Live From SXSW: Disruptive Philanthropy in the Digital World

March 14, 2016       Megan Keane - Special to The NonProfit Times      

The money pledged to charity by Google’s founders is in the millions each year but that might not be the most important number. That more vital number is 75,000.

There are approximately 50,000 graduates each year to fill the 125,000 open technology positions in the United States. Compound that with the dismal statistics for women in tech and women receiving venture capital (VC) funding, and you have a huge missed opportunity. “Even if you don’t care at all about diversity, it’s terrible from a business perspective,” said Jacqueline Fuller, director of Google.org.

Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, sat down with Fuller in front of a live audience this weekend during SxSW Interactive.

Solving the problem starts with bridging the opportunity gap at the education level. Big strides are being made with college graduates across the board for STEM (science, technology engineering and math) subjects, except computer science. Fuller stresses that college is another arena where further efforts are needed. Connecting computer science to complex problems, such as a computer science class using a computation set to solve a clean water problem, is one way to inspire people to use tech for further good.

Fuller went on to reference the “Elephant in the Valley” study and the challenges women face as they move into leadership positions. How can you be authentic, yet also stay competitive and be a strong, decisive leader? To combat some of these challenges, Google has taken small steps to counteract unconscious gender biases, from more blind coding interviews to a more standardized hiring process.

Yet for Google.org, philanthropy goes beyond giving money to leverage the other resources of Google. Fuller uses the example of the heathcare.gov site fiasco where technologists from Google and other tech companies came in, offering engineering skills to help solve the problem. “I’m optimistic that people want to help and be involved in something that’s making a difference”, Fuller continued. “It’s about finding the right mix of approaches.”

Google.org’s key leverage is technologists and learning how to create systemic ways for people to come together to work on these challenges. Efforts such as sprints and hackathons work to a certain extent, but are hard to scale, so this requires looking at more long-term sustainability. As such, Google.org funds a variety of different methods.

Some are investing in innovative technological solutions, such as charity: water’s waterflow sensor and working with World Wildlife Foundation using drones for conservation.

Google also donates more than $1 billion in products and 100,000+ employee volunteer hours. Additionally, Google.org also offers funds for inventive solutions by offering up the question to nonprofits: “How would you use $15,000 to make a difference?” By expanding the traditional strategies of philanthropy, Google.org challenges leaders to think creatively about new ideas for change.