California Is Another World

Rolling Stone has an in-depth interview with Dr. Larry Brilliant, the man running Google DotOrg, the philanthropic arm of the search giant.

DotOrg is not just another corporate philanthropy — it’s a bold experiment in philanthropy itself. Its uniqueness begins with its structure. Unlike most foundations, DotOrg has no endowment in the traditional sense and no external board. It was funded with an initial grant of 3 million shares of Google stock, currently valued at $1.3 billion, and a promise of one percent of the company’s profits each year. Its goal is not simply to give away traditional grants like the nonprofits of yore but also to allow Google to invest money in projects that have the potential to do good and turn a profit at the same time. “We have a tremendous amount of flexibility,” Brilliant says. “We can give away grants like a traditional foundation, or we can invest in new companies or even start companies of our own.”
Brilliant calls this approach a “hybrid philanthropy.” In the Old World, the essential dynamic of corporate giving was extract, exploit, get rich, then pass out nickels to charity to atone for past sins. In the New World, Google wants to sink those nickels into clean-energy ventures and promising entrepreneurs in the developing world. “Yes, there may be profit from that,” Brilliant acknowledged recently. “But the real reason for doing it isn’t to make a profit. It’s because business is a better engine for creating jobs than aid.”

Brilliant offered medical services to the Native Americans who occupied Alcatraz in 1969, he helped eradicate smallpox in India, co-founded Seva and The Well and was close friends with Jerry Garcia.

Google DotOrg’s focus right now is on renewable energy, preventing the spread of infectious disease, providing better communications infrastructure in the developing world and funding small and medium sized enterprises.
Here’s a video on Google’s work with SMEs:



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.