To TEDsters, Google.org – the philanthropic arm of Google – is mostly known for the inspiring speech its director Larry Brilliant gave at TED
last february, outlining a very compelling plan for an Internet-based
system to rapidly detect disease outbreaks (see the original post from the conference or Brilliant’s TEDprize speech in video).
A story today in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune
reveals a second project that Google.org is working on: "the
organization is aiming to develop an extremely fuel-efficient, plug-in
hybrid car engine that runs on ethanol, electricity and gasoline". It
"has arranged for the purchase of a small fleet of cars with plans to
convert the engines so that their gas mileage exceeds 100 miles per
gallon, or about 42 kilometers per liter".
The same article also reports that Google.org is "drawing skepticism
for both its structures and its ambitions", mostly because the
structure is an unusual mix of non-profit and for-profit. Nothing really new
there: Brilliant already explained it in a Wired interview in July:
are not really a foundation. It’s a bit of a 501(c)3, a bit of a C
corp, and a bit of an academic environment. I can play more of the keys
on the keyboard. A 501(c)3 can’t lobby. A 501(c)3 can’t invest in a
company or build an industry. It may be that the only way to deal with
climate change is to create an industry or build companies.
non-profit Google Foundation, endowed with $90 million, is therefore
just one component of Google.org. The rest of the one-billion-plus
given to Google.org is for-profit money. "The for-profit status will
greatly increase their philanthropy’s range and flexibility", explains
the reporter, quoting Brilliant: "we can start companies, build
industries, pay consultants, lobby, give money to individuals, and make
Or lose it: "the emphasis is on social returns, not economic
returns". Which reminds of the principles behind the Skoll Foundation’s
financing of Hollywood movies.
(Cross-posted on LoIP)