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Preview: Beneblog: Technology Meets Society

Beneblog: Technology Meets Society

What happens when technology can do great things for humanity, but doesn't make a lot of money? Jim Fruchterman explores the social entrepreneurship side of technology applications: how to get great tech tools to the people who often need them the most,

Updated: 2018-01-17T05:39:58.819-08:00


Jamila Hassoune, the Librarian of Marrakesh, announces a new Book Caravan


(image) I've been privileged to meet so many awesome social entrepreneurs around the world, doing fabulous work without much recognition (and often, even less funding). Jamila Hassoune is one of those social entrepreneurs, and we share a love for books and the power of access to books. We've been in touch for almost fifteen years, and I met her in person in 2014 when I was attending the diplomatic conference that resulted in the Treaty of Marrakesh. She's known as the Librarian of Marrakesh, in recognition of her dedication to books and her role as Morocco's first woman bookseller.

She leads Book Caravans into Morocco's rural regions to share knowledge, books and history with students and women. She just sent me the announcement of her new Book Caravan:

The 13th book caravan

Under the theme: The valorization of our heritage is a responsibility of our present and our future.

Jamila Hassoune is pleased to announce the 13th Edition of the book caravan from April 16 to 20, 2018. This edition will take place in the region Draa-Tafilalet in the south-east of Morocco, whose main city is Errachidia. Tafilalet is historical region famous for the largest oasis in the world located in Erfoud. 
Its living heritage and earthen constructions are a particularity of the pre-Saharan architecture. It was formerly known as Sijilmassa which was a former capital of Tafilalet. The date of the first foundation of this city is still imprecise. Léon l’africain reported that the City might be traced back to the era of Alexander the Great or that it would have been founded by a Roman general. Re-founded in 757 on the Saharan caravan route between the Niger River and Tangiers -- time before Tiaret (761), before Fez (808)-- Sijilmassa seems to be the oldest Muslim foundation in the Maghreb. 
According to resources of the East, it was a real center of civilization at that time. Many books and writings have helped to describe this region. The books of the geographer and historian Al Bakri, the traveler Ibn Batuta, european explorers like Renè Caillé, Gerhard Rohlfs, Walter Harris, Meunié…ect are among the famous references that document this civilization. These writings deserve a great and profound reading to restore the value of this region. 
Related to this subject the book caravan is intended to organize a four days vibrant event of culture full of activities for middle and high school students in Errachidia and Erfoud. This event aims to offer a context of exchange between participants from different parts of the world and the local community.
If you have an interest in women's literacy and literacy in general, please learn more about my friend, the Librarian of Marrakesh!

Thinking of and Thanking Paul Otellini


A friend just sent me the surprising and sad news of the unexpected passing of former Intel CEO, Paul Otellini. Paul did so many things for me over a long career at Intel, and I had to put fingers to keyboard (something Intel enabled, of course) right away to acknowledge his many (and unknown) contributions to my work.I first met Paul over thirty years ago.  My first (successful) Silicon Valley company had Sevin-Rosen as lead investors, and Roger Borovoy was our board chair, the former Intel General Counsel.  Roger thought that outside board service would be a good experience for an up and coming Intel executive, and that our startup would really benefit from Paul's input.  The company went on to great success, and today is still represented in the product lines of Nuance (NUAN).Paul was there on the fateful day when I presented a reading machine prototype to the Calera Recognition Systems board.  The board's veto of the project (because it wasn't a big enough financial opportunity) led to the founding of what is today my nonprofit organization, Benetech.  Paul was helpful in getting Calera to approve incredibly favorable terms for the sale of its TrueScan hardware OCR boards to my nonprofit (roughly a 80% discount off a hardware product, plus extended credit), which made the Arkenstone Reader possible (the first affordable reading machine for the blind).Years later, after I was full-time at the nonprofit, we had replaced the TrueScan card with the WordScan OCR software (today's Omnipage software is probably a great granddaughter product), and the largest single cost in our reading machines was the Intel chip inside it.  And, because the OCR was very compute-intensive, the speed of the Intel chip mattered a lot.Intel didn't have a great reputation for being socially conscious back then. I remember an Upside magazine cover from early in Andy Grove's tenure (he was CEO of Intel back in those days) that portrayed Intel as Scrooge.  A very different Intel than today, which has a great reputation for environmental sensitivity and is a huge funder of education work (something that Paul greatly expanded later on when he became Intel's CEO).Paul OtelliniI called Paul, who was then heading Intel's division in Folsom, California, and asked him if he could find top of the line 486 DX-2 chips that were cosmetically flawed (like the label was misapplied) but fully functional.  His team scrounged up hundreds and sent them to us for free, which were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It enabled us to cut the price of our reading machine to blind people by $1000 (the chips cost $500 each, and our markup was twice the cost to cover our staff and our dealers, who were mainly blind business-people, so we lowered the price by twice the value of the discount).  When we were running low on the donated chips, I circled back to Intel and asked for their newest chips, the Pentiums.  I think that by that time Paul had already moved up at Intel, and his successor Vin Dham (pretty much Mr. Pentium) was happy to continue to do as Paul had. They mentioned that finding cosmetically marred chips was too time consuming, would we mind getting regular chips of their second fastest Pentium model?  Oh, and would it be ok if they sent a million dollars worth of chips: it would make a better press release!You might imagine I said yes.  And two days later, a step-van showed up and a million dollars of Pentiums were delivered to our back door.  We were flabbergasted! It turns out that a million dollars of Pentiums is worth more than its weight in gold; it was roughly a quarter of a single pallet. We were also terrified, since at the time in the 90s, there was a spate of chip robberies in Silicon Valley.  We put some in a safe deposit box in our bank, and hid a bunch of them in different places for safekeeping.  Luckily, we managed to use all of them in reading machines.Our team was so excited, we made a tactile version of the "Intel Inside" logo and[...]

A Call for Millions: Ending the Global Book Famine for the Blind


There’s a global book famine afflicting people with disabilities. They lack the books they need for education, employment, and social inclusion. Billions have been spent addressing the problem over the past decade.I have good news: For $5 million a year, we can build a global library that provides tens of millions of people around the world who are blind, low vision, or dyslexic free access to books that will work for them.Benetech has already solved this problem for students in the United States. Our Bookshare library has over 550,000 books that have been delivered digitally over 10 million times. Bookshare adapts to the needs of all readers with a disability that makes reading hard, whether they read with their eyes, ears, or fingers. We’re already delivering services at scale in three other countries—Canada, the UK, and India.Very few philanthropic opportunities come with the chance to solve a global problem with modest risk. This one does. We just need the resources to scale.Why is a global solution to the book famine possible now? How can we solve a centuries-old problem for so little money?We have the technology. Cheap devices and internet connectivity mean everything is digital. Our books will play on whatever tech the reader has in hand, even a $10 MP3 player.We have the ebooks. The Global Treaty for the Blind makes it legal to create ebooks for people with disabilities without having to pay a royalty or getting permission. Publishers already contribute most of their ebooks to us for free, but The Treaty allows for crowdsourcing books at scale through a Napster-inspired model (but legal!).We can scale quickly. We’ve already built the library in the cloud, meaning we can scale infrastructure at the click of a button.We have a new business model. Free service with a “pay what you can” request (like Wikipedia’s) is a sustainable nonprofit model. The majority of donations stay local, sourcing content in local languages and creating jobs. We have hundreds of thousands of ebooks in a dozen languages already available globally.We have baseline funding to sustain the core platform: we can serve the rest of the world for less than it costs to deliver the service in the U.S. because we rely on the community to build the digital library.Helping people with disabilities, especially those who are blind, is a social issue of biblical proportions. We are now on the brink of solving this problem for tens of millions of people around the world. Let’s seize the opportunity!Read my recent posts that provide guidance and ideas for successful tech philanthropists: You Can Help Us  Strengthen the Social Safety Net Tech Entrepreneurs Can Change the World through Philanthropy  [...]

You Can Help Us Strengthen the Social Safety Net!


          Tech entrepreneurs can change the world through their philanthropy. They will achieve the greatest bang for their philanthropic buck by prioritizing the better use of community-driven software and data. That was my message in a recent interview, which you can read on the Benetech blog series, The Impact. Today, I’m writing to provide the first in a series of specific ideas on how philanthropic tech entrepreneurs can do good by doing what they do best: using software and data to create massive value. What if every person in need had access to the help they needed? Every day in every community, there are people who need help. From a single mom facing eviction to a vet struggling with PTSD, to a domestic violence survivor fighting for custody of her kids. A web of complex needs exists, but information about the various services that address those needs—services that form the social safety net—is difficult to find. Compared to the data I have at my fingertips about businesses (how many sandwich shops are there within five miles that are currently open?), the social safety net is effectively invisible to the people who urgently need help. If we can make it easier for people in need, or the agencies trying to help them, to find accurate information on social services, we’ll have delivered amazing impact. Many referral services such as call centers and web applications collect directory information about health, legal, and social services, but the data is locked in fragmented and redundant silos. New referral services keep proliferating—all struggling to keep their data about available services up to date. Resource-strapped agencies have a hard time updating their websites, not to mention a dozen other places where their information shows up.  The effort to build the proprietary “One List to Rule Them All” is doomed to failure.  The consequences of this costly and ineffective status quo are daunting:People in need have trouble discovering and accessing services that can help them.Service providers struggle to help clients meet complex needs.Referral providers have difficulty referring people effectively.Decision makers cannot gauge program effectiveness.Innovators struggle to build and scale useful technologies to serve these needs.This is a systems-change challenge: how to get hundreds or thousands of agencies to cooperate to greatly improve their ability to serve the most vulnerable people in their community.The answer is open infrastructure. We need to make it as easy as possible to share accurate social service directory information with everybody who needs it.  The Benetech Open Referral project approaches this problem in a new way, by enabling many different systems to access the same data, and incentivizing the stakeholders to collaborate.By successfully coordinating data among multiple stakeholders, Benetech’s Open Referral project can generate tools and practices that yield transformative change by weaving a stronger social safety net. Here are a few of the benefits:Better access to services for people in need.Decrease in data maintenance costs and increase in data quality.Acceleration of innovation for new tools, apps, and projects.Meaningful use of data in research, analysis, and decision-making.We need major philanthropic funding to take this effort to the next level, beyond pilots in California and Florida, to make this kind of information readily available in every community. The safety net is too important to remain invisible![...]

Why We Are Voting Against the W3C Decision on Encrypted Media Extensions


There is a big controversy in the technical standards area that impacts accessibility of content in web browsers.  Ars Technica covered this recently in their post: Over many objections, W3C approves DRM for HTML5.

Benetech is voting against the W3C decision on Encrypted Media Extensions (EME).  Here is the statement that will accompany our vote:

EME should not become a W3C Recommendation without adding provisions that safeguard the rights of accessibility and security researchers to do their job without risking prosecution under the DMCA and similar national legislation.These types of provisions are already implemented around patents connected to standards work, and we believe accessibility professionals deserve similar protections. 
DRM has been the enemy of accessibility, not to mention the ugly compromise DRM represents to technical excellence and freedom.  EME’s reason to exist is to implement DRM. EME is irrevocably tainted from an accessibility standpoint because of this close association.  The arguments from our friends in the accessibility field arguing that EME is not DRM, or that EME's implementation of DRM overcomes the fundamental incompatibility of DRM with accessible media, are unconvincing to us at Benetech.  We are an organization that has been fighting to overcome the negative impact of DRM on accessibility for over a decade.
We understand that the W3C has already made the decision to compromise and support DRM-related technology. We truly hope that the W3C will act to mitigate some of the damage from that decision.

It's Good to be Alive Today!


I am still on the Skoll high

Just back from my week in Oxford with my head buzzing and Michael Franti's social change anthem "Good to be Alive Today" ringing in my ears. It's hard to explain why this is the one conference a year I always make the time for. It's a powerful mix of inspiration, singing, ideas and most importantly, peer brainstorming.  I have more than a year's worth of ideas for social good. Let me share just a few!

Systems Entrepreneurship is on the Rise

Jeff Walker has been making the case for what he calls "systems entrepreneurship" at Harvard's Kennedy School, Skoll and in a new SSIR article. He uses examples such as the campaign to eliminate malaria to demonstrate we need a new class of backbone organizations (borrowing from the collective impact concept identified by FSG) who are around organizing larger scale systems change with an ecosystem of players, as opposed to setting out as one organization to make the change single-handedly.

This resonated with me at a very powerful level, because that's what I want to do in helping bring software and data for social good to the world's most important needs.  Betsy Beaumon, Benetech's President, and the rest of our team have been working on what is the next big innovation is at Benetech beyond scaling up our current successful social enterprises.  We started that thinking last year with thinking of Benetech as the Equilibrium Change Machine, based on Sally Osberg's book "Getting Beyond Better." Betsy and I had some great brainstorms about large scale systems change at Skoll and there's a lot more exciting thinking to be done.  Expect to hear more about the software for social good revolution!

The CTO Gap

The lack of strategic technology expertise is hobbling many of the efforts to make the world a better place.  In larger organizations, this is the role of the Chief Technical Officer.  It's different from the IT manager or CIO (Chief Information Officer): it's how technology can fundamentally change the dynamic in your enterprise.

Betsy and I went from meeting to meeting (occasionally even together!) playing the role of CTO-for-an-hour to so many of the world's most innovative social entrepreneurs.  Not only did we realize the scale of the talent gap, but we also walked away with dozens of good ideas for how software for social good could have huge impact.

Just have to find some money to do something about that.

But there's More

Engaging with my peer social entrepreneurs, I heard much more than just their technical requirements. They are worried about failure, because of how important their work is to the people most in need.  They are worried about letting down their families, because of how all-consuming the work is.

It is a reminder of how important programs that bring social entrepreneurs together to share both their aspirations and their stresses, and get recharged for the many fights ahead.  Programs like the Wellbeing Project and Tendrel, and events like those organized by the Skoll and Schwab Foundations, are hugely beneficial compared to the costs involved.

It lifted my heart to spend a week being inspired, singing, dancing, commiserating, while some of the world's most innovative social entrepreneurs were plotting together to make the world a much better place!

Fake Facebook Friends and the CIA


Last night I received a Facebook friend request from an old friend and accepted it.  Within a minute or two, a FB Messenger chat started up about the UN and the Sustainable Development Goals.  So, I of course kept the conversation going.  Until it quickly became a classic advance fee scam conversation (originally made famous by folks in Nigeria with faxes). 

I quickly checked, and found that (of course) I already was Facebook friends with my old friend.  Someone had borrowed her picture and name and was starting to ply the scam trade.  Facebook has a handy way of reporting this exact problem and the fake account was suspended within minutes.  But, it was a reminder of how somebody who has been working with people at the forefront of the security field can be taken in, if only for five minutes. 

So, my advice: if an old friend reaches out to you on Facebook, someone who really should already be a Facebook friend, it's probably not your friend.  With the exception of a few folks who decline to participate on Facebook on principle (and are unlikely to join now), people in my network probably are not newcomers to Facebook.  And these new accounts are pretty obviously new: if you think about it.  If you want to check, go out of network and email them.  My friend appreciated me jumping on her impersonator.

Which brings me briefly to the WikiLeaks CIA disclosure, which doesn't surprise me in terms of capabilities that the CIA has. It did surprise me that it got disclosed!

  • If a sophisticated state actor really wants your data, they have a lot of ways to get it, and probably will
  • The whole point of crypto and security is to raise the cost of breaking into your data. Use crypto.  Use Signal.  Use WhatsApp.  Encrypt your hard drive. Use HTTPS. And so on.
The raising cost argument may be counter-intuitive, but it's intensely practical, and familiar.  The old lock analogy goes a long way.  I don't put my family's valuables on a table out in front of my house with a sign saying: take me.  I don't leave my front door wide open when nobody is home.  I do have a deadbolt and a security system, because I want to discourage theft.  Those measures do not ensure I will not get robbed, but they raise the cost of robbery, either by slowing the robbers down or increasing the chances they will be caught by the police. But, a perfect home security system does not exist, and if it were claimed, I wouldn't believe it. 

I can stretch this analogy a lot further, but here's my advice to the nonprofit sector specifically.  When we collect data on vulnerable people about what makes them vulnerable, we owe it to them to treat their data with the respect we'd like our most sensitive data treated.  We need to implement security so that getting that data is not free and cheap to grab: we need to protect it with locks (data security) that raise the cost.  And, we increasingly have to realize that parking that data openly with corporations that are susceptible to government pressure is not honoring our commitment to the communities we serve.  I'm ok with Amazon hosting sensitive data for us because I know that we encrypt that data so that Amazon can't be pressured into giving up anything more than encrypted (scrambled) lumps of data.

The fact that a government still may be able to get that data with enough expenditure of money in terms of people, technology and legal effort (warrants) is simply a fact of modern life.  We just need to make it hard enough that they don't bother almost all of the time.  That's what we owe to the people we serve. 

Seeing Through Walls for Greater Independence!


Kent Presents 2016

I just attended the second annual Kent Presents conference in Kent, Connecticut. It’s the brainchild of Donna and Ben Rosen, a New York power couple with connections to science, technology, politics, the arts and more. There were too many awesome talks to do them justice, but you are welcome to sample the session titles here.

The talk that especially blew my mind was by MIT professor Dina Katabi. She and one of her graduate students demonstrated their Emerald technology, and it was the first time I’d seen this capability. I’m sure you remember the “Help I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up” TV commercial of late night fame. Dina’s question was: why doesn’t this work most of the time? The answer is that it’s hard to get people to wear something.

The Emerald approach is to do away with the thing you wear. They place a low-power (far less than a wifi router) wireless beacon in your apartment, and it can track the exact location (including altitude) of up to five people. Even through the wall into the next room. (Two rooms away is more challenging: you probably need another beacon.) She demonstrated fall detection, heartbeat, breathing detection, and more.

The possibilities are exciting. Fall detection better than that of an on-person accelerometer. Gait tracking to detect health challenges (gait is apparently a huge flag of issues). Figuring out if a senior isn’t getting out of bed, or taking their meds.

There are challenges: the cat and dog filter came up of course. And privacy is a significant factor: this is the kind of technology that triggered my essay last year on privacy, Little Sister.

But, it’s clear to me that these issues could and should be addressed and the considerable benefits for independence of seniors and people with disabilities could be huge!

Geek Heresy


I just finished reading Kentaro Toyama’s new book, Geek Heresy, tackling the cult of technology as a cure-all for society’s ills. He’s a geek (former Microsoft Research guy) who is making the case that technology doesn’t make the kind of social impact it claims to deliver.There’s often more value to me in reading iconoclastic books than feel-good affirmations of popular icons! For example, I extracted many insights about the international development field reading books like Easterly’s Tyranny of Experts or Maren’s Road to Hell. Toyama offers up strong criticisms as well as constructive advice about how to best apply technology to social problems. At the same time, there are some flaws in his arguments that are worth pointing out.Smashing IconsToyama’s central thesis is that we tend to overstate the benefits of technology as a magic bullet. He’s countering the world view that the technology just needs to get in the hands of the poor and miracles will happen. He broadens this to tackling what he labels “the packaged intervention,” the neatly wrapped solution that will solve a social problem. Along the way of making his case, he takes on a lot of the popular tech and business for social good memes, like:One Laptop Per Child The Hole-in-the-Wall experiment The Arab Spring as social media revolution Toms Shoes The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (CK Prahalad) Telecenters The fetish of school testing (aka No Child Left Behind) Google (especially some optimistic pronouncements) He scores some good points here, usually by pointing out that the hype doesn’t match up with the claims. As a geek who is trying to apply tech for good, it is instructive to hear the critiques. Of course, from my long experience in the field, I didn’t find Toyama’s choice of targets all that surprising.Constructive ObservationsToyama makes some excellent points about the application of technology, and I think this is where the most value is to be gained.His “Law of Amplification” was particularly insightful: “technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces.” A short-hand for this might be that technology is most useful in the hands of people who are ready to use it. He uses this to analyze why many technology interventions are successful in the pilot phase and fail when they go to scale. In the pilot phase, you frequently have the best (human) conditions: the best partners and the best program staff making something work. But, when you go to scale, you reach many partners (such as schools) who lack the human capacity to use the technology effectively. He notes: “the right people can work around a bad technology, but the wrong people will mess up even a good one.”Wishful thinking makes many people dream of quick fixes. Why is it in the social sector we think it is so easy? I often run into this thinking, where ideas which would not be taken seriously in business are suddenly sensible in social good. Toyama on that issue: If a private company is failing to make a profit, no one expects that state-of-the-art data centers, better productivity software, and new laptops for all of the employees will turn things around. Yet, that is exactly the logic of so many attempts to fix schools with technology.  His prescription for how to use technology successfully is the following:Identify or build human forces aligned with your goals. Use packaged interventions to amplify the right human forces. Avoid indiscriminate dissemination of packaged interventions.  His biggest prescription is around connecting with these human forces. A great teacher is going to be better than a software program on a laptop or tablet. A mentor is going to have a more powerful impact over somebody than YouTube videos.I found this to be an eminently sensible approac[...]

From Money to Meaning


Big complex social problems.

Your skills and experiences.


Combining those three potent ingredients is how we change the world. If you’ve been burning to use your considerable talents to make a difference, rather than make a lot of money, it’s time you considered joining our growing team.

We are looking for more than a dozen motivated individuals to make the leap to positive social impact. From executives to summer interns, from engineers and product managers, to communications and outreach professionals, we have a wide range of opportunities.

From children with disabilities to African human rights activists, you will have direct exposure to how Benetech’s products and services change lives for the better. Our benefits are great, and our pay is excellent by nonprofit standards! Flexibility is one of our core values. It’s just one of the reasons that Benetech is the rare software company that is majority women (also true of our managers). We believe in wildcards: if you have a creative way to address one of our needs, let us know!

Silicon Valley is an incredible force for change. Unfortunately, the economic model that works so well for creating wealth, falls short when it comes to helping the poor. Communities that most need our help are often the least able to afford it. That’s why Benetech is organized as a nonprofit: we can afford to work on exciting problems. We just have to find a way to break- even!

If you have read this far because this is what you are truly wishing for in your career directions, or because you know of someone great who has been dreaming our shared dream of tech for good, check out our list of openings. We would love to hear from you!

Ratify Marrakesh!


The United States Senate has a terrific opportunity to expand opportunityThe United States Senate has just been presented with the ratification package for the Marrakesh Treaty. We are joining with our peers in the disability and library community in a joint statement to strongly encourage the Senate to ratify the treaty and for Congress to implement the minor legislative changes recommended as part of the package.We know a great deal about this Treaty, which is designed to help people who are blind or have other disabilities that interfere with reading, such as dyslexia. Our nonprofit organization operates Bookshare, the largest online library in the world that focuses on the needs of people with these disabilities. The creation of Bookshare was made possible because of an enlightened copyright law exception. And, that American copyright exception was the inspiration for the Marrakesh Treaty!Because the Marrakesh Treaty was modeled after the Chafee Amendment, as the Section 121 copyright exception is widely known in honor of the senator who proposed it in 1996, only minor changes have been recommended to align U.S. law with the Treaty language. As the operators of the largest library using this exception in the United States, we see these changes as minor and helpful clarifications. We do not see these changes as having a major impact on who we serve in the U.S., or the work we do. Here are the three changes of note:Clarifying the definition of a disability that qualifies. We see the new recommended language as replacing antique and obsolete language (“reading disability from organic dysfunction” is one example) with language that describes functionally someone with a disability that gets in the way of reading print. While we already serve many people with dyslexia, or returning veterans with traumatic brain injuries, these changes will be remove much of the confusion that exists in the field because of ambiguous, older language. Including illustrations as part of books to be made accessible. We include illustrations in our accessible books because many of our users can see them. People who are low vision can usually magnify pictures to see them better, and our dyslexic users often get much more out of illustrations than they get out of text. We often add image descriptions to illustrations, as well as supporting partners developing tactile versions of illustrations today, to further improve accessibility. Serving U.S. citizens abroad under Section 121 as if they lived in the U.S. This question has also been unclear, and different libraries have treated this inconsistently. Our default setting in Bookshare has been to treat an American with a disability living in another country as being only allowed the books we have permission to provide there, which leaves out over 100,000 titles that are only available inside the United States to Americans. This change would allow us to better serve American overseas.These three changes clarify Section 121 in minor ways that are quite helpful to Americans with disabilities.Of course, the biggest change that the Marrakesh Treaty makes is easing the import and export of accessible books. This cross-border exchange will make the lives of people with these disabilities better worldwide, as we reduce needless duplication of effort. Americans with disabilities will have access to far more accessible books, especially in languages other than English. And, it will become possible for nonprofit organizations such as ours to help bring accessible books to people with disabilities in developing countries, often the poorest of the world’s poor, who have mostly lacked access to books entirely.We’re excited about the prospect of Marrakesh ratification and implementation by the United States to make our work[...]

Silicon Valley’s Developing Conscience: It’s Called Apple


Silicon Valley has a problem. In our quest to build better products and better meet the needs of the world for information, we built the most amazing system for effortless government surveillance as a byproduct. It is now incumbent on Silicon Valley to remedy this situation.Forcing tech companies to weaken their products through compelling the creation of backdoors would be a massive step backwards. Whatever the power of search engines or social networks, it’s really the smartphone that is the most incredible tool for tracking our every move and activity. With access to the information collected by a person’s smartphone, it’s probably straightforward to figure out everything important about that person. Who they love. What religion they profess. Their ethnicity. What drugs (legal or illegal) they consume. What content they read or watch. What laws they violate. Every secret. And, without encryption of this information, the makers of smartphones had effectively handed those secrets to governments. Not just the U.S. government. Just about every government. For very little expense compared to other ways of gathering secrets. Over the last couple of years, Apple figured out the implications of this expanded surveillance. They decided that their value proposition to smartphone users did not include making it easy for governments (or others) to collect everybody’s secrets. As a society, Americans have frequently decided to put limits on our government’s powers, because we were founded in a period where government abused its powers extensively. We don’t allow our police to torture suspects for confessions. We throw out evidence gathered through illegal searches. The government does not, and should not, have automatic access to every secret. The battle between Apple and the FBI is one of those crucial limit-setting moments. And Silicon Valley understands it as such a moment for the tech industry generally. If the FBI can force Apple to construct a back door for one iPhone for the U.S. government, we techies understand why this sets a strong negative precedent for extensive surveillance in the U.S. and globally. This is not a theoretical problem. We have seen this problem here in the United States and around the world. My nonprofit creates the Martus software for human rights activists to securely store their sensitive information (via encryption). It may be documentation of atrocities they plan to use in later advocacy, or simply items like current membership lists. When we called an LGBT organization in Africa last year for a regular check-in, we found that they took the call from the back yard of their offices. They were burning all of their records because they had a tip that their government was going to raid them. Luckily, their records were already safely stored in Martus. Without a backdoor for that government, or any government for that matter.As a society, we should not make it easy for governments or other interests to get lists of all of the gay people, or Christians, or Muslims, or rape survivors, or HIV positive people, or supporters of the opposition. We need to make it harder to find out our sensitive personal information, whether it’s our medical information, or when our 11-year-old child is home alone. And encryption without backdoors is how we secure that information against attackers of all stripes. A backdoor is an open door for any one that’s willing to try hard enough to gain entry.That is why we, and so much of the technology sector, stand with Apple today. This is not a tradeoff between security and privacy, as this issue is so often portrayed. This is a tradeoff between security of our sensitive information and surveillance. And, making it easier to surveille us by weakening the technica[...]

Understanding Income Inequality


Data is a bigger and bigger topic in social change. We need to do a better job of understanding social needs, both to improve our programs and measure their ultimate impact. I spend more and more of my time talking to leaders in the sector, helping advance the use of data for action and impact.I encourage groups to begin collecting data as part of their basic program activities, and I make the claim that it will eventually allow them to connect their data to other, larger databases and maybe begin to take advantage of big data. Imagine how my mind has been blown by learning about a huge international income database that has microdata on millions of households from more than 50 countries, all harmonized to make the same kinds of analyses possible across any of these countries! This database should be critically important for understanding poverty at a detailed level. I just had the thrill of spending an hour with Janet Gornick, the Director of LIS, an international data archive that is located in Luxembourg. LIS is the institute that created and manages this giant database, which is called the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) Database. I met her last year at KentPresents, a brand-new conference organized by the incredible duo of Ben and Donna Rosen. Janet is also a professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and she runs a satellite office of LIS there. Her group in New York includes Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman and renowned inequality scholar Branko Milanovic. I asked her what kind of insights could be gleaned by an anti-poverty group, say in Uruguay (to pick one country out of 50), accessing the LIS. She suggested:In Uruguay:What is the poverty rate among individuals and households (using any of a number of poverty lines – absolute or relative, national or regional)?What does the distribution of poverty look like, that is, what share of the population is extremely poor, poor, and/or near-poor?Which individuals and households are most at risk – the youngest children, all children, women, the elderly? single-adult households, multi-generational households?What “micro” factors raise the poverty risk for persons and households – age? family structure? employment attachment and educational level of adult household members? other? Have the answers to these questions changed during recent years (2007, 2010, 2013)? In cross-national perspective:How do these outcomes in Uruguay compare with those in 50 other middle- and high-income countries (including several in Latin America)? Which outcomes/patterns are unusual? Which are widespread? How do national-level demographic and labor market features shape the Uruguayan outcomes, in comparative perspective?Which national-level public institutions (e.g., government anti-poverty programs, income transfers more generally, taxation) help to explain the Uruguayan results? In short, working with the LIS data would enable this Uruguayan anti-poverty group to better understand the causes and components of poverty in Uruguay, which – in turn – would enable them to think more specifically about a range of intervention strategies. Wow! Now, it turns out that this database has been made available under careful limitations to a select group of researchers. There are special constraints to ensure that database queries don’t accidentally reveal personal information about individuals, since that is part of convincing all of these different countries to supply this detailed microdata about household in their country. Janet and her team get asked all the time to answer questions that the database could help answer, especially around income inequality. And, they often have to decline to help because of limited staff resou[...]

Mary Robinson


Thanks to being a Skoll Award winner, I am frequently blessed with the opportunity to hear from the world’s most inspiring leaders. Whether it’s local in California, or at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, there is a regular chance I will have my mind expanded.

The latest Skoll opportunity came along with the recent visit of Mary Robinson to Palo Alto. She hit the world stage most notably as Ireland’s first female president, and has continued to campaign for the world’s most vulnerable people, especially women.

Mary spoke privately to a small group of social sector leaders at the Skoll Foundation offices. I want to share just two insights from Mary that made a big impression on me.

First, she saw 2015 as having two watershed events. The first was the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations. These goals commit all countries of the world to make progress on critical social objectives, such as ending poverty and hunger, improving access to clean water, education, and gender equality, as well as a dozen others. The second was the Paris Agreement on climate. She saw this incredible combination as a watershed moment in global history. She sees the two events as inextricably linked: we need to strongly move forward on our social developmental objectives while protecting the planet. She was disappointed that a bigger deal wasn’t made at the beginning of 2016 recognizing the dawning of this new global era!

Second, she talked about key dates in our climate goals. The headline goal of the Paris Agreement is to ensure that global temperature rise by 2100 is no more than two degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). That date always seemed like a long way off. Mary made the climate change goals of 2100 tangible in a deeply personal way. She explained that that the grandchildren of the people sitting around the table were highly likely to be alive in 2100. As someone who doesn’t currently have grandchildren, but hopes to in the next ten years, this really hit home. Children being born today should have every expectation of living on average at least 84 years!

This is where the voices of Elders like Mary Robinson are especially powerful: awakening insights and inspiring action from all of us. I look forward to the next time I have a Skoll moment (maybe with the Dalai Lama in Oxford this spring?)!

Commercial Availability: The Poison Pill for Marrakesh Treaty Implementation


If you can buy a book, you can’t borrow it. That’s the lobbying position of some companies in the intellectual property field when implementing the new Marrakesh Copyright Treaty. Marrakesh is intended to end the book famine for people who can’t read regular books because of their disability. Libraries for people who are blind or dyslexic are the primary source of accessible books in audio, large print or braille. But, some companies want to empty the library shelves and insist that only books that can’t be purchased are allowed to be stocked in such libraries. Imagine what a regular library would look like if it couldn’t stock books that could be purchased by the general public! That would pretty much defeat the purpose of having a library.As the founder of the largest library for people who are blind or who have other significant disabilities that prevent them from reading printed texts (such as dyslexia or brain injuries), I think this is a terrible idea. Since people with disabilities tend to be the poorest of the poor, it seems odd to campaign to hobble libraries that serve only this community. Wouldn’t it make more sense to make it easier for people with disabilities to get access to the books they need for education and employment?In this post, I hope to convincingly make the case why countries ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty should implement copyright exceptions for people with disabilities which do not have these self-clearing provisions, technically called “commercial availability limitations.” Our experience successfully building Bookshare under the United States copyright exception, which has no such commercial availability limitation, informs this strong opinion. My position rests on three pillars: the moral case, the economic case, and the practical case.Countries implementing the Marrakesh Treaty, might benefit from hearing the experience of other countries which have already put such copyright exceptions into place. I hope they follow the lead of the great majority of these countries and allow libraries serving that community to be fully stocked with the needed accessible books!The Bookshare Library ExperienceI am the CEO of Benetech, the nonprofit organization that provides the world’s largest online collection of accessible books, for people with disabilities that interfere with reading, through our Bookshare library. Bookshare was created under the Section 121 U.S. copyright exception, which was one of the inspirations for the Marrakesh Treaty.The Bookshare promise to American students with disabilities is that if they need a book for education, Bookshare will ensure that they have it. Under our copyright exception, we simply buy a copy of the needed print book, scan it using optical character recognition, and create an accessible ebook. These ebooks can be instantly turned into the accessible format needed by the student with a disability, such as braille, enlarged print, or our most common format, audio through a computerized synthetic voice. We don’t have to ask for permission from the publisher or author. We don’t have to research questions of commercial availability, affordability, or format availability. We simply act to ensure the person who needs an accessible book can get it.As an organization that puts this disability-specific copyright exception into practice, I can say with confidence that the U.S. exception model works well here. We go to great lengths to ensure the digital works we provide are restricted to bona fide patrons with disabilities. Over 350,000 American patrons now download more than a million accessible books and periodicals each year!And while the publishing industry was [...]

Benetech: the Equilibrium Change Machine


I just read the new book from Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, and strategy guru Roger Martin, Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works. Even though I’m a Skoll Award winner, it really made me think about my organization, Benetech, and what we are trying to accomplish. The book is an expanded version of their seminal article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review from 2007, “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition.” I always refer aspiring social entrepreneurs to the article when they ask me how they can win a Skoll Award. But, it’s always useful to explore the framework of one’s work.  Sally and Roger's book challenged me to do just that. Framework for Producing Transformative ChangeTwo key concepts from the book really stuck with me. The first is their core concept of equilibrium change. Did the world move from one stable but unjust equilibrium to a new and better one? Of course, this is a familiar concept to me as someone who started his career building for-profit tech companies in Silicon Valley. The primary goal in the Valley is massive change, because when you’re a for-profit that magnitude usually yields massive profits. Whether it’s Microsoft transforming the PC software industry, or Google or Facebook, it’s clear that the world is different because these companies exist. The difference is that the social entrepreneur pursues change at scale primarily as a tool for social justice, not private enrichment.That’s the group the Skoll Foundation wants to invest in: social entrepreneurs driving large-scale change.The second key concept explores what a social entrepreneur is and isn’t. The authors present a two-by-two matrix. One axis represents nature of action: direct or indirect. The other axis represents systems change: does the world work better and differently now as a result of these efforts? Credit: Martin, Roger L. and Osberg, Sally R., Osberg & Martin, Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works, 2015.They put Martin Luther King in one box: the world-changing activist who accomplished large-scale change through indirect means. They put most nonprofits in the direct action without systems change box: groups that do a good (or even excellent) job of delivering services under the existing system. They then place social entrepreneurs in the direct action and systems change box. Basically, social entrepreneurs get stuff done at scale and they change the world to boot!This is not to say that social entrepreneurs don’t work in the policy and advocacy space. But, we generally play in that space based on our credibility as operators of social change at scale first. Rather than just telling people how the world needs to improve, the successful social entrepreneur demonstrates how to do it.I read the Osberg/Martin book just prior to a major Benetech planning meeting. We were trying to analyze the Benetech secret sauce: how do we go about changing the world for the better as Silicon Valley’s deliberately nonprofit tech company? The team laid out the figure below:Benetech's Equilibrium Change Model Looking at this summary of how Benetech operates, it was clear to me that our theory of change matched the framework from Osberg and Martin. We pick projects that have the potential for large-scale change: can we deliver something for a tenth of the cost of the existing solution? If cost benchmarking doesn’t make sense (as in the field of human rights), can we dramatically change the way people operate in a given area? Equilibrium Change According to BenetechBenetech is an engine for equilibrium change, and we’ve done it over[...]

Why Your Country Should Ratify the Marrakesh Treaty


Access to information and knowledge is a basic human right and a necessary first step towards personal, economic, and social development. Yet around the world, over 100 million individuals are denied this basic right. They include people who are blind, visually impaired, have dyslexia, or have a physical disability that prevents them from reading regular printed books. The good news is that there are now unprecedented opportunities to transform the lives of these millions by removing barriers of access to information — and this is where you can help.Chief negotiator Justin Hughes and theU.S. delegation signing the treaty. The international legal landscape for people with these disabilities dramatically changed on June 28, 2013, when the World Intellectual Property Organization adopted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. This historic international copyright exception treaty paves the way for a future in which people who cannot read regular printed materials can have equal access to books, regardless of where they live. There is still much to do, however, before the treaty takes full effect.As the nonprofit operator of Bookshare,the world’s largest online library for people who are blind, visually impaired, dyslexic, or have a physical disability that prevents them from reading books, Benetech strongly recommends the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty.Here’s why the Marrakesh Treaty is so important and why your country can help ensure it benefits the millions who need it.What Does the Marrakesh Treaty Do?The World Blind Union's Right to Read Campaign estimates that less than ten percent of all books published are available in accessible formats such as braille, large print, and audio talking books. The Marrakesh Treaty makes it easier for nonprofits, schools, government agencies, and individuals with disabilities to convert inaccessible print books into accessible equivalents. It does so by making it legal under copyright to create accessible books without needing to seek permission or (in most countries) paying a royalty. It also allows for the import and export of such accessible books across international borders.How Does the Treaty Help My Country?·         It remedies the book famine faced by people who are blind or have another disability that prevents them from reading books, improving their access to education, employment, and social inclusion.·         It supports international human rights treaty commitments, especially the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.·         It supports the Sustainable Development Goals, which mention inclusiveness repeatedly, especially in the context of education.·         It is the primary successful example of the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization Development Agenda, and will lay the groundwork for more advances in the Development Agenda.·         It supports domestic human and civil rights laws around access to information and education.·         It greatly lowers the cost of providing accessible books by both easing domestic efforts as well as by opening up existing accessible book collections in other countries (either regionally or large worldwide English libraries, such as Bookshare’s collection of 375,000+ titles).· &n[...]

A Worthy Read: National Education Technology Plan


I just finished reading the National Education Technology Plan, and I can recommend it to anyone interested in the future of technology in American education. 

These kinds of plans can be impenetrable, but I found this one quite readable and understandable.  It is full of examples of interesting ed tech from for-profits and nonprofits, as well as local, state and federal government agencies.  I found the explanations good, and the first part of the plan is well worth reading to understand some of the trends in educational applications of technology.

Of course, one thing might be that accessibility is put right up top, front and center!  I liked this quote:
In addition to enabling students with disabilities to use content and participate in activities, the concepts also apply to accommodating the individual learning needs of students, such as English language learners, students in rural communities, or students from economically disadvantaged homes. 
Universal design gets a lot of well-deserved attention, and I was positively delighted by the plug for born accessible:
Education stakeholders should develop a born accessible standard of learning resource design to help educators select and evaluate learning resources for accessibility and equity of learning experience.Born accessible is a play on the term born digital and is used to convey the idea that materials that are born digital also can and should be born accessible. If producers adopt current industry standards for producing educational materials, materials will be accessible out of the box. 
So, there's a lot to like in there for me and our campaign for greater accessibility built into future educational technology and content!

Mr. Jim Goes to Washington (and New York, and Nairobi, and Seoul, and Kampala, and Boston…)


Like many other leaders of nonprofit organizations, I travel an unreasonable fraction of the time. I recently hit three million lifetime miles on American Airlines. Not sure whether to celebrate or mourn this milestone.Why do I do it? Why do my peers do it? We know that the carbon impact of all that travel is bad for the planet, and the personal impact of all that travel is bad on our bodies. We travel because we think it’s the most effective way to spread social change. We travel because there is no substitute for human interaction. We travel because we need to raise money, and we won’t get it unless we get in front of the donors.For the more senior social entrepreneurs, we can travel because we have leaders and teams that are usually better than we are at running the organizations we head and/or have founded. We travel because it‘s the best use of our time in finding the partnerships, insights, and the money our teams need to create more social change. Lastly, we travel to advocate for the world to change, from a position of authority based on the change our organizations are already delivering.That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it. However, I thought I’d back up the theory with a brief picture of what this kind of travel looks like in practice. When I travel, I write up detailed notes on who I meet with and what we discussed. After all, if we’re going to invest all of that time and money sending me places, Benetech better get its social good bang for the buck. So, let me tell you about a seven week travel jag I recently completed, where I spent almost 70% of the nights not at home (including weekends). Hopefully, it will give you a flavor of why this travel is worth it to me and Benetech!New York Every year, social entrepreneurs and donors (along with a whole lot of other folks) converge on New York City. It’s the week of the United Nations General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative. Even if all you do is spent two minutes in the lobby of the hotel where CGI is held, you have plenty of meetings and events to attend. My trip report mentions 19 different events or meetings, where I talked to at least 40 named individuals, in five days in New York City, and here are some of the highlights:Empire State Building and Moon in EclipseAttended events thrown by current funders (Skoll Foundation, the Internet Freedom Program at the State Department), past funders (Omidyar Network), and other funders who I hope will fund us someday (who shall remain nameless for now). Took pictures of the lunar eclipse next to the Empire State Building(!)Attended a networking events for social entrepreneurs, such as the one organized by the Schwab Foundation (the organizers of the World Economic Forum in Davos), where we brainstormed about different issues. I led a conversation on what big data is going to mean for social entrepreneurs. Met with current and prospective individual donors as part of my donor cultivation and stewardship efforts, by thanking current donors and explaining what we’ve accomplished with their support, and sharing our activities with prospective donors in the hopes of getting them to support Benetech. Consulted with some peer social entrepreneurs about whether we could help them with specific technology for their nonprofits. Met with a big NYC disability services provider about a possible Bookshare partnership. Met with a major international human rights defender group about our Martus technology and digital security more generally. Interviewed several candidates for executive[...]

Rockstar Nairobi Social Entrepreneur


Carol Wanjiku is the CEO of Daproim. She’s an incredible social entrepreneur I just visited with in Nairobi, Kenya. She runs a for-profit social enterprise named Daproim that provides data entry services using disadvantaged students as their primary workforce.We go way back with her firm. In 2008, we were the first customer of Samasource as they were getting started. Samasource connected us with Daproim in Nairobi to proofread books for our Bookshare project. Bookshare is our large digital library for students with disabilities such as blindness or dyslexia. We use digital ebooks at Bookshare’s core, which can easily be turned into braille, large print or digital audio (using synthetic speech technology). We had just won a large contract to deliver high-quality accessible textbooks to students with disabilities in the U.S., and we needed more help. Samasource connected us with a winning team, and we’ve been using Daproim ever since.I visited Daproim four years ago, and wrote about my experiences in a blog post about its founder, Steve Muthee. While I was there, I also met Carol. She was Steve’s operational head, and they had just become engaged. They made a great team: Steve was an enthusiastic salesman/CEO, passionate about building up Kenya through good IT jobs, and Carol ran the team. They recruited their staff from Nairobi slums as well as students from poor rural backgrounds who had made it to Nairobi universities. Carol WanjikuDaproim went on to great success. Carol shared that they had received an Impact Sourcing grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and scaled up their capacity. They focused even more on students, and built online resources that allowed them to recruit from across Kenya, including economic and social screening for the neediest students. Daproim worked with TechnoServe and developed soft skills training modules for students who stuck with the work after an initial period. Carol explained that these smart students lacked the connections and people skills to get jobs after graduation, and that Daproim wanted to give them a leg up in going on to tech careers once they graduated from school and from working for Daproim.Unfortunately, early last year, Steve got sick. The doctors in Kenya struggled with a diagnosis. Meanwhile, Carol became pregnant with their first child. Steve went to India for more tests. They diagnosed him with a rare, serious disease called dermatomyositis. Only a month after the birth of their daughter, Amara, last October, Steve passed away.My team and I were quite worried about Carol, as a new mom suddenly in charge of a social enterprise. We sent our condolences and best wishes for Carol and her new baby. Incredibly, the high-quality work continued to flow from Daproim uninterrupted.Last week I was able to visit Nairobi, and I sat down with Carol to find out how we could help her. Her answer was simple: she simply needs more business. As she put it, “Steve’s dream was to see Daproim grow!” They have 250 part-time staff right now, and they want to grow to 800 staff by the end of 2016. I was surprised to find out that we’re her largest customer right now, with more than 100 students working on proofreading educational books for Bookshare. I also learned that our collection development team keeps track of exam schedules in Kenya, and arranges our book flows to Daproim accordingly, so that students can focus on their school work during that period.Her limitation is not lack of human capital. Daproim has more than 7600 applications from Kenyan students who[...]

Help Wanted: Wildcards!


Are you someone who is burning to make a difference? Someone who values doing good over a whopping salary? Do you want flexibility in your job? Benetech wants to hear from you! It’s hard for most organizations to accommodate nonstandard approaches to work. There are jobs that need doing, and most places have a standard model for doing them. However, Benetech is not a standard place! Consider what makes Benetech unique:

  • Women Majority: The majority of Benetech’s executives, managers, professional staff and overall team are women. How many tech companies can say that!
  • Rights-focused: Advancing the human rights of disadvantaged people is central to our work. We help the people who most need it, not those who can most afford it.
  • Flexibility: We expect the work to get done, and provide our professional staff a high degree of flexibility on how to get it done.

What’s the catch? Well, we’re a nonprofit: organized as a charity. And while we pay quite well by nonprofit standards, there is no stock plan. If making top dollar is a personal requirement or the chance to make social good doesn’t make your heart sing, stop reading, we’re not your next gig.
  • If you are someone with amazing skills who is looking for a way to give back using those talents, read on.
  • If you are looking for a path to reenter the workplace, but need the flexibility or hours to spend parts of the day at home, read on.
  • If you have made an exit, but playing golf all day is not your idea of nirvana, read on.
  • If you have a great idea for a job share, read on.
  • If you would like to try the nonprofit sector on for size, read on.
Our regular job postings are on our website here, but not all of our needs fit a standard job posting. We need help in the following areas:
  • Marketing and communications
  • Fundraising
  • Software development
  • Recruiting
  • Accounting and finance
  • Community management
To us, a wildcard position is a new, unexpected better option for accomplishing our social mission. It could be a full-time gig, part-time, low bono or pro bono. We are excited to be exposed to new ideas, and we hope your involvement is one of those great new ideas! If you have outstanding skills you want to employ for the greater good, and even if your skills don’t precisely match the jobs listed on our website, send your resume and a cover letter that explains why you are amazing and what you’d need to make a wildcard position work for you to If you’ve read this far, we really want to hear from you!

Open Source Means Strong Security


“Your secure software is open source: doesn’t that make it less secure?”This is a recurring question that we get at Benetech about Martus—our free, strongly encrypted tool for secure collection and management of sensitive information, built and provided by the Benetech Human Rights Program. It’s an important question for us and for all of our peers developing secure software in today’s post-Snowden environment of fear and worry about surveillance. We strongly believe not only that open source is compatible with digital security, but that it’s also essential for it.Let me explain with the following analogy:Think of encryption as a locked combination safe for your data. You may be the only one who has the combination, or you may entrust it to select few close associates. The goal of a safe is to keep unauthorized people from gaining access to its content. They might be burglars attempting to steal valuable business information; employees trying to learn confidential salary information about their peers; or a fraudster who wants to gain confidential information in order to perpetrate a scam. In all cases, you want the safe to keep your stuff secure and keep out unauthorized people.Now, let’s say I’m choosing a safe for my valuables. Do I choose Safe Number One that’s advertised to have half-inch steel walls, an inch thick door, six locking bolts, and is tested by an independent agency to confirm that the contents will survive for two hours in a fire? Or, would I opt for Safe Number Two, where the vendor just tells me to trust them, my stuff is safe with them, but insists the design details of their safe is a trade secret? It could be the safe is made of plywood painted to look like metal in the catalog, and made from thin sheet metal. It might even be stronger than Safe Number One, but I have no idea if it is.I know which one I’d choose!License: CC0 Public DomainImagine I have the detailed plans and specifications of Safe Number One, sufficient to build an exact copy of that safe if I had the right materials and tools. Does that make Safe Number One less safe? No, it does not. The security of Safe Number One rests on two protections: the strength of the design and the difficulty of guessing my combination. Having the detailed plans helps me, or safe experts, determine how good the design is. It helps establish that the safe has no design flaws or a second “back door” combination other than my own chosen combination that opens the safe. Bear in mind that a good safe design allows the user to choose their own combination at random. Knowing the design should not at all help an attacker in guessing the random combination of a specific safe using that design.Granted, there is no such thing as perfect security. Everyone so far that has advertised an uncrackable safe has been promising more than they can deliver. The goal of locking up your valuables is not to make them impossible to steal, but rather expensive to steal—whether in terms of money (better tools cost more), time, or the possibility of being sent to jail. The more you raise the cost of cracking a safe, the more secure your valuables are.The point is this: knowing the specifications of a safe, and hence what it would take to crack it, doesn’t make it less secure. Knowing that the walls are half an inch thick might help a burglar know what tools are required to cut through a half inch of case hardened steel, but this knowledge doesn’t make it less costly to do so. Knowing th[...]

Are You Passionate about Technology and Social Good? Benetech Needs You!


Guest post by Betsy Beaumon, President, BenetechWe are seeking visionary leaders to join Benetech in applying technology to advance the rights of disadvantaged people around the world. Technology is playing an ever larger role in increasing respect for human rights and delivering better services, and we have two rare opportunities to lead world-class tech-for-good programs. Benetech is hiring new Vice Presidents for our Global Literacy and Human Rights programs.You are the leader we are looking for if you see the combination of social good and businesslike management as the answer to pressing problems throughout the world. You are someone who dreams about using your management and leadership skills and love of technology for social impact, exceeding the bounds of what a regular for-profit business can do.You’ve come to the right place: Benetech.We are Silicon Valley’s deliberately nonprofit software company. Benetech is organized as a nonprofit, but run like a business. Our goal is not to make gobs of money, it’s to make maximum social impact while breaking even. We use technology today to help hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities succeed in school, as well as help human rights activists around the world document abuses and seek justice. Our Benetech Labs is busy looking for the next tech social enterprises that could make similar global impact.We operate at the intersection of technology and social impact, and therefore our ideal candidates will demonstrate these dual interests and experiences. Whether you are a nonprofit leader with a track record of using technology to improve outcomes, or a for-profit tech leader with a history of commitment to social justice organizations, we want to see a commitment to both sides. To be successful, our leaders have to be bilingual in speaking tech and social good.The Vice President of Human Rights will lead the work of the Benetech Human Rights Program, harnessing the power of technology to meet the pressing needs of advocates and human rights defenders to securely gather, store, and appropriately report sensitive data. The technology and training Benetech provides keep human rights defenders safe and have become critically important in larger efforts to pursue reform, seek justice, and begin the process of reconciliation. As one of our partners from an LGBT group in Uganda noted last year, “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.” We must help ensure that every report of abuse is a tool for justice.The Vice President of Global Literacy leads Benetech’s biggest program, standing at the confluence of some of the most active and rapidly evolving fields: digital content, EdTech, domestic and international education, and user-centered design. Our Bookshare service is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with disabilities, serving over 350,000 users in 60 countries. This leader also provides the vision, leadership, and partnerships for a number of our Benetech Labs projects, including our DIAGRAM Center for accessible STEM, and our latest work on 3D printing in education, museums and libraries. Our dream is that every person on the planet with a disability that gets in the way of reading will have access to the content they need for education, employment, and full social inclusion. Along the way, we expect to drive innovations that will make learning better for all students around the world.Working for Benetech is hugely rewardi[...]

Proud Father and Husband: Concert in Palo Alto


Every once in a while, the Beneblog features something of personal importance to me.

I'm very excited (and proud) about an exciting concert coming up soon in Palo Alto. My daughter, Kate Fruchterman, will be returning briefly to the area the evening of June 17th to give a concert.  Kate will be heading to Europe this fall to sing professionally in Italy for the Turin Opera Company, as the winner of one of three Opera Foundation Scholarships.

As I said at the Skoll World Forum this year after hearing Monica Yunus, the famous opera singer and daughter of leading social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus, Kate is another proof point of the proposition that geeky social entrepreneur dads can have beautiful opera singer daughters. 

Kate Fruchterman, soprano

But, there's more!  The accomplished pianist Virginia Fruchterman (who I happen to be married to) will be the main accompanist at the concert at St. Mark's Church.  In addition, Lauren Osaka, flautist, and Phil Kadet, the NYC-based jazz pianist and composer, will also be playing with Kate.  

Full disclosure: there is a suggested $20 donation for adults at the door, which will help Kate as she journeys to Italy. Feel free to spread the word to people in the Bay Area!  

Optimistic about Marrakesh Treaty!


The World Blind Union’s (WBU) Right to Read campaign for ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty just concluded two days of meetings in Berlin, Germany. The attendees were mostly the regional coordinators of the campaign, and the news was good. I found the optimism exciting: it seems like we’re moving quickly to getting twenty countries to ratify the Treaty. It even seems likely that it could happen in 2015!A highlight of the meeting for me was going through the list of countries that have already ratified, will or probably will ratify (in WBU’s opinion), and those that possibly will ratify in 2015. The score:Have ratified = 8Will or Probably Will = 14Possible = 17The Treaty goes into effect three months after 20 ratifications have been formally deposited with WIPO, so it’s looking great! The hope is to be able to celebrate the milestone globally on December 10, 2015, Human Rights Day.In North America, Canada was rated as “probable” and the USA as a “possible.” There is a fair amount of friendly competition going on to see which country ratifies first. Of course, Mexico might well beat both the USA and Canada, but Mexico is in the Latin America group at WBU. Stevie Wonder at the close of the Marrakesh Treaty Negotiations The embarrassing gap during the meeting was the fact that no European countries were considered to be likely to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty in 2015. The political footballs being tossed around are about competency and sequencing: does the European Union (EU) get to sign and ratify the Treaty (exclusive competence), or do all of the countries in the EU have to ratify first (shared or mixed competence)? Also, do you need to implement the Treaty and then ratify it, or ratify it and then implement it? Countries like Germany and France, which were difficult during the Treaty negotiations, are seen as dragging their feet in these ratification efforts, arguing for shared competence and implementation first—bureaucratic obstacles that seem as if they would lose in a court case, but could drag on for years. Moreover, the UK, which is generally pro-Treaty, has political reasons to not bow to EU authority at this time.One attendee pointed out that the cross-border sharing of content wouldn’t be of much use unless you had the USA or Europe on board: that’s where a lot of content will come from for people with print disabilities in the rest of the world. Let’s hope the USA does ratify this year (I'm certainly part of that effort)! While the meeting was going on, we heard that Spain’s government had forwarded the treaty to their parliament for ratification. While it’s not clear where this fits in the Euro-wrangles, the hope is that this development will drive the Treaty’s ratification to the next level in Spain.Even the European mess didn’t dampen the attendees’ spirits. They are busy planning for the implementation phase of the Marrakesh Treaty, assuming it takes effect in the coming year, as well as continuing the ratification campaign well beyond reaching the twenty-country milestone.I was able to share some of our plans at Benetech around implementing the Treaty. We’re doing a ton of work with partners in India, the first country to ratify it, to allow people in India to take full advantage of India’s now-favorable copyright environment. We also hope to lend our Bookshare online library infrastructure to developing world countrie[...]