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