Thank You for 20 Years

By Christy Chin, posted on

Celebrating 20 years of impact through software for social good initiatives

Benetech 20th anniversary. 4 icons a girl holding a tablet, a mother and her daughter in a clinic, a conservationist looking at a map, and a lawyer holding a human rights report. Benetech all company photo.

20 years ago, with some seed money from his last startup and a vision to change the world, Jim Fruchterman founded Benetech, a nonprofit dedicated to building tech that serves all of humanity. When I first met Jim, a few years later, while working at the Skoll Foundation, I immediately saw the great potential of Benetech’s software for social good mission. In 2002, Benetech and two other nonprofits received the first Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship at my recommendation. Shortly after leaving Skoll to join The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Philanthropy Workshop, I visited the Guatemalan Police Archives to see the impact of Benetech’s Human Rights program firsthand. In 2009, I was invited to join the Benetech Board, and I have had the privilege of serving as Chair for the past 6 years.  Today, Benetech continues to build on the founding vision, expanding our impact, and empowering communities across the globe. On behalf of the entire board, I’d like to say thank you to all of our volunteers, employees, partners, and supporters past and present. Your contributions have made the world a better place through software for social good.

Looking Back: 20 Years of Impact

Increasing Access to Information for Education, Employment, and Lifelong Learning

The impact of our inclusive education work can be seen in the stories from Bookshare users and the growth of the platform as a whole. US students and teachers use Bookshare in schools across all 50 states, ranging from the largest school districts such as New York City Public Schools and Los Angeles Unified School District to the most rural towns and villages.

To date, people with reading barriers across 80 countries have accessed over 18 million ebooks using Bookshare technology. These books open new opportunities for learning and achievement, enabling people like Giridhar, an engineering student from India who unexpectedly lost his sight partway through his bachelors’ studies, to graduate with distinction.

With 850,000 titles in the Bookshare global collection and 1.5 million titles under management across our global network of library partners, Bookshare has become the largest library of accessible ebooks in the world. Our Born Accessible initiative is enabling real systems change in the publishing industry. Through Born Accessible and Bookshare, we’ll continue to work with our 900 publisher partners to empower people with reading barriers to read any book, on any device, in ways that work for them.

Enabling Human Rights Defenders

In 2003 we launched our first human rights initiative that went on to support human rights defenders in over 50 countries, including secure data collection for over 245,000 documented cases of human rights abuses. Our Martus software was used to document rights abuses against LGBTQ individuals in Uganda and preserve evidence of human rights violations perpetrated during the Guatemalan civil war.

Today, human rights defenders face a new set of challenges. Spurred by social media and citizen activism, more data is available than any one human could analyze. Benetech is harnessing artificial intelligence to empower human rights defenders to analyze this data and build the strongest cases possible to pursue justice.

Empowering Conservationists with Better Data

In 2008, Benetech launched Miradi, an open source platform for adaptive environmental management and planning. Use of Miradi swelled to enable conservationists in 170+ countries with enhanced environmental conservation data and project management. In 2014, Miradi had grown to a place where it could be managed independently. We handed over stewardship to the conservation community, where it is still actively used today. We celebrate the success of this transition in addition to the impact that Miradi created and continues to advance for the environment to date.

Strengthening the Social Safety Net

Today, we are collaborating with social and human service providers, healthcare providers, government agencies, and information and referral services to close the gaps in our social safety net. The result of this collaboration, Benetech Service Net, is making information about the safety net more visible and usable for anyone who needs it. In one year, our six pilot partners used the Service Net platform to make 209,000 referrals, improving the quality of information that they provided to individuals and families seeking critical services such as food, shelter, housing, and healthcare. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our economy and healthcare systems have only increased the need for efficient, real-time information sharing about social and human services. As we continue to develop the platform, we are preparing to implement Service Net in more communities across California and the United States.

Looking Ahead: Asking Important Questions about Technology

Our commitment to building technology that serves all of humanity is stronger now than ever before. As tech has increasingly come under scrutiny for the negative impact that it has on society, we remain fervent advocates for inclusive, ethical tech that brings benefit to all people, not just the richest ten percent.

The newly launched What If section of our website explores important questions about technology, information, and their impact on society. From making the social safety net more secure, to creating inclusive opportunities in STEM, and building AI to assist human rights investigators, see where Benetech, our partners, and the communities we serve are working to make tech work for all people.

Ask What if?