Benetech: Technological Innovation for Social Change

by Eric Brandt

Recently, a human rights worker in Colombia became the target of several politically motivated attacks. As an employee of the nongovernmental organization EQUITAS, her work focused on recovering the remains of the thousands who disappeared during Colombia’s decades of civil strife and documenting them on her computer. In one such attack, her taxi was hijacked in Medellin. Though they were both released unharmed, her laptop and cellphone were stolen, a potentially serious blow to human rights efforts to establish peace and reconciliation in Colombia.

However, thanks to the efforts of a Palo Alto based nonprofit called Benetech, the sensitive files were protected and the thieves made off with nothing more than encrypted bits of data. How? Her computer was protected by Martus, a secure software application developed by Benetech. Lost data can be devastating to organizations that depend on disseminating information to advance their cause, be it from a virus, fire, theft or staff turnover. Martus helps human rights gather, organize, and protect their information. Martus and the EQUITAS story is just one example of how Benetech uses technology to assist social change organizations around the world.

Benetech’s philosophy is simple: technological innovation + social conscience. In addition to Martus, Benetech has some very cool projects they’re working on. These include helping NGOs manage and analyze data, promoting literacy through a digital library (Bookshare.org) and an environmental project management tool, Miradi. It’s heartening to hear about an organization like Benetech combining the intellectual and financial resources of Silicon Valley for true social change.

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