James R. Fruchterman

Organization: 
Benetech Initiative
Year founded: 
1989
Country: 
USA
Website: 

Blog

Benetech combines the power of the human mind with a deep passion for social improvement, creating new technology applications that address unmet human needs. It builds effective solutions for issues concerning disability, literacy, human rights and the environmental.

Focus: Disabilities, Human Rights, Environment, Education, Technology
Geographic Area of Impact: Global
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 150,000 (2011)
Annual Budget: US$ 12.5 million (2011)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 82%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

Background
Global society pays a high price when assets are not used to address pressing needs, simply because such use is not deemed profitable. These costs appear most acutely in the areas of health and education, where millions die or are disabled from lack of access to drugs they cannot afford, or where children of the poor are condemned to follow in their parents’ footsteps because of lack of educational opportunities. With better access to the benefits of science, technology and knowledge, significant payoffs in education, economic development, environment, health, social inclusion and democracy are possible. Benetech's goal is to bridge the gap between possibility and profitability in technology applications, ensuring that more solutions reach the people who need it the most, but who are often the least able to afford it.

Innovation and Activities
Benetech opens avenues of high technology to society’s disadvantaged. It fosters the development of socially valuable technological initiatives ignored by commercial developers because of potentially low market returns. The first Benetech project was the Arkenstone reading machine for the blind, which has delivered reading tools in a dozen languages to over 50,000 disabled people living in 60 countries.

Subsequently, Benetech initiated Bookshare, an online library of over 127,000 accessible books and periodicals for people with print disabilities like blindness, low vision, a learning disability or mobility impairment. Currently over 145,000 people around the world subscribe to Bookshare. In the US, all students with a qualified print disability may access the Bookshare library free of charge.

Through its human rights programme Benetech developed Martus, a software programme that permits human rights groups to collect and store sensitive information on a secure database. Today, human rights groups in over 100 countries are using Martus to document incidents of human rights violations and abuses. The Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) develops database software, data collection strategies and statistical techniques to measure human rights atrocities. This technology and analysis are used by truth commissions, international criminal tribunals and non-governmental international human rights organizations.

Benetech also developed Miradi, a project management software application that allows environmentalists to design conservation plans, track data, calculate projections and generate reports on their efforts to conserve species and ecosystems. It is currently being used by over 5,000 environmental organizations and educational institutions in over 150 countries. Each year Benetech evaluates new opportunities in socially beneficial applications of information and communication technologies. In 2012, it expects to launch two new projects: CityOptions, to help communities better respond to climate change, based on ideas originally discussed at the World Economic Forum Annual meeting in Davos; and SocialCoding4Good, a volunteer platform to connect high tech professionals to non-profit opensource software projects for social good.

The Entrepreneur
Unlike many individuals working in the area of disabilities, James Fruchterman was not drawn to the field because of personal experience, but due to a keen interest in applying technology to bridge an equity gap. After attending Caltech and Stanford University, he continued to interface with the engineering profession, lecturing regularly to engineering and business students. He is the former Chair of the Board of the Social Enterprise Alliance and a 2006 MacArthur Fellow.