Benetech: Benevolent Other or Innovative Partner?

Benetech is a nonprofit with the mission of developing and using technology to create positive social change with a primary focus on human rights, global literacy, and the environment. The organization has gained recognition from charitable and government agencies like the MacArthur Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education due to its many successful initiatives.

One such initiative in the field of human rights is Martus, an application that enables users to gather and store information about human rights violations safely by automatically encrypting the data and copying it to a secure server network. This is so secure that only the person who created the data can access it. In situations that threaten to compromise the security of this data, Martus has a panic feature that deletes the data and program then retrieves everything at a later date. In this way, victims of human rights abuses who tell their stories and the workers who collect them are protected.

Martus provides a secure forum for people to tell their stories.

Martus provides a secure forum for people to tell their stories.

Benetech’s Martus software is available for free to human rights workers in an effort to innovate and fill needs where the public sector does not. While the organization’s name evokes the image of a benevolent “other” bestowing the great gifts of technology upon disadvantaged populations, Benetech’s services do seem to empower local communities.

Benetech’s relative success can be attributed to close partnerships with trusted community networks, which enable the organization to more actively engage with its target population. On its own, Benetech’s technical expertise could not be expected to have a significant impact in development arenas; but when taken jointly with needs assessments and local partnerships, Benetech’s innovations may indeed give greater agency to the communities in which it works. This experience serves as a critical lesson for any development group, one asserting that without trust and foundational knowledge, social initiatives are unlikely to succeed.

Read more about Benetech’s mission and initiatives here.

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