When Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin took the company public more than a year ago, they promised in a letter to shareholders to use 1% of the company's equity and profits for philanthropy. The hope: giving by Google would eventually "eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact," the executives wrote.
On October 11, Sheryl Sandberg, Google's vice-president of global online sales and operations, unveiled plans for Google's philanthropic empire in a posting on the company's blog. With an initial endowment of $90 million, the new foundation puts Google on track to rank alongside the biggest U.S. corporate givers, many of which have been around a lot longer.
And while many corporate philanthropists pursue traditional causes such as education, Google is focusing its philanthropic efforts on alleviating world poverty and addressing environmental problems.
BusinessWeek Staff Editor Jessi Hempel recently spoke with Sandberg about Google's plans. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow:
Can you explain how Google.org works?
The foundation will be one part. We expect to do some investing in social entrepreneurs, either with for-profit companies or nonprofit companies.
There are individual entrepreneurs doing great work. There are social-venture funds, for-profit venture funds -- all of these things are having an impact. We're giving ourselves the flexibility to follow any of these approaches.
We are going to take 1% of our equity and profits, and we are going to do philanthropic work with it. This is part of the DNA of Google, and it's part of what you are investing in.
So shareholders should have known they were investing partially in philanthropy?
They did know they were investing in this. We think it's important not just for the world, but for our company. Efforts like this and thinking out of the box are part of what make Google special and what drives us to have the innovation, which is what shareholders are buying when they purchase our stock.
We're interested in fighting poverty in the real global sense of the word, the 4 billion people living on less than $4 a day. We're interested in anything that will help us make a difference over time.
[Excerpt of article by Jessi Hempel in BusinessWeek]