Jim Fruchterman is the godfather of using technology for social good, dating back to 1989 before most technology as we know it existed. In 1989, Jim founded Arkenstone, a nonprofit social enterprise, to produce reading machines for people who are blind. In 2000, the nonprofit changed its name to Benetech and began creating new technology for people with disabilities as well as for the human rights and environmental conservation communities. Fruchterman has received a MacArthur Fellowship and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. He believes that technology is the ultimate leveler, allowing disadvantaged people to achieve more equality in society.
As Jim explained yesterday at Fast Forward, technology gets adopted into the social sector slowly. Social entrepreneurs should think about taking technology that might be 2-4 years old in the tech sector, and bring it to the social sector where it might be 10 years ahead of others. This can enable your organization to deliver more impact for fewer dollars as compared to the incumbents – a huge opportunity and a low hanging fruit.
Jim is full of charisma and has an infectious self-proclaimed geekiness. We learned the story of Arkenstone (yes, from Lord of the Rings), Benetech, and bookshare.org, managing government fundraising and politics, and operating as a successful revenue generating organization in the land of nonprofits. To read more on Jim’s perspective of organizational structure, read For Love or Lucre.