Every year Google.org, the charitable arm of Google, provides more than $100 million -- and approximately 80,000 hours of labor from Google employees -- to support tech innovators making transformational impact in areas like education, development and renewable energy.
And that's why Jacqueline is another in my series of interviews related to the Strayer University Readdress Success program, an initiative intended to redefine success as "happiness derived from good relationships and achieving personal goals." (Strayer has launched a petition through Change.org to change the Merriam-Webster definition. Sign the petition, and Strayer will donate 50 cents to Dress for Success, a nonprofit that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women.)
Success requires some sort of transformation, and the word "transformational" is in your mission. How do you define it?
The best part of our job -- but also the hardest part -- is deciding who we select to invest in. There are so many worthy projects, so many worthy entrepreneurs and projects we can fall in love with... so it all starts with how we think about our criteria.
Ultimately what we look for is pretty similar across the board. Transformational -- meaning broad impact -- is the first thing. We're looking for a program to invest in where the outcomes we hope to see are not just amazing for the individuals involved. We don't want just a linear outcome -- we seek an exponential outcome. We look for ideas that are truly going to make a step-change in the sector as well as create a huge multiplier beyond the specific project.
Can you give me an example?
A great example is an organization called GiveDirectly. What they do is simple but also revolutionary: they make it easy for any individual to donate money directly to poor people through unconditional cash transfers.
They use technology tech to identify poor people in Kenya and Uganda; one way is by using satellite mapping to look for thatched roof huts in villages... if you're poor you don't have a metal roof. They use mobile payments to literally send money directly from GiveDirectly to the recipient's mobile phone. Then they measure through control trials how the money actually changes lives: one, three, five years later.
Unconditional giving? That seems to go against the grain of most charitable efforts, since many try to control how money is used.
Giving the poor access to unconditional money has phenomenal results in terms of their ability to invest in their business, in their health, and even produces some amazing results in terms of lowering stress levels and domestic violence.
Google.org doesn't invest in GiveDirectly just so they have more cash to give to a greater number of people. That's certainly the first order of transformation, but beyond that we see this approach revolutionizing the charity industry. People on the ground know better what they need to spend money on. And that data supports that. Alcohol and cigarette spending don't go up.
People make choices that make a difference. The best ROI comes from cash transfers.
That's another thing we love about GiveDirectly. They -- and we -- look at evidence and data. Where humanitarian assistance is concerned there isn't nearly enough focus on evidence and data.
How do you define success for the projects you help fund and support?
The first order is to monitor the deliverables we agree to up front. Together we come up with the deliverables the organization is accountable for. And the organization only gets follow-on funding if they hit those deliverables. For example, one deliverable might be x dollars are put directly into the hands of the poor at an efficiency rate of y.
Then we look at the multiplier effect that we hope will change the way business is done. For example we think a higher portion of funds going to international development should go to cash transfers. So we measure if the model has impacted other major givers -- and we have seen evidence of that.
You put more than dollars into helping projects succeed, though.
The project we support receive grants but they also get Google.
For example, one of our engineers in NYC helped code GiveDirectly's database. Or we use the power of our home page to help draw attention and create a global spotlight; with the refugee crisis we ran a global campaign that raised $5.5 million in 2.5 days that we then matched.
Keep in mind all Googlers have access to 20 Percent Time: they can work on projects good for Google that don't necessarily fall within their "day job." Our culture allows people to invest time and effort into all sorts of projects, including projects with a social impact.
So we work with our partners to determine their most critical needs. That means engineers work on water sensors for charity water, marketing people work with Bay area grantees on new strategies for fundraising, HR people work with non-profits to set up better policies and procedures. We make sure our employees are aware of opportunities and then they self-select based on their interests and passions.
In your role, how do you personally define success?
What keeps me up at night is the fact I have this incredible budget, amazing Googlers, and and the reach of the Google brand. That's an incredible opportunity we can leverage to do good, so I worry that we're not doing enough.
From a Google.org standpoint I measure success in terms of achieving the highest multiplier effect and making the highest impact possible.
A broader lens in terms of success is whether we're making a contribution to the culture of giving. I want Google.org to be successful, but my vision is broader than that because I want to encourage a culture of giving across all industries. Private giving in the U.S. totals approximately $350 billion -- but only 5% of that comes from corporations. If companies gave just 1% of their profits that would be an additional $150 billion.
If companies do that, aligning their efforts with who they are, what they do best, and what they're passionate about... it would have an enormous impact.
Let's take that a step farther. What advice do you have for small businesses that want to make a difference, either by providing dollars or allowing employees to help out worthy causes?
This might be controversial, but the very first place to start is by looking at your product or service and making sure it's ethical and aligned with the best of human values.
For example, I talked with a colleague who works for a tobacco company and was asking about philanthropy... and I said until you stop marketing cigarettes to kids, why bother with philanthropy? So start by carefully examining your products and your business practices.
Then make sure you're paying your people well and treating them fairly.
Once you're doing those basic things, then it's phenomenal to start thinking about what to do next. Start with your employees -- find a cause or an approach that generates a lot of energy among your people. You can start with simple matching plans, you can pick a cause that makes sense and do some volunteer work as well as providing monetary support.
And remember, if you're small and just starting on this journey, you don't have to reinvent the wheel or work in silos. Join together with other businesses and see what you can do together. We just did that by helping to use technology to fight online child sexual abuse imagery and trafficking; we worked with Microsoft and other companies to create tech-based solutions.
What are the biggest mistakes you see companies -- or individuals -- making?
The biggest mistake is that many companies are not giving. Not only does giving help others, it pays off internally as well. Philanthropy makes a big difference on employee morale. Having Google.org makes a difference in recruiting and retention; it's extremely meaningful to our employees.
Then, whether corporate or personal, you need to approach philanthropy as an investment and take the time to look for evidence that organizations are achieving their goals. I am constantly surprised by the business executives who are successful because they use data and rigorous analysis to make their financial investments... but then they make their charitable decisions almost on a whim.
Also be willing to give your employees choices. At Google we have a $6,000 per employee matching program; Googlers can give to whatever cause they're passionate about, and we match up to $6,000.
What we haven't talked about is the personal impact giving makes.
Where success and happiness are concerned, data shows that giving money to others actually makes us happier if we kept that money.
Giving, being a generous person in whatever way makes sense to you, is such an important part of feeling successful and happy.