Google Chief for Charity Steps Down on Revamp
SAN FRANCISCO, February 24, 2009, The New York Times — Larry Brilliant, the executive director of Google.org, said late Monday that he would step down from managing Google’s philanthropic unit and signaled that Google.org might curtail its financing of nonprofit groups unless they are closely aligned with Google projects.
Dr. Brilliant said he would become chief philanthropy evangelist for Google.
Megan Smith, a longtime Google executive with experience in engineering and business development, will manage Google.org, while retaining her job as vice president for new business development at Google.
The announcement represents a shift in Google’s approach to philanthropy. Dr. Brilliant wrote on a Google blog that he and others at Google had been reviewing Google.org’s progress in its three years of operation.
Dr. Brilliant highlighted a handful of projects that DotOrg, as the group is known inside Google, has developed with Google engineers as models of success. They include Flu Trends, a service that uses search data to track outbreaks of the flu, and PowerMeter, a embryonic project that would allow homeowners to track their energy use.
“During our review it became clear that while we have been able to support some remarkable nonprofit organizations over the past three years, our greatest impact has come when we’ve attacked problems in ways that make the most of Google’s strengths in technology and information,” Dr. Brilliant wrote.
“By aligning Google.org more closely with Google as a whole, Megan will ensure that we’re better able to build innovative, scalable technology and information solutions,” he wrote.
Google.org was set up not as a traditional philanthropy, but rather as a Google unit that could profit from its investments. Engineers from Google have been involved in DotOrg projects and the company’s business development executives have provided input into the investments made by DotOrg.
The company has drawn criticism for relying to much on a business approach to philanthropy and on a belief that engineering could be applied to solve the world’s problems.