While in college learning to make smart bombs, Jim Fruchterman thought of using technology for a positive social purpose: applying character recognition to reading. This simple idea became a reality when he founded Arkenstone, a leading nonprofit organization providing adaptive technology for people with disabilities. It became the largest maker of reading machines for people with disabilities. The concept of technology to address social problems is the basis of Benetech’s work today. In 2000, with proceeds from the sale of Arkenstone, Jim founded Benetech to create a platform for launching new enterprises.
Impact since joining the portfolio in 2006:
- Programs that Benetech operates include the Bookshare library, DIAGRAM, Route 66 Literacy, the Martus software project, and SocialCoding4Good.
- Benetech’s Bookshare program delivered over 704,000 book downloads to more than 250,000 members with print disabilities from its library of 250,152. Bookshare helps them to succeed in school, employment, civic engagement and beyond.
- In Dec. 2013, Bookshare was listed among the world’s 100 most inspiring applications of digital technology for social good.
- In June 2013, the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled,” which will make it possible for people who are blind, or have other print disabilities such as dyslexia to get access to the books they need no matter where they live, was adopted by the diplomatic conference and signed by over 50 countries. Benetech was a big part of this.
- They partner with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to support their efforts documenting human rights abuses, including in Colombia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Liberia, Burma and India. The Martus database software was downloaded in over 120 countries, and over 150,000 Martus bulletins documenting human rights violations have been backed up by users to Martus servers. This contributes to new policy debates and helps bring perpetrators to justice.
- Miradi, a project management software tool, helps conservationists design, develop, monitor and learn from their projects to more effectively meet their goals. Miradi is used by over 3,000 people in more than 100 countries to improve conservation projects.
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