The blogosphere is buzzing about a changing of the guards at Google's philanthropic arm. Larry Brilliant is stepping down from Google.org to become chief philanthropic evangelist at Google.com; Megan Smith, the company's VP of new business development, will add Google.org to her portfolio.
The shift has been portrayed as a technocratic and highly hubristic one: Google has discovered that its most valuable contributions to saving the planet come not from the cash it gives nonprofits but from the brains of its own engineers, like PowerMeter, which I wrote about last week, and FluTrends, which tracks epidemics. Brilliant writes on the official Google.org blog:
"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. As a first step, Google has decided to put even more engineers and technical talent to work on these issues and problems, resources which I have found to be extraordinary."
I wonder if this closer alignment between business aims and philanthropic ones couldn't also be seen as an anti-recessionary measure. Profits fell for the first time last quarter and the Goog has gone through quiet cutbacks in perks and personnel.
Brilliant emphasizes that Google retains its commitment to invest 1% of equity and profits to make the world a better place, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily giving billions away. On the contrary, of the $100 million Google.org has given to support global health, clean energy and access to information, almost half has gone into for-profit investments.
By putting the wildly popular Brilliant out on the road more as a brand evangelist, adding to Smith's job description, and tapping more Googlers' 20% time for do-gooder projects, Google gets to shine its image and build its business at the same time for less cash. Good thinking!
UPDATE: I goofed. Google has granted and invested a total of $100 million, not earned $100 million as the post previously stated. This projects page details Google's investments and grants to date.