Daniel Ben-Horin

Ashoka Fellow
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United States
Fellow Since 2009

Check out this video of Daniel Ben-Horin's work

This description of Daniel Ben-Horin's work was prepared when Daniel Ben-Horin was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009 .

Introduction

By building an online architecture centered around the needs of community organizations, TechSoup Global has facilitated hardware and software product donations to nonprofits, and engaged the technology community more broadly in the needs of the social sector. As a result, multi-faceted networks have emerged to bring technology to nonprofits, create innovative solutions to alleviate social injustices, and more recently, help facilitate the movement of social capital.

The New Idea

TechSoup provides a platform for individuals and organizations to use technology to address the needs of citizen organizations and, directly and indirectly, the world’s most entrenched social problems. What began in 1987 as an effort to connect tech specialists as mentors to Northern California nonprofit organizations, evolved from CompuMentor into TechSoup and now TechSoup Global, thanks in large part to the growth of the internet and technology industries. As such, the one-to-one mentorship model to support organizations with their technology needs was replaced with an online model using the TechSoup portal and product channel.TechSoup Global moves technology products donated from its corporate partners to organizations around the world. It does so through the website and knowledge portal TechSoup.org. On the TechSoup website, organizations find a range of software donated by leading tech companies Microsoft, Cisco, Symantec, Intuit, SAP/Business Objects, Sage and Adobe along with instructional articles and technology planning resources tailored specifically to the citizen sector. In order to receive donated products, organizations must qualify by demonstrating their status as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations or public libraries. In addition, each technology partner has distinct criteria for donor recipients outlined on the website. The website is easy to navigate, with tools allowing for search by keyword for more than 500 products from 35 providers. Based on one’s location and needs, they can be matched with a product ready for donation, and sometimes even with potential long-term partners. TechSoup’s web-based order process helps organizations exponentially shorten the standard time it would take to obtain a corporate donation, and also provides access to multiple product philanthropy programs in one place. Organizations are also encouraged to use the technology planning resources in the Learning Center and discussion forums at TechSoup, which boasts thousands of technology experts ready to help choose the right products for their needs and then utilize them effectively. TechSoup blogs, Webinars, and newsletters help donation recipients install and implement their new technologies, and offer a high level of technical assistance on demand.For Daniel, however, this channel for matching supply and demand is only part of the mechanism by which TechSoup Global generates its real value. TechSoup has aggregated communities of interest across the world and across sectors who want to play a role in designing and implementing creative technical solutions for social change. In this way, in addition to providing tangible value to both donor and recipient, each transaction builds trust and incentives for a growing community to deepen its involvement with the TechSoup network. One of the most significant of these communities—technology specialists—was once considered to be politically and socially aloof, concerned with ‘bits and bytes,’ and yet are now increasingly willing and excited change agents responding to technical challenges, promoting social justice, education, and empowerment.TechSoup Global’s future strategy is moving forward on multiple fronts. A recent initiative, NetSquared, was founded in 2005 to help citizen and public organizations catalyze social networks and social change through the community empowering capabilities of the Internet. NetSquared is an online community that mobilizes individuals and organizations, provides web-based tools, sponsors crowd-sourced competitions, and awards financial support to leverage social action projects. Daniel is confident that as NetSquared grows, it will enable organizations to discover new innovations and reinvent the possibilities for collaboration on a global scale.The largest long-term opportunity TechSoup has begun is its NGO Repository, which has the potential be a major channel to move social investment capital and provide a much higher level of data transparency and multi-stakeholder collaboration in the field of international philanthropy.. The system, which will launch in 2010 pending approval from the IRS, is backed by major foundations including the Rockefeller Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Hewlett Foundation, among others. The genesis of the project is a desire on the part of U.S. foundations to make international grants with less administrative burden on international NGO grant recipients, as well as on the foundations themselves.TechSoup Global’s current infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada serves as a model for replication in international locations. Over the last three years TechSoup Global has begun working with 18 partners in 23 countries, most recently in Poland and other Central European countries. TechSoup plans to launch regional programs that will teach nonprofits how to apply cutting-edge technology to local problems. Daniel aims to increase the number of countries from 23 to 60 by the year 2011, branching out to underserved areas of Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

The Problem

The citizen sector has been and continues to be plagued with challenges in using technology to streamline operations, reach a broader audience, and reduce costs. The time and money required in order to receive technological expertise, equipment, and implementation and training was a barrier for many organizations, causing the nonprofit sector to be traditionally behind the curve of technological and software improvements.While business had both the incentive and capital to drive these changes forward, the citizen sector lagged behind and struggled with basic technological shortfalls that impeded its effectiveness. In some cases, these shortfalls were a result of old or dysfunctional hardware and software. In other cases, they were a result of lack of technological expertise or know-how; much of which was drawn to the business sector, which was seen as more innovative and more lucrative. The perceived complexity combined with shortages in resources and knowledge led many organizations not to pursue tech solutions that might enhance their work. As a result, a deep misunderstanding and mistrust developed between technology communities and social mission organizations.Ironically, a wealth of disaggregated resources had come into being – people, discounted and donated products, information – all available for citizen organizations, but largely untapped. So while the supply existed, there was no system to match that with demand. Thousands of community organizations around the world continued to request product donations from major technology providers on a “one off” basis, depleting program resources in the process. Meanwhile, technology donors struggled to handle requests and evaluate the potential impact of their investments. Because of this, small organizations suffered the most, with limited ability to hire advisors or pay for technology solutions.

The Strategy

TechSoup provides a platform for individuals and organizations to use technology to address the needs of citizen organizations and, directly and indirectly, the world’s most entrenched social problems. What began in 1987 as an effort to connect tech specialists as mentors to Northern California nonprofit organizations, evolved from CompuMentor into TechSoup and now TechSoup Global, thanks in large part to the growth of the internet and technology industries. As such, the one-to-one mentorship model to support organizations with their technology needs was replaced with an online model using the TechSoup portal and product channel.TechSoup Global moves technology products donated from its corporate partners to organizations around the world. It does so through the website and knowledge portal TechSoup.org. On the TechSoup website, organizations find a range of software donated by leading tech companies Microsoft, Cisco, Symantec, Intuit, SAP/Business Objects, Sage and Adobe along with instructional articles and technology planning resources tailored specifically to the citizen sector. In order to receive donated products, organizations must qualify by demonstrating their status as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations or public libraries. In addition, each technology partner has distinct criteria for donor recipients outlined on the website. The website is easy to navigate, with tools allowing for search by keyword for more than 500 products from 35 providers. Based on one’s location and needs, they can be matched with a product ready for donation, and sometimes even with potential long-term partners. TechSoup’s web-based order process helps organizations exponentially shorten the standard time it would take to obtain a corporate donation, and also provides access to multiple product philanthropy programs in one place. Organizations are also encouraged to use the technology planning resources in the Learning Center and discussion forums at TechSoup, which boasts thousands of technology experts ready to help choose the right products for their needs and then utilize them effectively. TechSoup blogs, Webinars, and newsletters help donation recipients install and implement their new technologies, and offer a high level of technical assistance on demand.For Daniel, however, this channel for matching supply and demand is only part of the mechanism by which TechSoup Global generates its real value. TechSoup has aggregated communities of interest across the world and across sectors who want to play a role in designing and implementing creative technical solutions for social change. In this way, in addition to providing tangible value to both donor and recipient, each transaction builds trust and incentives for a growing community to deepen its involvement with the TechSoup network. One of the most significant of these communities—technology specialists—was once considered to be politically and socially aloof, concerned with ‘bits and bytes,’ and yet are now increasingly willing and excited change agents responding to technical challenges, promoting social justice, education, and empowerment.TechSoup Global’s future strategy is moving forward on multiple fronts. A recent initiative, NetSquared, was founded in 2005 to help citizen and public organizations catalyze social networks and social change through the community empowering capabilities of the Internet. NetSquared is an online community that mobilizes individuals and organizations, provides web-based tools, sponsors crowd-sourced competitions, and awards financial support to leverage social action projects. Daniel is confident that as NetSquared grows, it will enable organizations to discover new innovations and reinvent the possibilities for collaboration on a global scale.The largest long-term opportunity TechSoup has begun is its NGO Repository, which has the potential be a major channel to move social investment capital and provide a much higher level of data transparency and multi-stakeholder collaboration in the field of international philanthropy.. The system, which will launch in 2010 pending approval from the IRS, is backed by major foundations including the Rockefeller Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Hewlett Foundation, among others. The genesis of the project is a desire on the part of U.S. foundations to make international grants with less administrative burden on international NGO grant recipients, as well as on the foundations themselves.TechSoup Global’s current infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada serves as a model for replication in international locations. Over the last three years TechSoup Global has begun working with 18 partners in 23 countries, most recently in Poland and other Central European countries. TechSoup plans to launch regional programs that will teach nonprofits how to apply cutting-edge technology to local problems. Daniel aims to increase the number of countries from 23 to 60 by the year 2011, branching out to underserved areas of Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

The Person

Daniel Ben-Horin, whose last name means “Son of Freedom” in Hebrew, was born and raised in New York City. The son of Latvian immigrants who met on a kibbutz in 1930, Daniel attributes much of his success as an entrepreneur to his willingness to take risks, his strong belief that the personal, professional, and political are inextricably intertwined, and to laughter.Daniel's psychology studies at University of Chicago in 1969, and early experiences as a journalist focused him on social change. As a result, when he got involved with technology, it was because he saw it more as an extension of the cultural and political movements of the 1960s. Motivated by the concept that information and ideas fundamentally “wanted to be free,” Daniel became involved with networks of people who shared his interest in computers and passion for social change.Daniel describes his early efforts with CompuMentor as a kind of social experiment to create hybrid vigor between two communities that typically did not interact. In one sense it was very concrete: these mentors possessed a skill that matched a real need of social organizations. However, he knew from the beginning that there was something deeper at work. He asked himself how he could expose one segment of society to social movements they may not be aware of, and at the same time expose the movements to a type of expertise that could truly be valuable, and then do it on a sustainable level and at a massive scale.From the mid-1980s on, Daniel worked as a classic entrepreneur, always thinking five years ahead, developing and re-developing ideas, taking risks, and confidently navigating uncharted waters, and the evolution and constant adaptation of his organization over 20 years is a testament to his flexibility and humility. Daniel’s fundamental interest has always been in what works – in what will produce social change – and this made him willing to test new ideas and take CompuMentor and now TechSoup Global in new directions. Mario Morino of Global Philanthropy says of Daniel, “It was never about the technology, it was about the people, and many people. The assimilation of people and process, and getting people to understand what they have and empower them to use it.”Daniel has been named on four occasions (2004 to 2007) by the Nonprofit Times to its annual list of the 50 most influential leaders in the U.S. nonprofit sector and just last week received the Lifetime Achievement award of the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, which he helped found in 2000, and which has grown into a dynamic trade association of public interest technologists, which draws 1,400 people to its annual conference.