Showing posts from 2011

A Tale of Two Angels

When I first started pursuing the idea that technology can be harnessed to the cause of social good, it was pretty far out. Now, more than twenty years later, what has become known as social entrepreneurship is a hot global movement that is transforming the ways in which we approach the world’s most pressing problems and in which society organizes itself to solve them. Social entrepreneurship has its own conferences, publications, academic programs and awards. We celebrate the notion that nothing is as powerful as a great idea when put in the hands of a bold entrepreneur, and the lionization of entrepreneurs is a trend. Let’s remember, though, that behind the entrepreneurs are equally daring angel investors: those who bet on these men and women when they have nothing to show but passion and excitement, and who empower them to realize their vision. After all, any great idea needs a vote of confidence, great advice and an infusion of cash to have a large-scale impact! Even today, it’s no

A Slice of the Joy of Being at Benetech

My job is so much fun! I get to spend most of my time talking to people about social good: what we're doing with technology, what our partners are doing and what the many cool people we get to meet are doing along the way. I realize that it's rare that I can share some of these meetings with our team and with the blogosphere, so here are few tidbits just from last week! The first group was the De Novo Group , co-founded by famed Internet entrepreneur Eric Brewer to take cool, socially beneficial software (often created at UC Berkeley) and bring it to the world. We connected at the recent Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference and decided we should get together. Scott McNeil came to Benetech and we talked about their MetaMouse project (getting multiple mice to work on the same PC, so that kids in low-PC resource places can work together). KoBoToolbox is a toolkit for making it easy to collect survey data on mobile devices (turns out, I later found out we're already pro

International Human Rights Day 2011

Today, December 10th, the international community is observing Human Rights Day to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since its adoption at the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, the Declaration has become a universal standard for the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide. On International Human Rights Day, we pay tribute to all human rights defenders, celebrate the recent victories of the human rights community, and recognize the challenges that still lie ahead in the global struggle to advance justice, accountability and an end to impunity. 2011 has been an amazing year for human rights defenders. We have witnessed thousands of people taking to the streets to demand fundamental human rights and social justice; ordinary citizens turning into activists by using social media to mobilize protest movements that brought repressive governments to an end; and dramatic changes transpiring – like Tunisia’s first ele

Benetech: President's Update

President’s Update Fall 2011 Don’t be surprised, but we’re picking up the pace of change at Benetech! The world’s problems are many, and we keep seeing opportunities for technologists to address those problems effectively. Our team has been thinking hard about scaling positive social impact of technology work. I want to unveil several of these new initiatives, as well as sneaking in some of the incredible things happening in our core programs in literacy and human rights. Highlights of this Letter: SocialCoding4Good CityOptions Read2Go and Route 66 Literacy Selected Program Updates Human rights: Legal victory in Guatemala, PBS NewsHour stories Literacy: Major milestones for Bookshare at home and abroad SocialCoding4Good Just funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, our SocialCoding4Good initiative will kick off later this year. Led by Benetech’s VP of Engineering Gerardo Capiel, we will create an online space, SocialCoding4Good, where people in the tech community intereste

Leveraging Impact through Technology (LIT)

The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) is today, December 3rd. The Day aims to raise awareness of disability issues with a focus on the rights of persons with disabilities and the benefits derived from their integration in the social, economic, cultural and political life of their communities. People with disabilities make up an estimated 15% of the world’s population of 7 billion, and they remain largely marginalized and affected by discrimination and unemployment, among other significant difficulties. The theme of IDPD 2011 is “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development.” This year, for the first time, IDPD is commemorated with supporting sub-themes (see the full list here ), to draw attention to key issues that come into play in the intersection of disability and development processes. One of these sub-themes is “Accessibility: removing barriers and promoting disability-inclusive development.” O

Why I’m Scared of the SOPA bill

Benetech, is a leading nonprofit organization based in Silicon Valley. We write software for people with disabilities as well as human rights and environmental groups. We’re against piracy, and have made commitments to authors and publishers to encourage compliance with copyright law. So, we shouldn’t have anything to fear from a bill entitled “Stop Online Piracy Act,” right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. We’re getting very worried that our organization and the people we serve: people with print disabilities (i.e., people who are blind or severely dyslexic), and human rights groups will be collateral damage in Hollywood’s attempt to break the Internet in their latest effort to squash “piracy.” And, if we’re worried, a lot of other good organizations should start getting worried! Let me give two specific examples that came up in my first conversation with a lawyer about the proposed bill: 1. Stopping fund raising and subscription revenue for Bookshare, the largest online library f

Amnesty International at 50

I’m thinking a great deal these days about human rights and about doing more for the field. Today, I gave a presentation on human rights in DC, with a focus on our work with truth commissions. I recently spoke at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference , where I talked about technology for human rights defenders. Our human rights team is expanding and taking on new and exciting challenges. It makes me think about one of the giants of our field. Earlier this year, I spoke at the 50th Anniversary Annual General Meeting of Amnesty International (AI). I stuck around for the main closing meeting, where the history and future of AI was presented. I was amazed to learn about the ways in which AI has transformed itself over the first half century of its existence, as one of the preeminent human rights group of our time. AI was founded in 1961 on the inspiration of British lawyer Peter Benenson, whose article “The Forgotten Prisoners” launched the first Prisoners of Conscience campaign, whi

One very long weekend in New York City for Megan Price

Guest Beneblog by Megan Price New York City has many attractions – people often visit Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, among many other sights. Me? I go to New York City to spend the weekend staring at my computer screen. Data Without Border’s kickoff Data Dive is what tempted me across the country, and after a much longer than expected day of travel I found myself surrounded by fellow nerds (data scientists, as this particular group prefers to be called). The group included statisticians, epidemiologists, computer scientists, engineers, political scientists, journalists, and ‘data wranglers.’ We were all there thanks to the efforts of Drew Conway, Jake Porway, and Craig Barowsky (Data without Borders’s founders) who had the crazy idea of bringing together well-intentioned data analysts and non-profits with data in need of analysis. This particular weekend we divided into teams and tackled projects from the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (N

Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference

This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post . This week marked a first-ever gathering of human rights activists with Silicon Valley technology developers. The Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference hosted a series of discussions about how technology is used to expand and sometimes undermine essential freedoms around the world. Organized by the nonprofit group Access and sponsored by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype, Mozilla and other major tech companies, the conference brought together business leaders, policy makers and online activists, especially from the Arabic-speaking world. This morning we saw live video of democracy protesters in Yemen who have been following the discussions via streaming video. The event helped create an extended dialog between participants of the Arab Spring and the developers of technology tools that activists have used to circumvent government censorship. We discussed strategies for holding companies accountable for human rights and encouraging the cr

Eliminating Blinding Trachoma

As I mentioned in my previous two blogs about my Africa trip of last July, I had the pleasure of meeting many interesting people and learning about numerous exciting, cool projects during that three week long visit to Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana. In Ghana, I greatly enjoyed meeting Peter Ackland, CEO of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Peter is spearheading the wonderful campaign Vision 2020 “The Right to Sight”: a global initiative seeking to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020. We sat under a tree and talked particularly about the race to eliminate trachoma, t he world’s leading cause of preventable blindness and one of Vision 2020’s five priority diseases . I think social entrepreneurship is all about looking at root causes and addressing them: elimination of a disease is a pretty good approach to addressing the root cause instead of just treating symptoms. And that's Peter's goal as part of this effort. Trachoma starts with a relati

Benetech’s Daniel Guzmán Publishes Account of Landmark Guatemalan Human Rights Case

Benetech’s Human Rights Program supports critical human rights cases around the world helping to end impunity and bring justice to communities torn apart by violence. Benetech statistician Daniel Guzmán has just published his account of one legal case which set a historic precedent for human rights in Guatemala. Guzmán’s article, entitled Speaking Stats to Justice: Expert Testimony in a Guatemalan Human Rights Trial Based on Statistical Sampling , appears in the most recent issue of CHANCE, a quarterly journal published by the American Statistical Association. The story illustrates the crucial role that scientists can play in analyzing large collections of human rights data and presenting findings that can help hold perpetrators accountable for terrible crimes. The article describes Guzmán’s presentation of key evidence in the trial of two former Guatemalan National Police agents accused of forcibly disappearing 26-year-old student and union leader Edgar Fernando García. A husband and

My Guide Dog Ate My Paycheck

Brownbag lunches are a regular feature at Benetech, and one of our most popular regular speakers is Bookshare team member Liz Halperin. Liz had just gotten back from getting her new guide dog, Welton. She told an enthralled audience all about the ten stages of guide dog training and the process of being matched up with a dog. Her prior guide dog had not been all that successful and she had to switch after just two years (5-9 being more typical for the length of guiding service). The highlight of the talk was when she took the apparently mellow Wellie off his harness and then he dashed around the room to be petted by 30-40 people. The funniest thing was her description of her prior dog's love of eating paper: the dog actually ate her Benetech paycheck. Our CFO, Teresa Throckmorton, explained that she switched Liz to being paid by wire transfers. As a dog owner, I know that they can sometimes chew through money, but this was ridiculous!

Making the Book Truly Accessible for All Students

Schools are back in session, and with them millions of American children who struggle daily to learn using traditional printed books. Having learning disabilities or various learning differences, they need alternative reading environments that rely on their strengths rather than on their weaknesses. This includes accessible educational materials, such as e-books that can be used with computers, or mobile devices that display enlarged text or read the book aloud while also highlighting text. We have the technological innovations to help these children and their families and educators, who are looking for strategies to aid their success. Yet, we are still far from where we need to be in order to give them equal opportunity to succeed in school and beyond. In September 2007, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) selected our successful Bookshare library as the provider of accessible materials to every student in the U.S. with a legally qualifying pri