The Software Agents: Episode 8 - The Intentional Nonprofit

Written by: Christina Noren

2 min read

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The Software Agents is a new podcast series sponsored by CloudBees. Each week, we bring you a leader reinventing a different field through software for the new world that is being born. Listen to this week's podcast here.

Our guest this week on The Software Agents is Jim Fruchterman. Jim abandoned his Stanford PhD when he discovered startups, then sold a few OCR/AI companies early in his career. His experiences led him to realize that the Silicon Valley VC model wasn’t set up to fund important ways to improve the world through software. A life-changing tech wasn’t always a billion-dollar business, which VCs were under pressure to deliver.

So Jim founded Benetech in 1989, which he wryly describes as the only intentional nonprofit in the Valley. Benetech directly developed technologies that helped human rights organizations securely collect evidence on the ground worldwide - long before Signal and WhatsApp - and made books available to blind children.

Today, Jim is getting his new venture Tech Matters off the ground. His premise is that nonprofit organizations make poor use of technology because they don’t think like open-sourcers. Every nonprofit funds their own software efforts, on a shoestring budget, without the methodologies the for-profit tech world has honed. Imagine if nonprofits could build on and benefit from these innovations, rather than re-inventing them.

With the pandemic, several of Tech Matters’ projects have come into special focus. The one that really resonates for me is his work to move worldwide child help hotlines online atop a modern tech platform. It’s timely, because one of the most painful side effects of lockdowns is that children in abusive households have no escape. It would be so much easier and safer for these vulnerable kids to text from a hiding place in a closet rather than make a voice call for help. Better software also makes case tracking more reliable, to ensure the continuity of support for every child. 

Jim has been one of the most inspirational people in tech for me for several years now. I hope you enjoy our conversation. It’s always a privilege to speak with him.

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