I am getting more and more excited about what the technology community will be able to accomplish in global society. Benetech® has made great strides, but it’s dwarfed by what Silicon Valley could be doing. One of the exciting benefits of my position is meeting the entrepreneurs, both for-profit and nonprofit, who dream the big dreams. I enjoy helping these social entrepreneurs succeed, and hope to rally more backing for them.
One way to encourage this movement is to help Benetech’s own social entrepreneurs to succeed. My job is to find the financial resources and the key leaders for our projects in such critical areas as literacy, human rights, the environment and battling the scourge of landmines. And so, here is my latest update on how that’s going!
Peggy Gibbs has recently joined Benetech in the newly created role of VP of Business Development. Our bizdev group has a dual role: creating new projects and raising the investment money for Benetech and all of its projects. The new project creation role includes writing the business plans for new ideas, incubating and managing projects in their seed phases, and getting them to the point where a project manager can take over and bring them into operations.
Since we are growing rapidly, and every new project takes roughly one to three million dollars to get to sustainability, Peggy will also be driving the creation of a major fund development program. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about it later this year as Peggy lays out this strategy.
The Skoll Foundation has generously provided an additional organizational development grant to help us refine our marketing messages and strengthen our management team to take on these new challenges.
We received a new grant from the Severns Family Foundation to launch a free prototype version of ALL-Link as a prelude to a revenue generating social enterprise. The technology was developed at UNC Chapel Hill, and significant engineering work was done this spring by students from the CS department of UNC. ALL-Link provides the tools and curriculum to help a non-teacher teach literacy. We see widespread need for this technology and are delighted to be getting it off the ground.
During the first half of 2005, we have been working with the Conservation Measures Partnership (a consortium of the world’s leading conservation organizations) to develop a software product that will help field conservation practitioners to improve the design, implementation and monitoring of their projects. Like many social sectors, individuals working in the field don’t receive a lot of attention from software developers!
We have now successfully developed a prototype of the software as well as comprehensive business and technical plans for the project. In addition to establishing the technical, financial and social viability of the software, this planning work - particularly the prototype - has generated significant enthusiasm among our CMP partners. They just approved moving forward with this project with Benetech. As a result, we are using some additional funding to begin the technical development of the actual product while seeking to raise the money required for its full development.
This project is Benetech’s first foray into the environmental sector, and we are very excited about the progress we have made to date and the potential impact that this project will have on the conservation community.
We have received additional funding from Dr. Armand Neukermans to continue our field research work and our negotiations for access to critical new technology for humanitarian landmine detection. Parag Mody, formerly a senior Sun Microsystems engineer, has joined Ted Driscoll as a Benetech Fellow to help cost-reduce the mine detector and adapt it for humanitarian use. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher has offered pro bono legal assistance to help us gain the intellectual property licenses we need to develop this system.
Access to books for the education field is a very hot topic: our student subscribers to Bookshare have more than doubled since the first of the year. Digital books are the up and coming access solution and we are working with more and more schools to bring accessible books to their students with disabilities, and Bookshare has pioneered this approach. Susie Mckinnon has just joined our team to focus on serving the needs of schools and colleges. The Bookshare repository now has over 22,000 books, as well as daily newspapers, for the print disabled community.
Of course, we’re getting ready for the big literary event of the summer! We plan to have the latest Harry Potter book scanned and available to our users the day of its release.
We have been putting the finishing touches on our work with the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation in East Timor: the release of the final report on June 30th should make a big news impact in the region. We feel very good about the help we were able to render the commissioners as they wrestled with critical issues. More on this when the commission approves the official document, since we can’t pre-announce the results!
Patrick and his team have been pulled in a lot of directions. Applications for our Martus and Analyzer technology, as well as our statistical expertise, have been arriving from all over the world. We expect to start or expand efforts in countries such as Sudan (Darfur), Burma, and the Congo.
Patrick just received a major honor: in April, the Electronic Frontier Foundation presented him with their Pioneer Award. He was in East Timor at the time, and was able to accept the award electronically via a live video chat. East Timorese truth commissioner Isabel Guterrez commented to the award ceremony about the importance of Benetech's help with technology and scientific techniques in the Commission's pursuit of the truth as the Timorese rebuild their society after a long, repressive occupation by Indonesia.
As usual, my travels have been exciting. The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford was stimulating. I saw an early clip of the New Heroes PBS series: you should watch for it this summer. As one of the founding board members of the Social Enterprise Alliance, I was delighted by the turnout at our annual Gathering in Milwaukee and to be asked to introduce our closing keynoter, Steve Case, the founder of AOL and a big supporter of social enterprise.
The Wealth and Giving Forum was a conference for wealthy families interested in expanding their philanthropic giving: I was greatly encouraged by the dynamic speakers and attendees who were all focused on making a bigger positive impact on society. My goal is not only to promote Benetech, but to help promote the field of social entrepreneurship.
Benetech is a crucial example of what can be done with technology to serve those who most need technology, but often are the least able to afford it. We invest the extra time to help build the field of social entrepreneurship, both because we think it’s the right thing to do, and because it is certain to benefit us in the long run. We call it “putting deposits in the karma bank.” I can assure you that these accounts pay handsome dividends!
As always, thank you for your help and support.