Benetech: President's Update

Benetech President's Update

Winter 2011

I’m pleased to provide you you a detailed update on Benetech for the first time in two years. Last summer I talked about our great summer interns and fellows and early this year, I sent a copy of our 20th Anniversary Report that talked about our entire history. Reviewing where we were at the beginning of 2009, it’s amazing to see the growth in impact that Benetech and our team have had in the world. It’s worth celebrating but even more important, worth recognizing the incredible opportunities that we now have to make a difference on an even broader scale. I’m spending more and more of my time trying to figure out what’s next for Benetech—how we can do much more.

Bookshare Hits 100,000 Members

Boy reading at a computer with teacher in the background.Since the beginning of 2009, we’ve tripled the number of people with disabilities Bookshare is serving with our accessible library of ebooks. For years, our extraordinary cohort of dedicated volunteer scanners has provided Bookshare with most of its new content. This past year, we’re getting most of our content directly from top publishers: high-quality digital content for free. Our volunteers, together with these socially responsible publishers, are making sure that our members have the content they need. We just added 847 books to the collection in one day—that’s more than we used to add in a month! All of this means that when people living with a disability such as blindness, severe dyslexia, or a significant physical disability (such as our returning veterans who may have polytrauma) come looking for a specific book they need for education, employment or simple enjoyment, we’re much more than likely to have it available for them in an accessible format.

The amazing thing about serving 100,000 students right now is that our commitment to the U.S. Department of Education was to serve 100,000 students by the end of our five-year contract in late 2012. Based on hitting that number two years early, we’re now projecting that we could serve perhaps twice as many students, 200,000, by the 2012 milestone date. And the price to the Dept. of Education won’t change: we’ll do twice as much for the same price. I know that funders aren’t used to hearing that from the social sector!

Now that we believe we’ve really begun to solve the problem of making the text in books accessible for the 1% of the population with a severe print-related disability, we’re busy thinking about the next frontier. We just won a $5 million competition that will fund our DIAGRAM R&D center to tackle the problem of image accessibility for people with print disabilities. And we’re busy discussing with educators and publishers how we can bring Bookshare-style accessible content to the ten times as many students who could benefit from talking books but don’t qualify under the very limited copyright exemption.

Human Rights Program – Changing the Field of Human Rights

Making the truth matter is the core theme of our human rights work. If we’re going to speak truth to power, then we need to make sure that we are speaking truth. Overstated claims hurt the cause of the human rights movement over the long term. The way that we can best honor the victims of past human rights violations is to document and share their stories in support of the campaign to drive change today—by seeking reforms, ending impunity and if at all possible, securing justice.

Men being trained to use Martus to enter testimonies.Our human rights team is active all over the world. The head of our group, Patrick Ball, is spending most of this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, working with the United Nations on a range of human rights issues (of which the DRC has many). One of our team just testified regarding evidence in the disappearance of a prominent human rights activist more than twenty years ago: the trial is one result of our extensive work at the Guatemalan National Police Archive. The human rights team trains groups how to use their number one asset, information about human rights violations, as a strategic tool to advance their social justice mission. Working with groups that range from front-line activists to truth commissions and war crimes tribunals, we’re using databases, data security and statistical analyses to realize positive change. Our team is helping activists and organizations worldwide ensure that the truth matters.

Miradi – Expanding Throughout the World

Images of sea life from the Ytre Hvaler National Park in Norway.I’ve been amazed by the growth in adoption of Miradi, our conservation project management software tool. We’re helping the environmental movement become more effective through using Miradi to manage its conservation projects and to better steward environmental assets. In the last couple of years our biggest users—the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Rare and the National Audubon Society—have funded 100% of Miradi’s development costs by tapping core funds and seeking grants for Miradi from foundations, most notably the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. It is a great testament to the strength of support for Miradi in the environmental sector.

We now have more than 3,500 users in over 140 countries using Miradi for projects as varied as a coordinated national strategy for the preservation of the chimpanzees in Tanzania, to the development of management plans for two Marine National parks bordering Sweden and Norway.

Benetech’s Powerful Management Team

Gerardo Capiel, VP of Engineering.I’m thrilled to announce a key addition to Benetech’s senior management team. Gerardo Capiel is our new Vice President of Engineering, with a strong background as a successful entrepreneur and Internet developer. Our board and management team are working on a new strategic plan right now: the plan is not a detailed prescription for our future, but a powerful statement of our values and direction, preparing us for what’s next.


Benetech has become an engine of sustainable social change: we’ve figured out how to use our technology social enterprise model repeatedly to scale new ideas that deliver far greater social impact at the same or lower cost than status quo solutions can offer. We believe that the world needs more Benetech-style social enterprises, and we’re dedicated to doing more ourselves and to helping other social entrepreneurs succeed with their new ventures.

To accomplish this goal within Benetech, we need more risk-taking capital. We need innovation money that represents probably less than 5% of our budget, but is essential to our future. If we have ten hot innovative ideas, then we need to invest in figuring out which idea makes the most sense, and then to take that idea to sustainability. Benetech’s board and I are starting a new campaign to invite visionary donors to get behind the next generation of innovative Benetech social ventures.

Literacy, human rights and the environment are critically important to the future of humanity. Every day, we at Benetech see new opportunities to help more people and organizations do more with information. With your help, we will!

Jim Fruchterman
President and CEO, The Benetech Initiative


jem said…
The following is from the Secretariat Report 20_13 of WIPO SCCR20, June 2010:

"The representative of Beneficent Technology, Inc.(Benetech) supported the need for a binding instrument to ensure that blind and print disabled people around the world had unlimited access to copyrighted books, but not a treaty that establish a thicket of bureaucratic requirements to discourage access."

... and?
Jim Fruchterman said…
Amazing how they got it backwards. But, you can see from this post with my actual comments from that meeting: My remarks just made at WIPO today, they might get confused if they didn't read it carefully. I was arguing for a treaty without a thicket of bureaucratic requirements, not against a treaty I helped draft!
jem said…
The WIPO SCCR Treaty that Mr. Fruchterman helped draft -- according to reports on Knowldge Ecology International (KEI) whose representatives sponsored the Treaty drafting session Mr. Fruchterman attended -- is opposed by the governments of the USA, UK, France and virtually every Intellectual Property rights organization worldwide. It is easy to dismiss this opposition as mean spirited or dueling high moral grounds.

There may just as well be flaws in the drafting of the WIPO SCCR 18_5 WBU/Brazil Treaty that are preventing its passage ... and the disability rights community has structured its advocacy of said Treaty in a manner such that there is no 'down side' to those who would oppose the passage of this or any other similar Treaty.
jem said…
Mr. Fruchterman wrote on this Beneblog June 8, 2010:

"What would I work on?

• Clarification that U.S. law permits import/export today. That could start the ball rolling with access right away. But, the USG has been pretty coy about this: they represent that import/export is legal today as an argument against the TVI, but won’t actually go on record (or at least, the Copyright Office won’t). This isn’t solid enough to count on, but if secured could be a major short-term win. Support for the US-JR only makes sense if we have reliable confidence that exporting and importing are legal today (not, try it and see if you get sued)."

Try-it-and-see-if-you-get-sued is how things often work in the legal arena and takes someone or some organization willing to put themselves at-risk to establish a test case or precedent... and thereby force those who might oppose a binding Treaty to offer some clear rationale for its opposition and not just stall, stall, and stall some more.
Jim Fruchterman said…
We'll see what happens in June when there's the next round of negotiations. The World Blind Union's withdrawal from the Stakeholder's Platform and TIGAR raises the stakes, since the WBU was tired of the SP touted as sufficient by rightsholders eager to avoid a binding treaty.
jem said…
From KEI 18 APR 2011

"15 April European Union proposal: 3 to 5 year delay in negotiations on a copyright treaty for blind persons"

Anything, of course, can happen at WIPO SCCR 22 but this report is not peaches-and-cream.

Popular posts from this blog

Bringing Millions of Books to Billions of People: Making the Book Truly Accessible

10X: CEO’s Update: Spring 2014

President's Update: Summer 2008