Skoll Foundation



Skoll Awardee(s): Jim Fruchterman
Award Year: 2006
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Education, Peace and Human Rights

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“As a technology entrepreneur, I grab kernels of ideas from existing technology and then envision how to create solutions to address social problems. The world’s problems are more than Benetech can solve by itself, and a critical part of our strategy is to encourage the creation of more Benetech-style enterprises. Together, these elements are going to change the world.”

Sub-Issues: Human Rights, Post-Secondary Education, Secondary Education The gap between what is possible in technology applications, and what is highly profitable, puts communities and social sector organizations at a disadvantage.

The Skoll Awardee: 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 organization 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 had2,600 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 since joining the portfolio in 2006:

  • 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.



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