Thursday, September 14, 2006

Philanthropy Google Style

Google has started a for-profit charity. I think the brilliance of this is really inestimable.

The ambitious founders of Google, the popular search engine company, have set up a philanthropy, giving it seed money of about $1 billion and a mandate to tackle poverty, disease and global warming.

But unlike most charities, this one will be for-profit, allowing it to fund start-up companies, form partnerships with venture capitalists and even lobby Congress. It will also pay taxes.

One of its maiden projects reflects the philanthropy’s nontraditional approach. According to people briefed on the program, the organization, called Google.org, plans to develop an ultra-fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid car engine that runs on ethanol, electricity and gasoline.

And who do they have on staff? Thats right. Dr. Brilliant. You should've seen that coming:

The executive director whom Mr. Page and Mr. Brin have hired, Dr. Larry Brilliant, is every bit as iconoclastic as Google’s philanthropic arm. Dr. Brilliant, a 61-year-old physician and public health expert, has studied under a Hindu guru in a monastery at the foothills of the Himalayas and worked as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

In one project, which Dr. Brilliant brought with him to the job, Google.org will try to develop a system to detect disease outbreaks early.

Dr. Brilliant likens the traditional structure of corporate foundations to a musician confined to playing only the high register on a piano. “Google.org can play on the entire keyboard,” Dr. Brilliant said in an interview. “It can start companies, build industries, pay consultants, lobby, give money to individuals and make a profit.”

While declining to comment on the car project specifically, Dr. Brilliant said he would hope to see such ventures make a profit. “But if they didn’t, we wouldn’t care,” he said. “We’re not doing it for the profit. And if we didn’t get our capital back, so what? The emphasis is on social returns, not economic returns.”

It almost reads like an article from the Onion.

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