Recently I spent the afternoon at a Benetech brainstorming session. Benetech is a non-profit organization, one of the very early pioneers in using technology for social benefit and in using market mechanisms rather than classic fundraising techniques. Benetech’s founder Jim Fructerman is a very smart guy who has been figuring out how to combine public benefit / non-profit status with social enterprise for many years. He’s provided a great deal of help to Mozilla over the years by answering my questions and helping me think through the various organizational topics.
Benetech has a set of existing programs and is figuring out what their next big focus is. Right now they provides software for human-rights field workers, given people in the field safe, secure software to record human rights violations. Benetech also provides software for environmental field organizers. And it has a large effort providing literacy materials for the visually impaired, building on Benetech’s original work providing screen readers for visually impaired.
The brainstorming session was about setting the scope for the future — is it tying these topics together? Is it something new? Is it a focus on open content? Is it deepening their current work, or finding ways to expand it.
As a brainstrorming session there were no answers. What I took away was a sense that:
- many of the questions are similar to those we think about at Mozilla — what more can we do? How do we expand on our successes? Should we focus more on deepening our areas of greatest success, or on broadening our reach? and
- the social enterprise movement has some very sophisticated thinkers.
Whatever Benetech adds to its goals, I predict it will be interesting.