Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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:
Skyscraper at night, with partial moon rising right next to it visually.
Empire State Building and Moon in Eclipse
  • Attended 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 positions at Benetech. 
  • Met with the UN Foundation about a major grant they are giving us to bring Bookshare to India. 
  • And much more… 

Washington, D.C. 

I then zipped down to DC for three days. I spent one day with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as they hosted an event for the Technology Partner Network (I’m one of a couple of hundred of tech advisors in the network). It was interesting to hear the latest about the Gates Foundation and their tech directions. We’re a former grantee and we hope that our work and Gates funding priorities coincide again in the future. Mainly, it was interesting to hear the perspective of a bunch of fellow tech advisors and be part of a process of collectively getting smarter.
Next was two days of Capitol Hill lobbying. I spend between four and ten days a year talking to Congressional staff (this year will be at the lower end of the range). I started doing this back in 2007, when we won our first big federal contract for Bookshare, to take it from 3,000 students back then to more than 350,000 students now. This time I had three agenda items for my conversations with congressional staff:
  • Advocating for funding for special education. We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years advocating against cuts to the funding that supports our work, by pointing out how amazingly effective this funding is. Even in the tough fiscal environment in Washington, we get good hearings from both Republicans and Democrats. Ensuring kids with disabilities get equal opportunity is, fortunately, a bipartisan issue. 
  • The Marrakesh Treaty. Word is that the Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind has a ratification package completed. That’s all of the legal work-up on a treaty and how U.S. law needs to change to comply with the treaty (the hope is that these changes are minimal). It’s now up to the Obama Administration to decide if and when they ask the Senate to ratify it. This is not as improbable as it might seem: there’s a pretty good chance the Republican-led Senate might approve the Treaty. I had hoped that the package would have already been in the hands of the Senate, but it hasn’t happened yet. I had a joint meeting (both Republicans and Democrats) with the key Senate Judiciary Committee staff who are the copyright experts, and learned a lot about the process. 
  • Student privacy. We recently wrote a piece in Medium on our concerns about new privacy legislation affecting nonprofits that work in schools. I had a chance to meet with staffers involved in the drafting of two key federal bills that are most likely to be adopted, and shared my issues. This is what my team calls a karma gig. Benetech is going to be able to comply with any reasonable legislation around student privacy, and we’re supportive of improved privacy standards. But, we’re concerned about small nonprofits who are not Google, Facebook, Pearson or Benetech, and they aren’t able to show up in a place like DC. So, we fill in for them. 

Nairobi, Kenya 

Next I headed to Nairobi, Kenya. My main commitment was to attend a conference in Uganda (described below in this blog post), but I figured if I was in east Africa, I should take the opportunity to first visit two key partners in Kenya (after having a coffee on Sunday with my cousin's daughter, an MIT grad working on analyzing traffic safety data gleaned from social media in Kenya).
My first visit was with Carol Wanjiku, the CEO of our outsourcing partner Daproim. Carol’s social enterprise in Nairobi employs over 100 students working to proofread books for our Bookshare digital library. Her story is so compelling, I’ve already written a blog post about this incredible woman, entitled Rockstar Nairobi Social Entrepreneur. Enough said!
Alberta Wambua, John Kipchumbah, Jim Fruchterman and Dr. Sam Thenya in front of hospital signs
Gender Violence Recover Unit

The next day I spent with our long-term tech partner, John “Kipp” Kipchumbah of Infonet. Our first in-person meeting was four years ago, but Kipp has been working with Benetech for more than a decade. Kipp has been a leading software developer in the region, creating software around election monitoring and government transparency just to name a few.
We were supposed to start our visit with a very high government official, but instead Kipp took me over to Nairobi Women’s Hospital. This hospital has a specialty unit that focuses on the survivors of sexual violence such as rape, and Kipp introduced me to Alberta Wambua, who runs the Gender Violence Recovery Centre at the hospital. I quickly found myself talking to one of the front-line doctors, Dr. Edwin, who explained the process of completing the standard rape reporting form paperwork while treating a rape victim. In quick succession I met the medical director who oversees the doctors in the hospital, and then the hospital CEO, Dr. Sam Thenya.
Kipp’s idea was that we could take this paper-based rape reporting system and build it on top of our Martus secure human rights software platform. It would have the following benefits:
  • Keeping this highly confidential information safe; 
  • Backing up the information securely into the cloud; 
  • Tracking all changes to the records from the very first time the data is captured; 
  • Allowing the medical experts in the Gender Based Violence (GBV) area to have better aggregate data about the prevalence and characteristics of GBV in Kenya. 
The Benetech team is very excited about helping with this important application: we’ve already built an initial prototype of the app for Kipp and his partners to evaluate.

Kampala, Uganda 

The Sixth Africa Forum was the main reason for my Africa trip. The Africa Forum is the premier meeting of blindness groups across sub-Saharan Africa, and it’s held roughly every three years. It was the third Africa Forum I’ve attended: I went to Accra, Ghana, in 2011 and South Africa in 2004. This time, I had the benefit of help. Our new international Bookshare manager, Terry Jenna, arrived several days before I did and I found myself in a whirl of meetings with international groups, funders, the key disability minister in the Ugandan government, and many others.
Beatrice Kaggya (Ugandan disability commissioner), Terry Jenna, Minister Sulaiman Madada, Jim Fruchterman in office
Visiting the Hon. Sulaiman Madada, Uganda's Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development
The conference was ably keynoted by Professor Ruth Okediji, who played a key role in negotiating the Marrakesh Treaty on behalf of the African delegations. She is a University of Minnesota law school professor who was born in Africa and is a terrific advocate for the Treaty and its empowerment of the blind community. Bookshare was there with two offers. First, Bookshare has more than 200,000 accessible titles in English available to blind people in Africa. So, we’re happy to share the American (and Canadian and British and Indian) content we already have. Second, we’d be happy to provide the digital infrastructure so that African countries can create their own Bookshare collections once they ratify the Marrakesh Treaty.
One moment made a big impression on me. We were demonstrating Bookshare to a person at one of Uganda’s top universities. They have over 100 visually impaired students enrolled, and want to do more for these students. We were sitting in the shade outside the conference facility, but there was good wifi. I brought up our Read Now capability in Google’s Chrome browser and started reading a textbook aloud directly from the browser. The light bulb went off and our guest exclaimed, “That’s exactly what our students need!” A nice reminder of why we do this work!

Half Moon Bay, California

After 2.5 weeks on the road, I got back and slept in my bed for a couple of nights. Then, it was off to Miramar Farms in Half Moon Bay, a community on the Pacific Ocean less than an hour from our offices in Silicon Valley. Benetech has held its annual management team offsite at Miramar Farms several times. We find their restored barn to be a terrific place to step away and brainstorm about Benetech’s plans for the coming years.
The offsite went really well, best we have had. I had a particular brainstorm as a result of some ideas presented by the team, because on the flight back from Africa I had just read Sally Osberg’s new book on social entrepreneurship (coauthored with Prof. Roger Martin). It made a big impression on me, and I am also working on a blog post inspired by her book, Getting Beyond Better.

Seoul, South Korea

After an almost restful whirlwind of meetings in California, it was off to Seoul for the Eighth Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy. This is my first time at this conference, which had been strongly recommended to me by Stanford Professor Larry Diamond and the head of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman.
What attracted me to the meeting was Benetech’s expanded focus on social justice and the humanitarian fields in our human rights work. It was a chance to get exposed to a new set of people. It was also important to finally meet some leaders in the field who I had never met in person. For example, Professor Ron Deibert from the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School. The Citizen Lab is probably the world’s foremost group analyzing the attacks on human rights groups by repressive governments. Although Benetech has cooperated with the Citizen Lab for years, I know that meeting Ron in person will take that relationship up a notch.
At the meeting I met with groups from all over the world, including people who have visited Benetech’s offices but who hadn’t met me (probably because I was traveling). One of the most exciting meetings was with Scott Carpenter of Google Ideas, where I got the inside scoop on their ambitious plans to end online repressive censorship. Google Ideas was there in force, and even as a longtime security geek I learned some things by attending one of their training sessions.
Of course, being in proximity to North Korea, one of the most dire countries in terms of respect for human rights, meant that this topic came up frequently. I had a couple of meetings on the topic, including an illuminating discussion with the Transitional Justice Working Group.


Flying directly from Seoul to Boston (via Dallas), I jumped into an experts’ meeting on the Marrakesh Treaty. Professor Ruth Okediji, who keynoted the Uganda conference a couple of weeks earlier, is visiting Harvard Law School this year. She convened a group of noteworthy law professors who are experts on international law, including human rights and copyright law. The chief negotiators of the Treaty for India (GR Raghavender), Brazil (Kenneth Nobrega), and of course Nigeria (Ruth) all participated. The objective of this group is to draft a guide to the Marrakesh Treaty for countries around the world to use as they implement the Marrakesh provisions in their national law. Even as someone who has worked in the human rights field for many years, I learned a great deal from these eminent experts, and hopefully shed some light on the details on how libraries like Bookshare serve people with disabilities like vision impairment or dyslexia.


And now I’m briefly back with my team in Palo Alto, and the season has changed from warm and mild to cool and occasionally even rainy. But, it’s sure a nice place to visit!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

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.
Portrait photo of Carol Wanjiku, seated and smiling, wearing a red jacket
Carol Wanjiku

Daproim 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 want to work there. With the investment in systems thanks to Rockefeller’s support, expansion is relatively easy.

Carol also asked me if we would serve as a reference for Daproim. No problem! Carol, consider this blog post a down payment on that reference.

I asked Bookshare’s head of Collection Development, our very own Carol James, about Daproim’s work, and she had this to say:
She has done an amazing job of keeping Daproim going after Steve’s death – they continue to be one of our best vendor partners, in terms of value, quality, and timeliness, and Carol is so positive and proactive about keeping the relationship with us healthy. 

So, if you’re searching for great data entry services for outsourcing, make your money work twice as hard like we do. We get great services from Daproim, and we know that our money is also supporting the development of the new Africa through its smart yet disadvantaged students!

Monday, August 10, 2015

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.
Help wanted sign

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 wildcards@benetech.org. If you’ve read this far, we really want to hear from you!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

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!

Graphics representing "digital security," showing a lock on a background made of binary code.
License: CC0 Public Domain
Imagine 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 the combination is designed to have millions of possibilities rather than hundreds discourages attackers who might try to guess your combination or try all of the possibilities. A well-designed safe with a hard-to-guess combination will discourage most attackers.

The analogy of the strong safe with an open design is directly applicable to secure software design. Just as with the safe, the security of a strongly encrypted software tool is not compromised by having its code openly available as open source. In fact, that the tool’s source code is open strengthens its security and, by extension, the safety and privacy of its users. If the code is public and freely available for review, then the end-users, their experts, and the open source community at large can verify that the software does exactly what it claims to do and that there are no “back doors.” In a world where hyper-surveillance is the norm, it is only natural that users insist on commitment to transparency by software developers. This is especially critical for human rights defenders, activists, journalists, civil society groups, and other social justice actors whose digital security and physical safety are closely linked.

It may seem a paradox that opening up the source code of secure software actually makes it more trustworthy. As toolmakers, though, our goal is not to keep the software design secret, but rather protect the confidentiality of the information entrusted to the software. As the safe analogy shows, the strength of security of software depends on the quality of design and the difficulty of guessing the password. With a strong, openly accessible design, the other key security element is encouraging users to choose long, strong, non-obvious passwords. The combination of a secure design and a good confidential password makes it unlikely that all but the most dedicated and well-resourced attackers will be able to access the confidential information stored in open source security software.

Just as the most secure safe will eventually yield to a dedicated assault from an expert with plenty of time and resources, secure software will also eventually yield to a similar assault. The goal of secure software is to raise the cost of such attacks to the point where attackers rarely bother you: they’ll attack your less secure neighbors!

At Benetech, we believe that collaboration and community best help deliver strong security. Here the open source approach to software development makes it easier to collaborate and incorporate existing important innovations. In the case of Martus, we didn’t have to re-implement cryptography libraries, as we used a strong open source one (Bouncy Castle). Likewise, we didn’t need to reinvent anonymity tools, as we integrated Tor into Martus. In this way, our users benefit from an entire community that supports their work with better digital security tools.

The major funders of technology for human rights groups have concluded that open source software is more trustworthy for the activists they want to support. Some of them, like the Open Technology Fund, are actively encouraging their grantees to have their software audited by third party experts, and funding those audits.

With greater transparency, accountability, independent verifiability, and collaboration comes stronger security. The open source way moves us all towards that goal.

This article originally appeared on Opensource.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.   

Monday, June 08, 2015

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

Guest post by Betsy Beaumon, President, Benetech

We 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 rewarding, but not necessarily in a monetary sense. You have to feel strongly that the karmic rewards tip the balance to join a social enterprise. So if you are driven to make a real difference from a leadership position, at the unique intersection of technology and social change—and you are willing to work on delivering maximum social good—then we want to hear from you. Check out our job postings and apply now!

This post originally appeared on Benetech's Blog.

Friday, June 05, 2015

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. 

Singer in a black dress and pearls smiling and leaning against a cinder block wall.
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!  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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 = 8
  • Will or Probably Will = 14
  • Possible = 17
The 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 standind behind a desk next to a panel of speakers, holding a microphone.
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 countries not currently able to build their own online library at this time. Additionally, we have over 200,000 copyrighted accessible book titles already available in most countries in the world.

I joke that I’m the geek advisor to the activists. However, I’m proud that the joke is true. From being on the original drafting committee of what became the Marrakesh Treaty, to being part of the negotiations, to helping convince Stevie Wonder to come to Marrakesh if there was a successful treaty (there was and he came), to helping people with print disabilities in countries all over the world gain access to the books they need for education, employment, and social inclusion—I’ve been very honored to play a small role in helping this expected revolution in accessibility.