Google Doesn’t Reinvent Philanthropy After All

January 29, 2011 at 6:55 PM Leave a comment

Shortly before taking Google public in 2004, its founders vowed to dedicate 1% of profits to philanthropy. Rather than merely give, however, they would reinvent philanthropy “by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.”

The result was Google.org (or just DotOrg), which would operate in part as a business, avoiding constraints put on nonprofits. They hired an executive with no experience running a major philanthropy, one who promised “Google.org can play the entire keyboard. It can start companies, build industries, pay consultants, lobby, give money to individuals and make a profit.”

The New York Times relates this story and details how Google.org fell far short of its ambitious goals:

Although Google gives tens of millions of dollars to charity each year and says the overall company is meeting its 1 percent giving goal, DotOrg itself is no longer making grants to nonprofit groups or financing new companies. Instead, it focuses on projects like using Google Earth to track environmental changes and monitoring Web searches to detect flu outbreaks. Most of the experts it initially hired have left, and Google, a company obsessed with numbers and metrics, struggles to measure DotOrg’s accomplishments.

What goals they’ve accomplished seem to fit within the framework of what Google does best, that is, aggregate data. The article notes Google Flu Trends, which tries to predict flu outbreaks based on reports of symptoms worldwide, has been cited as useful (if hardly decisive) by public health officials.

At the link, there’s much more about what went wrong and what might be next for Google.org. Recommended.

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Entry filed under: Corporate Philanthropy & CSR.

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