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Google Chief for Charity Steps Down on Revamp

Resource type: News

The New York Times |


SAN FRANCISCO — Larry Brilliant, the executive director of, said late Monday that he would step down from managing Google’s philanthropic unit and signaled that might curtail its financing of nonprofit groups unless they are closely aligned with Google projects.

Dr. Brilliant said he would become chief philanthropy evangelist for Google.

Megan Smith, a longtime Google executive with experience in engineering and business development, will manage, while retaining her job as vice president for new business development at Google.

The announcement represents a shift in Google’s approach to philanthropy. Dr. Brilliant wrote on a Google blog that he and others at Google had been reviewing’s progress in its three years of operation.

Dr. Brilliant highlighted a handful of projects that DotOrg, as the group is known inside Google, has developed with Google engineers as models of success. They include Flu Trends, a service that uses search data to track outbreaks of the flu, and PowerMeter, a embryonic project that would allow homeowners to track their energy use.

“During our review it became clear that while we have been able to support some remarkable nonprofit 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,” Dr. Brilliant wrote.

“By aligning more closely with Google as a whole, Megan will ensure that we’re better able to build innovative, scalable technology and information solutions,” he wrote. was set up not as a traditional philanthropy, but rather as a Google unit that could profit from its investments. Engineers from Google have been involved in DotOrg projects and the company’s business development executives have provided input into the investments made by DotOrg.

The company has drawn criticism for relying too much on a business approach to philanthropy and on a belief that engineering could be applied to solve the world’s problems.

“They are doubling down on the technocratic approach,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia, who is writing a book about Google. “The habits and ideology of the company will lead the philanthropy rather than the needs of the communities or the planet.”

Google declined to make any executives available to discuss the change. But Dr. Brilliant said that Google’s level of investment in DotOrg would not change.

“We stand behind the commitment made in 2004 to devote 1 percent of Google’s equity and profits to philanthropy, and we will continue to iterate on our philanthropic model to make sure our resources have the greatest possible impact for good,” he wrote. has made over $100 million in investments in three areas: global health, clean energy and access to information. They include projects like developing renewable energy that is cheaper than coal and preventing the spread of disease.

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