Google.org announces initiatives to combat climate change, poverty, emerging threats

         

Computer Technology Review, 21st January 2008

Jan 21 -- In its continuing effort to use the power of information and technology to help people better their lives, Google.org rolled out last week five core initiatives that will be the focus of its philanthropic efforts over the next five to ten years. Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google Inc., will collaborate with experienced partners working in each of these fields, investing its resources and tapping the strengths of Google 's employees and global operations to advance its core initiatives.

This announcement includes more than US$ 25 million in new grants and investments to initial partners. The resources come from a commitment by Google's founders to devote approximately 1 percent of the company 's equity plus 1 percent of annual profits to philanthropy, as well as employee time.

In their first Letter from the Founders (2004), Larry Page and Sergey Brin said that they want to 'make Google an institution that makes the world a better place', Google.org said. The work of Google.org will help us do that by applying Google's strengths in organizing information and scaling technology to these complex issues, it said.

Google.org uses the power of information and technology to help people improve their lives. This arm of the company develops and invests in tools and partnerships that can help bring shared knowledge to bear on global pressing challenges in the areas of climate change, economic development and global health.

Google's search technologies connect millions of people around the world with information every day. Founded in 1998 by Stanford Ph.D. students Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google is a top web property in all major global markets. Google's targeted advertising program provides businesses of all sizes with measurable results, while enhancing the overall web experience for users. Google is headquartered in Silicon Valley with offices throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.

These five initiatives are Google.org’s attempt to address some of the hard problems that the world needs to face in the coming decade, Google.org said. These initiatives were chosen because Google.org thinks it can solve them to make a better, fairer, safer world for children and grandchildren--and the children and grandchildren of people all over the world, as well as because the company feels that these core initiatives fit well with Google's core strengths, especially its innovative technologies and its talented engineers and other Googlers, who are really its most valuable assets.

Google.org joins a community of like minded groups working to make the planet and population healthier and more equitable.

Google.org' s five initiatives and initial partners include to predict and prevent, to inform and empower to improve public services, fuel the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises, develop renewable energy cheaper than coal, and to accelerate the commercialization of plug-in vehicles (RechargeIT).

Google.org supports efforts to empower communities to predict and prevent events before they become local, regional, or global crises, by identifying "hot spots" and enabling a rapid response. Rapid ecological and social changes are increasing the risk of emerging threats, from infectious diseases to drought and other environmental disasters. Google.org is initially focused on Southeast Asia and tropical Africa. In Southeast Asia, a hot spot for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), and potentially bird flu, Google.org is working with partners to strengthen early warning systems and build local capacities to prevent the next pandemic.

Initial grants include US$ 5 million to InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters) to improve early detection, preparedness, and response capabilities for global health threats and humanitarian crises. InSTEDD will work with the community of relief and response organizations, governments, academia and top scientists around the world to address gaps in information flow with software and other technology-based tools and services. Acting as an innovation laboratory, InSTEDD aims to support the humanitarian community in preparing for and responding to global public health emergencies, working together towards a safer world.

Google.org has also granted US$ 2.5 million to the Global Health and Security Initiative (GHSI), established by the Nuclear Threat Initiative to prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats. Google.org 's support will help GHSI to strengthen national and sub-regional disease surveillance systems through workforce training and better laboratory capacity in the Mekong Basin area (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Yunnan province, China).

More than US$ 600,000 to Clark University, with equal funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, for Clark Labs to develop a system to improve monitoring, analysis and prediction of the impacts of climate variability and change on ecosystems, food and health in Africa and the Amazon. This system is a prototype platform to deploy global environmental, health, and development data, information and analysis tools that the global community can freely access over the Internet.

Google.org works with partners to improve the flow of vital information to improve basic services for the poor in India and East Africa. In many countries in the developing world, essential public services are failing, especially for the poorest members of society. Google.org supports efforts to provide information to empower citizens and communities, providers, and policy makers to improve the delivery of essential public services such as education, health, water and sanitation.

The initial grants include US$ 2 million to Pratham, a non-governmental organization in India, to create an independent institute that will conduct the Nationwide Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), as well as large scale assessments in the education sector. Our goal is to expand these types of assessments to other sectors.

Google.org has also granted US$ 765,000 to the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, a Bangalore-based analysis group, to create a Budget Information Service for local governments to facilitate better district- and municipal-level level planning in India.

Google.org has also granted US$ 660,000 to the Center for Policy Research, an action oriented think tank based in India, to increase the debate and discourse on issues of urban local governance and urban service delivery. With the rapid expansion of cities in India, the company’s goal is to provide policy makers the necessary information to make more informed decisions.

Google.org supports efforts to lower transaction costs to invest in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), create opportunities to access larger financial markets and make investments in this sector. SMEs are critical for inclusive economic growth and job creation in the developing world, but lack the capital and tools necessary to succeed. Many micro-enterprises and most large businesses have access to capital through microfinance institutions, banks and capital markets, but SMEs remain extraordinarily underserved, creating a "missing middle. " Google.org wants to help increase the flow of capital to "the missing middle" by tackling some of the root causes that prevent these firms from becoming profitable investment opportunities.

Technoserve is an initial partner. US$ 4.7 million grant to TechnoServe to provide general support to expand Technoserve's efforts to support enterprises, spur job creation, and strengthen poverty alleviation programs globally, and to develop and implement a business plan competition to support entrepreneurs in Ghana and Tanzania. These three new efforts join two climate change related initiatives announced earlier this year:

This cross-Google collaboration has set a goal of producing one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal, within years not decades. The initiative, known as Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal, was launched in November 2007 and will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other potential breakthrough technologies.

As part of the Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal initiative, Google.org is supporting key investments, including US$ 10 million to eSolar, a Pasadena, California-based company specializing in solar thermal power, which replaces the fuel in a traditional power plant with heat produced from solar energy. eSolar's technology has great potential to produce utility-scale power cheaper than coal. Google announced its intention to work closely with eSolar in November, and has now closed the investment deal.

RechargeIT is a Google.org initiative that aims to reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, cut oil use and stabilize the electrical grid by accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technology. Google.org launched a US$ 10 million request for investment proposals this fall, and will invest amounts ranging from US$ 500,000 to US$ 2 million in selected for-profit companies whose innovative approach, team and technologies will enable widespread commercialization of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, electric vehicles and/or vehicle-to-grid solutions.

Unlike conventional philanthropies, Google.org is a hybrid organization, giving it the flexibility either to make direct grants or invest in for-profit companies that might yield returns. Google.org can also lobby public officials in favor of policies supporting its goals.

Beyond the grants and investments announced last week under Google.org's core initiatives, Google will continue its philanthropic work through programs to leverage Google products for non-profits, including: Google Grants, which donates free ads to non-profits, Google Apps, which provides free, web-based services to non-profits; and contributions from departments, including Google Earth, which offers mapping to monitor events such as the crisis in Darfur.

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