I don't think the beachfront used to be this pleasant in the past, but I recommend it highly to anyone in the future! Notes from a Brainstorm The overarching concern of Hiroshi is a potential split in the disability community over new technology, particularly in the broadband age. He would like to see the disability community speak with one voice on these issues. The particular issue that concerns Hiroshi right now is the Second Life problem, 3D avatar immersive environments. To some disability groups, Second Life is wonderful. They can participate in a world acc

Smoked Lobster Day!

When we submitted our proposal to the competition to provide accessible books to U.S. students with print disabilities, I told my team that if we won an award, I'd cook smoked lobster for the whole company. Today's that day! We're just three weeks into this new world for Benetech. I think we've signed up more schools and students for in the last three weeks than in the last three years! We're hiring like crazy: we have more than ten job openings posted. We issued our first official press release about the award and immediately had a great article in the San Jose Mercury News. The same article was on the cover of the Palo Alto Daily News with a great picture of Claire O'Brien, our newly promoted Collection Development Manager, scanning a book. 99,999 more books to go! So, as we celebrate this great award, we're also busy thinking about how we will dramatically improve the availability of quality textbooks and education materials to stud -

Major Great News about ! I'm delighted to share incredible news, which will transform On Friday, the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. federal Department of Education made a major five-year award of $32 million to This will further the objectives of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), by supplying high quality textbooks and educational materials to students with special needs. This funding is to fully support all schools and students with qualifying print disabilities in the United States, K-12 and post-secondary, with access to the entire collection of accessible electronic books and to software for reading those books. As of October 1, 2007, we have ceased charging these schools and students anything to join We also expect to add over 100,000 new educational titles in high quality DAISY and Braille formats over the next five years, getting students the terrific quality t

Clinton Global Initiative

I'm greatly enjoying the CGI event this week in New York. Many great social entrepreneurs running around along with the world leaders (and of course, Angelina Jolie). I've been taking a fair number of pictures. Clinton has a great talent for making everybody feel like they're important: I liked the way he interacted with Vicky Colbert, the great education social entrepreneur from Colombia.

Guatemala's civil war records

A great radio story aired today on Public Radio International's show, The World, on Guatemala's civil war records . It talks about National Police Archive in Guatemala, and has a quote from Patrick Ball. Clark Boyd of The World took a team to Guatemala earlier this month, and was there for their big election.

My Benetech

We just launched a major stakeholder communication initiative, at My Benetech. We've partnered with the folks from Papilia to provide user-customization of the information they receive from us. It's a place on our website where our users and supporters can sign up for the information they want. I think of it as being similar to the social networking sites (like FaceBook or LinkedIn) where people have more control on what information gets shared with whom. In this case, we're recognizing that Benetech serves widely differing audiences. Some folks are passionate about literacy and helping people with disabilities, others about human rights, and still others about the environment. So, we now have the ability to sign up for one, two or all of our project areas. It's also part of the professionalization of our communications (which I'm sure long term readers will notice). Telling the story of why technology matters to real people is essential to accomplishing ou

Revolution Through Social Enterprise' Conference

I'm heading down to Malibu next week to give the keynote for the 'Revolution Through Social Enterprise' Conference at Pepperdine. Should be a lot of fun: it's my first visit to the Pepperdine campus. Speaking at college campuses has to be one of the best parts of my work. Two nights ago, I spoke at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, in a class on social enterprise taught by my buddy Jim Schorr, former CEO of Juma Ventures. Like many other classes in social entrepreneurship, it's way oversubscribed. The amount of enthusiasm on campuses for socially relevant learning is terrific, and gives me great confidence for the future of the movement. Coming up just in the next month, I'm also giving talks at Stanford and Kellogg Business School(at Northwestern), and trying to schedule talks lots of other places in the not so distant future.

Check out

We're piloting our new website, which is our environmental project management software. Miradi (the new name of what we used to call the e-Adaptive Management software) has been in beta test for a while and we've gotten great feedback from all over the world from environmental practitioners. We've just put Google Analytics on the site, and are playing with it. So, feel free to visit and check it out. Google Grants ( also did a lot of work on our Google Adwords, and searching for "Miradi" on Google brings up our ad, too. We had a summer MBA intern from Haas Business School (at UC Berkeley), Jeff Rauenhorst, and he wrote a draft launch plan which we're just putting the finishing touches on. Next step is to review it with our partners in developing Miradi: groups like The Nature Conservancy, WCS and WWF. So, we're rolling forward towards getting version 1 out there!

Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI)

My eldest son, Jimmy, and I were able to attend a portion of the Global Social Benefit Incubator at Santa Clara University last week. We were able to hear the elevator pitches of more than a dozen social entrepreneurs from literally all over the world. Oh, and Jimmy's 21 now so we can drink beer together in a public place! Jimmy's quite interested in social entrepreneurship. Long term readers of the Beneblog might remember Jimmy's post from Davos last year, (the most popular Beneblog post I ever or never wrote!) when the Schwab Foundation allowed me to bring him along to their Social Entrepreneur Summit in Switzerland. Jimmy's changed his major to international studies with a focus on social issues: my peer social entrepreneurs got him very excited. I think the GSBI program tackles the exact issue Jimmy noticed in Davos: all these great people doing great things, and the world hardly knows. The team at SCU's Center for Science, Technology, and Society

Program Related Investments

Social capital formation is a hot topic for me. I want to see us have the same kind of positive environment for social ventures as we have in Silicon Valley for high tech ventures (but they have to make a lot of money), where great social ventures are rewarded with better and lower cost capital. An under-used tool for foundations is the program-related investment (PRI). PRIs are supposed to be for mission (program) reasons first and financial return second (although you can make a return). One concern about PRIs that I've seen is the high cost of doing them: you have to spend a lot of time and legal fees structuring the transaction. That's why I was glad to see MicroCredit Enterprises and Silk Adler & Colvin release the Program Related Investment (PRI) Primer and Toolkit . It explains a complicated topic well. Plus, they are encouraging other people to use their materials: In the spirit of partnership, MicroCredit Enterprises offers this Primer and Toolkit into the

Darfur: An Atrocity That Needs No Exaggeration

The Benetech team read with great interest the recent Op-Ed in The New York Times, entitled An Atrocity That Needs No Exaggeration . The Op-Ed notes the recent ruling in Britain against the Save Darfur Coalition for overstating the number of dead in Darfur. Britain's Advertising Standards Authority found that Save Darfur's estimate of 400,000 killed in the conflict is based on flawed research. We know well the difficulties of estimating the numbers of people killed in large-scale human rights crimes. Our Human Rights Data Analysis Group is one of the leading teams that helps countries around the world answer the question "Who Did What to Whom?" Our job is to use science to arrive at the best possible answers to this question and generate facts that will withstand attack from those who seek to downplay the scale of real atrocities or defend human rights abusers in courts and tribunals. We need to recognize the principled nature of some of these arguments. If you are t

Cassettes linger long after expected demise

One of my big themes is how social applications of technology lag behind business applications by years (if not decades!). One recent example was the article in USA Today, Cassettes linger long after expected demise. One of the main remaining uses of cassettes is: accessible books for the blind. It's hard to switch technologies once you have invested in them, especially in a field where the payback times are long or potentially forever. We're hoping to help make digital content the standard for people with disabilities, so that they can get their accessible books over the network for PCs, cell phones, MP3 players and the like. It will lower costs and improve access. We need to kill off the cassette player!

Visit to University of Washington

I just got back from a short jaunt to the University of Washington in Seattle. Not only is it the school my son Andy attends (beam, beam), but it is also a hotbed of activity around advancing people with disabilities. My long-time friend Professor Mari Ostendorf (who was a grad student with me at Stanford) was running a summer research program for engineering students with disabilities. My talk there was on "raising the floor," my new theme around delivering access to everyone on the planet with a disability (and everybody else, too). It was well received, and I had lunch with the students and talked about disability rights and technology. I also got to visit with different grad students and professors doing assistive technology research, and was quite impressed. There were several projects that I saw immediate applications to practice, and a couple that could directly help users. These kinds of visits are really energizing. It's a reminder that we&#

Guatemala Photo Essay

Ann Harrison, our Communications Director, just pulled together a great photo essay on our work with the National Police Archive in Guatemala. Bringing Ann on board has been a key part of improving our communications as an organization. Ann's extensive experience as a journalist brings improved story telling to Benetech: combining our technical skills with the social impact that drives us. I think this essay really brings home the reality of our work in Guatemala: the stories of interrupted lives buried in an archive being brought into the daylight, as well as the larger context of how this work connects with the issues facing Guatemalan society today.

Harry Potter all-night online party

Well, it's 3 am, and I've just checked out of the all-night Harry Potter on-line party. It's been going for 7 hours already, and the moment of truth is approaching. We've been getting regular updates from our volunteer scanning crew, who have chopped, scanned, OCR'd, paginated and are now doing the final prep work to release the newest Harry Potter book to the community. Within the hour, it should be available for download. I love technology for its own sake, but it's always good to experience how technology promotes connections among people! Folks have set up, in addition to the traditional listservs, an online channel for the community that allows both voice chat and text messaging in a way that is highly accessible to people with disability. Of course, the great thing is when accessibility works but is just invisible, and that's the case. Good design is universal! So, it's just a lot of fun to engage on

How America is betraying the hungry children of Africa

One of the things I often talk about in my public speaking is the continuum that goes from pure profit orientation to pure charity. Most social entrepreneurs I know operate somewhere in between, and for good reasons. Charity is an important and good thing, but charity can be a powerful negative force when misapplied. My example of this is the abusive use of foreign aid in ways that support the giver and damage the recipient. A book I read that made a big impression was "The Road to Hell" by Michael Maren, who described how U.S. food aid played a big role in the destruction of Somalia couple of decades ago (helping lead to the continuing problems of today). Steve Cisler heard me mention this book recently and sent me a spot-on article from the Observer, How America is betraying the hungry children of Africa. The article shows how we manage to damage agricultural economies and the sustainability of countries with food aid, this time in Malawi. Why are we shipping many t

Raising the Floor Op Ed in Sacramento Bee

Just published my first op ed on the raising the floor concept yesterday in the Sacramento Bee, Everyone deserves access to technology, online world , co-authored with Prof. Gregg Vanderheiden. This op ed was derived from remarks I made to the California Emerging Technology Fund's Roundtable recently. I want to sound the call for the technology community to get behind raising the floor for everybody around the planet. It's something within our power, and it will bring out the best in our community. The opening paragraphs are excerpted below: As technology races ahead at an ever-increasing pace, more and more of society's activities are moving into an online digital world that requires unfettered access. Although many of us may feel like we're falling behind technologically, large groups of Californians face barriers that block their access to the online world. People with disabilities, seniors, the poor and those without strong reading skills are facing ever-increas

Working to Change the World: Talk at Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University invited Bill Coleman (founder of BEA and Cassatt), Jeff Miller (VC at Redpoint Ventures) and me to speak recently on the topic of "Working to Change the World." It was a great hour of conversation around social change and the tech community's role. The show will be broadcast on Thursday, June 14th, on KLIV radio, 1590 AM in the Bay Area, and is also available as a video on the STS (Center for Science, Technology & Society) website . Some excerpts from the event, courtesy of STS: “Here in Silicon Valley, we control immense wealth, immense intellectual property. We have connections, we understand how to solve problems and the world needs our involvement. My message is that the barrier to getting involved is much lower than you may think,” Fruchterman said in his opening comments. “The University right here is putting together the ingredients. We have some of the best minds and mentors… we have the programs started. The opportunity is for us to

Martus Growth

Benetech has been seeing incredible growth in our Martus projects over the last year! We now have over 60,000 bulletins which have been backed up to secure Martus servers by over 1000 users across the world. This represents 400% growth over last year. This tremendous growth is due in large part to the continued use of Martus by our partners working in Guatemala with the National Police Archive, and projects gathering data about Burma, Iraq and the Philippines. Because Martus is free and open source software that does not require users to register with Benetech, these educated estimates of users are almost certainly underreported. As the number of organizations and users of Martus grows, it has become increasingly important for us to support product enhancements to meet the needs of these significant user groups. We just released Martus 3.1 which focused on performance enhancements for our large users. It includes a feature to notify head quarters accounts when there are new field


Although I have stayed in town pretty much this month, I've done a ton of stuff around the area. The NetSquared conference just wrapped up, and it was a lot of fun. Networking with people I know is always great, and I found the premise of this year's program different and exciting. Netsquared had picked 21 projects to run through two days of pitches concluding with voting from the attendees. The top group won a prize of $25,000, and that was Maplight, a group that connects political donations to legislative votes. Freecycle and Miro were the runners up. I love Freecycle! Four million items traded for free each month around the globe. I think they could use more funding, too. I took lots of pictures, and they are posted on Flickr as the NetSquared collection .

Google Grants

We've been a Google Grant partner for years. This is a program that I think many more nonprofits need to take advantage of. The problem of many (most) social sector organizations is outreach (marketing, in business-speak). Because of a lack of budget for marketing, it's hard for potential clients to find out about the services that are available to them. Google advertising is highly tuned. If someone is searching on the terms "Books blind," they are looking for something like It's an incredibly effective ad for us on Google: a clickthrough rate on the order of 5%. This means that one out of twenty people who see the ad displayed choose to go to via the ad link. The deal behind the Google Grant program is that Google absorbs the advertising costs. So, if that ad click would normally cost $1, it costs Benetech $0. It's a great deal! Of course, one of Google's key precepts is that lousy ads don't get served. So, yo and Lobster

We just did a site upgrade on : our third in as many months. Among the dozens of improvements in this update are two that I'm particularly jazzed about. The first is the initial international changes as we take global. Users with disabilities outside the U.S. can easily see which books have global permissions, which are required when we can't rely on our copyright exemption (which only works inside the U.S.). Now that it's easy to see which books are available, we need to ensure that we add many more books with these permissions. Crucial first steps on the road to taking this service global! The second one may not sound like a big deal, but we greatly simplified the process of signing up for for schools. This is crucial as we continue to rapidly expand into serving students. It used to take lots of handholding from Susie Mckinnon, our sales manager, for schools to sign up. Now I'm getting delighted emails fr

Challenges for Solving

We often brainstorm about things we would like to build. I was recently looking at the Rockefeller/InnoCentive partnership . InnoCentive is a place where you post problems you'd like solved. We came up with a similar list for Benetech. However, since our issues are all information tech issues, we don't fit the InnoCentive model (which is hard sciences). But, I thought I'd share some of these ideas so people have some picture of what we're thinking about. 1. “The One Place” – a single global database for accessible content on top of all of the other, partial databases. 2. Plug-in for Mozilla to allow disabled users to surf websites and to read books and newspapers directly, without requiring a screen reader and therefore making book access more practical in developing countries, as well as libraries (because you don’t need to buy a $1000 piece of software). 3. Firefox add-on that "optimizes" pages for screen readers. E.g., remove useles

Skoll World Forum, as seen from NZ

I just came across extensive blog coverage of the Skoll World Forum, written by Vivian Hutchinson. He heads the Social Innovation Investment Group and the New Zealand Social Entrepreneur Fellowship. He did a comprehensive take on the conference that I found very interesting. Of course, one of the reasons I liked his blogging is because he used several photos I took, which I posted on Flickr! I just got a brand new camera and I've been having lots of fun taking pictures of the many events I attended in the last two months. Go to my Flick page to see photos from the Skoll World Forum and the Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance. There are always interesting conversations going on when you get lots of social entrepreneurs together. There always seems to be a definition conversation going on, something along the lines of either "what is a social entrepreneur?" or "what new name should we use for social enterprises?" Tim Freundlich passed along a ton

Council on Foundations

I just returned from a couple of days at the Council on Foundations annual meeting in Seattle. I was part of a panel that included Orlando Ayala of Microsoft, Linda Segre of, Sally Osberg of the Skoll Foundation and was moderated by Akhtar Badshah of Microsoft. The title was "Changing Poverty through Profit." It was very interesting, hearing a blend of corporate positioning from Microsoft and Google combined with real interest in social issues. Of course, Sally Osberg kept the social side of the equation by providing real examples of social entrepreneurs making impacts (while working with corporations). I followed up with examples from my journey from tech entrepreneur to social entrepreneur. The questions from the audience were great, and it was one of the better panels I've been on (thanks to good prep work from the Microsoft team that organized the panel, especially Jane Meseck). I was also able to talk to many people from major foundations, and had

Working to Change the World - May 24, 2007

Bill Coleman and I will be speaking at Santa Clara University on Working to Change the World on May 24th, 2007. It should be fun: I really enjoy talking with Bill and this is a chance to talk about what we both think really matters! Here's the announcement from SCU. Santa Clara University's Center for Science, Technology, and Society Presents “WORKING TO CHANGE THE WORLD” A conversation with: Bill Coleman Founder, CEO and Chairman, Cassatt Corporation Jim Fruchterman President and CEO, Benetech Moderated by: Jeffrey Miller Venture Partner, Redpoint Ventures Join us for an inspiring evening as two of Silicon Valley’s key business leaders, Bill Coleman and Jim Fruchterman, discuss how they’ve turned their own professional successes into ventures that foster change and better the greater community. Coleman, co-founder of BEA Systems, the fastest growing technology company in history, and Fruchterman, recipient of the 2006 MacArthur Genius Award, will talk about their passion f

Seeing Beyond Sight Salon

I'm on the host committee for an event honoring my buddy Tony Deifell and his new book, Seeing Beyond Sight. So, if you're in the Bay Area on May 17th, consider going and having a good time! Lighthouse for the Blind is proud to be partnering with a new book Seeing Beyond Sight to bring you a wonderful event. SEEING BEYOND SALON: An evening of social-networking, creativity & big-picture thinking Thurs, May 17, 111 Minna Gallery | $10 | for tickets go to: Only $5 in advance with special coupon for Lighthouse for the Blind friends (use coupon: “lighthouse” AFTER entering credit card info) [5:30pm] Social networking with emerging & established nonprofit leaders presented by Craigslist Foundation, w/ talk by Jim Pitofsky, Executive Director of Hands On Bay Area [7:30pm] Interactive Art presented by Exploratorium and SFZero + book party & exhibit for Seeing Beyond Sight: Photographs by Blind Teenagers (Chronicle Books), with talk by Autho

Gathering: looking back

Most Successful Ever! I wasn't surprised to find out that this was the best attended Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance. So many people did a great job making this the event for social enterprisers in North America. I'm hoping we can expand our reach globally in future years! The Gathering is designed to help stave off the loneliness so many social entrepreneurs face. Back in our "normal" environments, we're trying to break the mold. Like all entrepreneurs, we're told we're crazy and that our ideas are faulty. It's terrific for at least once a year to get together with six or seven hundred people who think the same way. Not only do we get the warm validation feeling, but we get to dig into the issues that face us with like-minded individuals. Peer learning as at the core of both the Gathering and the Social Enterprise Alliance . And of course, it's the people who make all of this possible. First, I'd like to acknowledge the d

Blogger creates trouble!

Late breaking news from the Gathering. Yours truly clearly ticked off our articulate and thought provoking keynote speaker, Carl Schramm, the head of the Kauffman Foundation. Carl's foundation is the foundation for entrepreneurship. Carl started off with a spirited advocacy for the power of entrepreneurship, touching on the vision of Ewing Kauffman, the founder of his foundation. He noted that the post-war predictions were that economic growth would come from large corporations, and that the era of the entrepreneur was over. Carl went to explain how much this is now the era of the entrepreneur, with half of the new jobs in the U.S. created by new ventures. Carl covered the Foundation's efforts to foster entrepreneurship in kids (quite successful by his report). A really exciting venture is the creation of a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) to address the need of charter schools for viable buildings for their schools. He's also a big fan of of Teach for America. S

Seeing Beyond Sight

Tony Deifell rocks! Our opening keynoter at the 8th Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance was Tony Deifell, who has been working as the senior strategy person at Kaboom!, the rapidly expanding social enterprise that builds playgrounds for kids. Tony has just published a new book entitled Seeing Beyond Sight, photographs by blind teenagers. As someone who has been working in the blindness world for a long time (18 years!), I was fascinated to learn about the paradox of blind kids taking pictures. Full disclosure: I bought the book a month ago and it sits on the meeting table in my office, so you might guess I ended up converted to Tony's point of view. Tony's talk blended photographs from his book with key questions that we should be asking ourselves. The questions were illustrated by the stories behind the pictures shot by his students at the state school for the blind in North Carolina. Tony recalled talking to Merlett about her best friend, Reba. So many social

Tuesday at the Gathering

The Board Meeting The board meeting went well. I met Kris Prendergast, the new CEO of the Social Enterprise Alliance, as well as new board members for the first time. I'm looking forward to my last year (out of 8!) on the board, feeling that we're going in good directions. I think Kris comes with the knowledge and the ambition to grow this movement. The Hybrid Form session This was jointly hosted with the Aspen Institute. Last year's Gathering had really indicated our members were interested in a new organizational form that might better serve social enterprise rather than bending the for-profit or charity forms to our purposes (since we aren't really either). This meeting moved the conversation forward. One new initiative that I got to hear about was the L3C proposed in North Carolina. It's a low profit LLC specifically structured so that private foundations can invest in it and not have to go to the IRS for a letter ruling to approve this form of PRI (program

Spooling up for Day One of the Gathering

I'm noticing one sign of the Gathering maturing: multiple meetings to choose among for what is traditionally a light first day. For me, the morning is the board meeting of the Social Enterprise Alliance (the hosting organization for the Gathering). Other folks will be attending the pre-conference on faith and social enterprise this morning. This afternoon there are three choices: the Aspen Institute/SEA session on creating a new hybrid legal form for social enterprises, tours of local social enterprises, and a workshop on earned income ventures. I'm one of three people here from Benetech, and I'll be attending the hybrid form meeting while Peggy Gibbs and Barbara Morrison told me they were going to the earned income workshop. Then the Social Enterprise Institute (which is also a part of our local host committee) is taking attendees on a cruise around the Long Beach Harbor. Right after that (!) is the official opening reception for the Gathering: a Social Enterprise Ma

Getting Ready for the Gathering

I'm flying to southern California tomorrow, and have been packing for the trip. I remember back seven years, when I first met Jed Emerson and he told me that I was a social entrepreneur, but that a bunch of them were meeting for a "Gathering." That meeting in Miami was a landmark event for me. Not only was this a community of people like me (after eleven years of feeling like a real weirdo), but they were talking about the issues I had been, was then and would be facing. This moved me to volunteer to be on the founding board of what has turned into the Social Enterprise Alliance, a foolhardy move I still don't regret! It also built an abiding interest for peer learning, which is often the most valuable kind of educational opportunity. So, I'm heading to Long Beach tomorrow looking forward to more of that camaraderie and shared learning. We'll be talking about the future of the Alliance, bringing in new board members, discussing a new hybrid organization

Route 66 Meeting

We recently had a meeting in Silicon Valley to celebrate the progress we're making with the Route 66 Literacy program. Gerry Davis, who is one of our board members was there and took some pictures, and I thought I'd blog them and share the moments. The main reason for the meeting was that Professor Karen Erickson was in town. Karen is the innovator behind Route 66, and it was a chance to have Karen speak to us and some of the key donors who made Route 66 possible. She heads the Center of Literacy and Disability Studies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Two local Silicon Valley foundations were especially noteworthy for supporting Route 66 at its earliest stages. The Severns Family Foundation and Special Hope Foundation both were enthusiastic about Route 66 and willing to take the risk that this effort would lead to a real effort to advance reading for people with developmental disabilities. Dave and Sharon Severns attended: the Severns family helped ta

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

I've just co-authored an essay that presents the challenges of accessing capital for expansion for social enterprises. The paper, Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Addressing the Critical Gaps in Risk-Taking Capital for Social Enterprise, was published by the Skoll Centre at Oxford's Said Business School. Jed Emerson and Tim Freundlich asked me to join them on this paper one year ago at the 2006 Skoll World Forum, after I said something relevant in one of the plenary sessions. The structure of the nonprofit capital market has been something I am dedicated to trying to both understand and influence. Since I come from the Silicon Valley venture world, I'm familiar with a capital market that is tough, but very much provides incentive to accomplish the goal of maximizing financial returns to investors. The nonprofit capital structure is more complicated, but it could be augmented with some new approaches that would drive the goal of maximizing social returns to society.

Wrapping Up the 2007 Skoll World Forum

The Balancing Act: just about right This is my third Skoll Forum, and I definitely think that it was the best. And that's saying something, since I got my award last year and that was pretty exciting. The challenge here has been the balancing act between the business school home of the Forum and the practitioner community. A couple of years ago, the focus was too academic and much of the material was not interesting to the social entrepreneurs. And, I know that academics need this kind of interaction: it's their career and passion. This year I think they got it right. Most of the plenaries were focused on inspiration and building the field as a whole. As usual (based on last year), we got to see four Sundance-created short films on Skoll entrepreneurs. The researchers got two days of focused seminars and content, while the practitioners and non-academic attendees were happily engaged in workshops and what I dubbed "master classes:" where Skoll Award winners wou