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Google: Better at Doing Good?

By Tom Watson on January 24, 2008No Comment

Google: Better at Doing Good?

In addition to employee time, Page and Brin pledged 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form to be contributed to an initiative that would help ease the troubles of many around the world. From this idea, Page and Brin developed Google.org, a hybrid philanthropy that not only gives grants, but invests in certain for-profit endeavors, such as renewable energy, that contribute to the greater good.

Like a traditional nonprofit, Google.org operates by supporting partners with targeted grants.  But its unique structure also allows for Google.org to make for-profit investments and to lobby for policies that support its philanthropic goals.

Google.org is separate from the Google Foundation. Established in 2005, the Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private foundation that is managed by Google.org and supports its mission and core initiatives through grants.  Thus far, Google.org and the Google Foundation have committed more than $75 million in grants and investments.

Google.org’s purpose is to contribute to bettering the world at large. As envisioned by its founders, the organization will use the power of technology and information to help find solutions to issues like climate change, poverty, and emerging diseases. 

While Page and Brin first articulated their pledge to make the world better in 2004, it has taken some time to formulate Google.org’s philanthropic plan — an effort that may have been accelerated by the hiring of Dr. Larry Brilliant to lead the organization eighteen months ago.  Indeed, Google.org just recently announced more than $25 million in new grants and investments to initial partners under the five initiatives that will be the focus of its efforts over the next five to ten years.  These initiatives are:  Predict and Prevent, Inform and Empower, SME’s, RE<C and RechargeIT. 

Areas of Funding

Prediction and prevention areas of funding were established in response to the ever growing need to prevent and predict ecological and social crises like environmental disaster and infectious disease. The organization hopes to achieve this by identifying “hot spots” for crisis and enabling alternative avenues and ever evolving methods for rapid response.  According to Dr. Eric Rasmussen, head of InSTEDD, one of the newly announced grantees, making use of simple technical devices like text messaging which is free in Laos, for example – can allow rapid transmission of information about the outbreak of infectious disease. “This can be critical to managing pandemic risk and emerging infectious diseases,” said Rasmussen, who worked in disaster medicine in Iraq, Africa, and Afghanistan as well as Banda Aceh after the 2005 tsunami. “I’ve been burned in those places on information flow issues.”

Inform and empower initiatives were developed to improve public services in significantly underserved areas. Though this is no easy task, Google.org works with all levels in public, private, and civil society to provide information and support the empowerment of citizens, decision makers and ultimately the community. Currently funded programs include grantees that will improve education, health, and water and sanitation services in India and sub-Saharan Africa.

SME’s (small and medium-sized enterprises) aim to develop tools and systems that will assist SME’s in India and East Africa. By lowering transaction costs for investment in SME’s, growing the market, and directly partnering and supporting opportunities, Google.org hopes to assist with reducing poverty. 

The RE<C initiative was launched to combat greenhouse gas damage by developing renewable electrical energy that is less expensive than the energy produced by coal. Google.org is doing so by making grants and investments, supporting and advancing important public policies, and using Google products. Currently, the organization is focusing efforts on solar thermal, wind and geothermal energy sources.

The RechargeIT initiative aims to invest around $10 million to reduce CO2 emissions, cut oil use and stabilize the electrical grid by supporting technologies and companies that feature plug-in hybrids, fully electric vehicles, vehicle-to-grid capabilities (selling stored renewable energy to power companies), and batteries and other storage technologies. The organization is achieving this through grants and investments.

Moving Forward

Google.org’s approach to systemic change is both innovative, groundbreaking and collaborative. Whether granting money for a particular organization or investing funds in a particular product or service, Google.org seeks to advance solutions to global issues and challenges. By utilizing its financial and organizational prowess, Google.org has the ability to foster movement and make substantial progress in areas such as climate change, poverty and emerging diseases. It will also be fascinating to watch, of course, how its hybrid approach impacts the philanthropic marketplace. The world will be watching for results, and traditional models may be stood on their heads if these innovative approaches deliver those results more effectively.

To learn more about the organization’s programs or funding opportunities check out http://www.google.org/.

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