A Genius for Doing Good

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Back in September, Senior Editor Tekla S. Perry was finishing her profile of IEEE Member Jim Fruchterman [”Doing Well by Doing Good,” in this issue] and looking forward to introducing this remarkable engineer to the world. But then the MacArthur Foundation beat her to it, anointing Fruchterman with one of its famous ”genius” fellowships.

Fruchterman makes a decent salary as CEO of The Benetech Initiative, the nonprofit company he started, but he’s not rich, and he’s used to living frugally. So the US $500 000 grant is no mere trifle. A few days after getting word, but before the public announcement, Fruchterman helped his son Andy settle into his University of Washington dorm room. Then they ï»'went out for dinner. On the menu, a pricey sushi dish caught the young man’s eye. ”That sushi sure sounds good,” he said wistfully, accustomed to being directed toward cheaper fare.

”Andy,” Fruchterman said, ”feel free to have that sushi.” (His next splurge was a $1000 donation to KQED, a California public radio station.)

Besides buying the occasional sushi platter, the MacArthur money will help pay for his three children’s college educations and enable him to travel more. ”I want to see how technology can help people in India and Bangladesh and Latin America,” he says. In the past, he limited such travel because he wasn’t convinced it was the best use of company funds; now he can pay for it himself.

But the key thing about the award, Fruchterman says, is that ”it is validation of what we are doing. And it is going to help Benetech and me do more of what we want to do.”

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