Google Foundation Chief Steps Down
As reported in Tuesday's New York Times, Dr. Larry Brilliant has stepped down from managing Google's philanthropy. Replacing him will be Megan Smith, Vice President of New Business Development. According to Brilliant's post on the official Google.org Blog, this shift is the result of an assessment of funding over the past three years:
During our review it became clear that while we have been able to support some remarkable non-profit 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; examples of this approach include Flu Trends, RechargeIT, Clean Energy 2030, and PowerMeter. 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 you may recall, when Google established its philanthropic arm, it was structured so that the larger part of the philanthropy would be a tax-paying, for-profit venture. As a for-profit enterprise, the thinking went, Google.org could achieve philanthropic aims that it could not achieve as a nonprofit. It could invest in other for-profit ventures, for example, that are working on environmental technologies that would reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
By placing Google.org under the leadership of the VP of Business Development, Google appears to be moving to an even more aggressive hybrid approach, which recognizes that what's good for the company may result in better giving as well. While those who see world domination behind every move that Google makes and will thus herald this as another "sign", I'd cite Mark Kramer and Michael Porter's December 2002 Harvard Business Review article, "The Competitive Advantage of Corporate Philanthropy". In it, Kramer and Porter argue that the most strategic corporate philanthropy emerges when it is closely aligned with the business needs. The article states:
"It is true that economic and social objectives have long been seen as distinct and often competing. But this is a false dichotomy; it represents an increasingly obsolete perspective in a world of open, knowledge-based competition."
While I don't know any of the specifics, Google's move makes sense to me as a effort to enhance the impact of their giving. This perspective is supported by the fact that Dr. Brilliant , widely known for his integrity, is willing to stay on as Chief Evangelical Officer. What do you think?