• Awarded: 2006
  • Issue Areas: Education · Human Rights · Peace and Human Rights · Post-Secondary Education · Secondary Education
  • Region: Caribbean · Central America · Central and Southern Asia · Eastern and Southern Africa · Eastern Asia · Europe · Middle East and North Africa · North America · Oceania · South America · Southeast Asia · West and Central Africa
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    For Benetech, the most powerful force on Earth is the human mind. They combine that power with a deep passion for social improvement. Benetech’s goal is simple: to create new technology solutions that serve humanity and empower people to improve their lives. Day by day, they’re helping build a better, safer world.

    Benetech’s business model is similar to that of a technology startup. They have a senior management team with expertise in technology, intellectual property law, licensing venture fund management, and public service. Needs and opportunities where technology could have a tremendous impact are identified and explored. Then they follow their careful, proven process for determining the viability of new ideas. They are pragmatic idealists, willing to take measured risks for big social payoffs.

    Benetech joins forces with strategic partners and philanthropic investors who share their zeal to better the world. Together, they build practical solutions that meet critical needs in the non-profit sector. Benetech’s return on investment is not measured in dollars, but in the number of lives they affect.

    The gap between what is possible and what is profitable in technology applications puts communities and social sector organizations at a disadvantage

    Benetech launches new technology enterprises that serve social purposes, such as the documentation of human rights abuses through their software Martus.

    Books for the vision impaired, secure platforms for reporting human rights violations, conservation monitoring software, and open source software are improving hundreds of thousands of lives.

    Ambition for Change

    Technology that more fully serves all people, not just the richest ten percent.

    Path to Scale

    Adoption by Public Agencies

    Public education funding complements memberships and supports access to Bookshare in the US and other countries. Public and philanthropic funding supports human rights work.

    Business Model

    Limited revenue from memberships and sales; public and philanthropic funding supports most of the work of the two major programs (Bookshare and Martus).

    Jim Fruchterman re-purposes existing technology to create solutions to global challenges. While at Caltech learning to make smart bombs, he thought of using technology for a positive social purpose: applying character recognition to reading machines. He founded Arkenstone, which became the largest maker of reading machines for people with disabilities. That concept became the basis of Benetech, which Jim founded in 2000 with proceeds from the sale of Arkenstone, as a platform for launching new enterprises. Benetech projects include Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of accessible books; Martus, an open-source software that allows users, including human rights groups, to securely gather and organize information about human rights violations; Miradi, another open-source software that enables users to design, monitor, and evaluate conservation programs; and Benetech Labs, a place to explore potential technology solutions to social needs. At the time of the Award, Bookshare had 2,600 subscribers and 21,000 digital electronic books; Martus had approximately 500 accounts in more than 60 countries and had processed 5,000 bulletins; and leading biodiversity conservation organizations were working with Benetech to develop the Miradi software for planning and managing impact.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • Bookshare has grown to 220,000 titles, serves 250,000 members, and provides resources free to U.S. students with qualifying disabilities Bookshare International, launched in 2008, serves members in 40 countries with close to 100,000 titles. Policy advocacy in the field of global copyright will bring the US model of access to books for people with disabilities to many more countries.
    • Martus has more than 1,500 accounts in 120 countries and 200,000 bulletins. In 2006, Benetech designed a system and sampling process to analyze 80 million documents in the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive and presented evidence to prosecute and convict former police offers and senior officials involved in killing tens of thousands.
    • Miradi software is used to monitor conservation impact throughout the world.
    • A new platform, Social Coding 4 Good, engages software engineers to develop open source work for nonprofits.


    Jim FruchtermanFounder and CEO, Benetech
    Nadine Apelian DobbsDirector of Communications, Benetech

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