Google.org Head Steps Down

Larry Brilliant, executive director of Google.org, has announced on the organization's blog that he no longer will manage the company's philanthropic arm. The three-year-old organization also indicated that in the future it likely will only fund organizations whose work closely aligns with the for-profit company's mission to leverage information and technology to address global challenges.

"I am most effective in helping to identify 'big ideas' and potential partners, as well as raising awareness about society's biggest challenges," wrote Brilliant, who will become Google's "chief philanthropy evangelist." "I hope to be able to spend more time motivating policy makers, encouraging public and private partnerships, and generally advocating for the changes that we must make as a global society to solve these problems."

Megan Smith, vice president of new business development at Google, has been named general manager of Google.org and will be responsible for its day-to-day management.

Aligning Google.org more closely with Google as a whole will ensure that "Dot-Org," as the organization is referred to within Google, is better able to build innovative, scalable technology and information solutions, Brilliant noted. An internal review of the organization's work over the past three years revealed that its greatest impact came from supporting efforts that make the most of Google's strengths in technology and information, including Flu Trends, an application that tracks certain search terms to track flu outbreaks, and RechargeIT, an initiative designed to reduce CO2 emissions by accelerating the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles.

While Google.org has donated more than $100 million to efforts in the areas of global health, clean energy, and access to information, it has been criticized by some for emphasizing a business approach to philanthropy and a belief that engineering alone can solve the world's problems. In an earlier interview with the New York Times, Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor at the University of Virginia, warned that "the habits and ideology of the company will lead the philanthropy rather than the needs of the communities or the planet."

The change in leadership at Google.org will not affect Google's level of investment in the nonprofit sector. "We stand behind the commitment made in 2004 to devote 1 percent of Google's equity and profits to philanthropy," Brilliant wrote, "and we will continue to iterate on our philanthropic model to make sure our resources have the greatest possible impact for good."

Miguel Helft. "Google Chief for Charity Steps Down on Revamp." New York Times 02/23/2009. "The Next Chapter for Google.org." Google.org Blog 02/23/2009.