Brilliant Takes on Urgent Threats
Tuesday 4/14/2009 04:00:00 PM
It’s with a grateful heart that I leave full-time work with Google to begin a new chapter in my life. I served as start up Executive Director for Google.org for nearly three years before moving into the role of Chief Philanthropic Evangelist in February. I love Google, the people who make this such a special place and the world-class team at Google.org. Megan Smith, who has taken on the leadership of Google.org, is doing a terrific job and I am watching her and the other leaders of Google.org with admiration and a great sense of satisfaction that “the work” has passed to such competent hands.
When Larry, Sergey and Sheryl Sandberg hired me, I promised to work for at least three years. I’ve had a wonderful experience and learned enough to fill volumes about new ways to work in the world, trying to make it a better place. Jeff Skoll, founding president of eBay, long time friend of many Googlers, and a “practicing philanthropist” for over a decade recently described to me his fears of a world spinning almost out of control, beset with many simultaneous urgent threats: climate change, nuclear proliferation, Middle East conflict, water scarcity, and emerging communicable disease. He described to me his vision of bundling his many activities to focus them on these “Urgent Threats.” Jeff is the founder of the well regarded Skoll Foundation which for ten years has funded dozens of dedicated social entrepreneurs working all over the world. He also has an extremely successful film making company, Participant Media, which has made films to inspire social change such as An Inconvenient Truth, Good Night and Good Luck, North Country, Syriana, Fast Food Nation, Jimmy Carter – Man From Plains, Darfur Now, The Kite Runner, Charlie Wilson’s War and The Visitor. In addition, his financial services firm, Capricorn Investments, has made investments in electric car companies, renewable energy, and other investments that are driven by multiple bottom line returns.
Jeff’s idea was to create the new Skoll Urgent Threats Fund which would do grant making and, most importantly, advocacy and find someone to lead that Fund. He wants the same person who leads that Fund to be a Senior Advisor to him in bringing together his media and film making activities, his investment interests, and the work of social entrepreneurs supported by the Skoll Foundation who focus these urgent threats, so that all of these different “tools” are working together effectively to drive the change we need. He asked me to become President of the Skoll Urgent Threats Fund, sit on the board of the Skoll Foundation, and be Senior Advisor to him on his media and financial investments companies.
I have accepted this position and effective May 5, 2009 (my 65th birthday) I will leave Google as a full time employee though I’ll continue to work with Megan and the Google.org team as an advisor.
Google.org and the Skoll Foundation already work together to support “virus hunter” Nathan Wolfe whose Global Viral Forecasting Initiative collects and analyzes blood samples of humans and animals in hot spots. And many of the Skoll Awardees have played an important role in our thinking at Google.org and in the development of other projects and grants.
So these two organizations are neither competitors nor strangers, but rather friends and colleagues. I am not “leaving Google” so much as I’m going down the road to work with a friend and colleague and I hope that in the coming months and years we can expand that relationship even more.
Looking back over the past three years, I’m incredibly proud of the work done by the team at Google.org to support wonderful projects and people. Some examples: The team at Pratham in India that we support is changing the way we think about development by causing improvements in children’s education in India. Irene Taylor Brodsky’s Oscar nominated film, The Final Inch, is also helping to galvanize global support for the final push to eradicate polio. Working on this film helped my thinking about the media–Rotary International clubs have donated nearly $1 billion to global polio eradication, but you should see the pride in the eyes of Rotarians when they watch The Final Inch and see how much their donated time and money really matters to conquer this disease. They feel their work recognized and celebrated, and they are energized to go raise more money and do more volunteering to conquer this dreaded disease. And the group which emerged from the TED Prize, InSTEDD, is going from “strength to strength” and developing new technologies to enable quick communication and effective response after disasters. At one time they were funded only by Google.org but their work has now been recognized by CDC and by the United Nations emergency relief groups as best in the world and they are being supported by a wide group of organizations.
We’ve also partnered with Rockefeller Foundation in supporting the Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance Network program which is providing early warning about possible pandemic flu outbreaks to the six countries which border the Mekong River. We’ve given millions of dollars and direct support using Google Earth, other Google projects and people to support the heroic efforts to respond to Katrina, the cyclone in Myanmar (Burma) and the terrible earthquakes in Sichuan, China. But it might be in the area of clean energy that Google.org has made its largest contribution to the national debate. It was our joint Google.org+Google.com climate team that created “RE our geeky way of saying that until we have renewable energy — wind, solar, advanced geothermal (EGS) — cheaper than coal, fossil fuels will continue to be burned and continue to release the CO2 which is suffocating the planet. We’ve invested in wind, solar and geothermal companies, we’ve supported leaders like NRDC, and we advocated in DC for climate change policy and for more resources to drive clean energy R&D. And it has made a big difference in how our government has now responded.
And now we also have intensified “Dotorg’s” efforts to leverage Google’s skills in technology, partnerships and information; examples of this approach include Flu Trends, RechargeIT, Clean Energy 2030, and PowerMeter.
Larry and Sergey wrote in their initial Letter from the Founders that they wanted to make approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits and substantial employee time devoted to philanthropy. I hope other corporations will follow the example to devote significant resources to the greater good and I support Google.org’s fundamental mission “to use the power of information and technology to address the global challenges of our age.”
I lack the words to adequately thank Larry and Sergey for hiring me, for giving me a chance to lead this wonderful “experiment in active philanthropy” that Google.org has become, and I want to thank Megan Smith and her advisory team of Urs Hoelzle, David Fischer, and Salar Kamangar for their leadership going forward. I especially want to thank the Googlers, both in “dotorg” and “dotcom” that make Google such a special place. I wish time and space allowed me to name each and every one who has taught me, touched me, helped and supported me. I do believe the press which says that this is the best company to work for anywhere. Googlers are the kindest and most wonderful colleagues and friends anyone could ask for. Thank you for your friendship and support—and remember I am not going far away so I do hope Google.org and the Skoll philanthropies will find many areas for working together in the months and years ahead.
Posted by Dr. Larry Brilliant