President’s Update - Spring 2012

Telling the Benetech story better is crucial to our future: crucial to making the social change at scale that we consider the essence of innovation. It also helps with recruiting employees, volunteers, and donors!

In 2012, we’ll be rolling out new branding, new media, and new stories all with the goal of getting better at what we do and raising our impact.

However, the very first step we took was to ask our team to describe the core values that make us who we are. We asked “What is true about Benetech, what are the truths that define our identity, our culture, and the values that drive our work?” Rebranding is about telling our story better, not changing our core values. Our team articulately expressed direct, succinct truths that required no editing. They just worked!

This President’s Update isn’t about our latest news, not about our newest projects or accomplishments. Instead, I’d like to share with you the Seven Benetech Truths. I hope you find them as interesting and inspiring as we do. I know it will give you a better insight into how Benetech envisions our work and our future!

The Seven Benetech Truths: 

  1. Social Change Through Technology 
  2. We Get Stuff Done 
  3. Right Stuff Right 
  4. Open Over Proprietary 
  5. Partnership Over Going Alone 
  6. Value Flexibility 
  7. Personal and Professional Development 

Social Change Through Technology

Benetech is about social change first and foremost. Our goal is social change at scale. Technology just happens to be a great way to get to scale, to create leverage to re-invent the way people are doing business throughout the social sector. We’re not about profit; we’re about impact.

We need to be sustainable to make that impact. Benetech’s approach differs from that of other groups in that we do not limit our interest to a single issue area. We are about big, positive change using technology as the vehicle. Achieving scale usually leads to sustainability: when we demonstrate that a new Benetech solution is far more effective than the status quo, we can usually find a way to finance that innovation for the future.

We Get Stuff Done 

Benetechers are intensely results focused. We aim high, and then try to exceed our commitments. We’re not about completing a process, studying a problem, or conducting a pilot project as an end point. Those activities must be on the path to accomplishing something big. This means that we fully commit to the fields where we operate, to ensure that we learn and follow through on the promises we’ve made.

We measure what we do, so that we know we’re getting stuff done. Because technology is our signature tool for creating impact, we can easily build in the metrics. Because we’re typically unique in our work, we are usually creating new metrics, which we develop in conjunction with the community we’re serving as well as with our funders. That way, our project manager has a dashboard of metrics to use that is aligned with the goals and interests of all of our stakeholders in pursuing maximum impact.

Right Stuff Right 

Just three words that convey so much.

  • Quality: building a great technology tool or doing science to world-class standards. As technologists and scientists, we have a shared value of professional competence. Our users depend on us to get things right, whether it’s protecting human rights information from attackers, ensuring a student has an accessible textbook in time for school, or guiding an environmentalist in the best ways to deploy their limited resources. 
  • Effective: figuring out what the right thing is to do. There are many opportunities to take action, but we only can do a tiny fraction of that. What’s the one, most important objective we can pursue for maximum impact? 
  • Ethical: conducting business in the right way. Get the accounting done to the highest standard. Respecting the law. Avoiding conflicts of interest. 

When we’re trying to make a decision about something, the way forward is just so much clearer when someone asks, “yes, but are we doing the right thing right?”

Open Over Proprietary 

We’re an open source organization. Not only do we write open source software, but the content we create is almost always available under Creative Commons licenses. We make more information accessible to the people who need it for education, employment, health, the environment, and human rights. Keeping something important proprietary and closed increases the chance that it won’t make a difference.

There is information that we do consider highly proprietary: the information shared with us by our users and partners. Whether it’s a student’s disability status or a gripping story of human rights suffering, we need to ensure that confidentiality commitments are honored. We’re pragmatic enough to adopt a proprietary approach when we think it’s the best way to accomplish our mission goals, but we always lean towards open over closed.

We value transparency. We regularly update our team with our current financial situation and our challenges. We openly share our plans, our successes, and our failures. What’s really important is the mission, and we trust that being clear and open will lead to the best possible outcomes.

Partnership Over Going Alone 

Benetech’s strength is in developing technology responsive to real world needs, but we can’t go it alone. When we are channeling the real needs of the users, tapping domain expertise that we lack, or getting our solutions into the hands of thousands or millions, our partners are essential to everything we do. In so many areas, we have chosen the partners who have deep knowledge and deep trust networks. Benetech provides what they are missing — the technology development expertise and the connections with top tech communities and companies.

We respect our partners’ knowledge. We work hard to understand their political context and why they do what they do. We share the credit for successes, or sometimes stay in the background while helping our partners shine. Our partnerships result in better ultimate social impact when we’ve built trust with the people with whom we’re working.

Value Flexibility 

We respect our team, and their commitment to social change, to do what it takes. As part of that commitment, we prioritize flexibility both for and from our team members. This allows us to do more with less, while allowing our team members flexibility in how their work is accomplished.

Our entrepreneurial approach also requires flexibility. When you’re creating something new, it never goes according to plan. We need to be alert to better ways to accomplish the social objectives. We usually have three different revenues streams in mind to make a venture sustainable, but if a fourth approach appears to work, we’ll take it! Most of all, we need to pay attention to our users, the customers for our tools (even if they are free and open).

Personal and Professional Development 

Benetech seeks to create leaders by fostering personal learning, growth, and service. Whether that’s helping one of our team members get into graduate school, become a better public speaker, or directly experience the challenges faced by our users, we need to ensure that Benetech helps build the careers of our team members while we benefit from their service to our mission.

Ultimately, we’re helping to lead a movement to get technology fully into the service of humanity. We speak regularly to students and to professionals, sharing our love for our work and hoping to inspire a fresh crop of social entrepreneurs and innovators.


I hope this update has given you some insight into the key parts of the Benetech culture and an understanding of how these values are articulated in everything we do. As we continue to grow our team and our range of projects, it’s essential that we understand who we are, as well as the why and how of what we do. I’m looking forward to sharing our new branding and messaging (and a new website, of course) in the coming months, we think it will reflect our values and the excitement we feel about what we are accomplishing and what we have yet to do. Thanks for making all of what Benetech does possible!


Marc Canter said…
Sounds awesome! Looking forward to talking to Gerardo Capiel on Thursday.

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