A lot of people ask me what Google.org is, given it’s hybrid for-profit/not-for-profit structure. My personal take on it is that while Google has adopted the motto “Don’t be evil,” then the mission of Google.org is to actively do good.
The reality, however, is much more complicated. I highly recommend this piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Do No Evil”. The article is a detailed look at the six-year trajectory of Google.org, highlighting its transition from a grant-making institution to a engineering-driven, distributed organization within Google. The article also highlights the incredible difficulty that faces the young organization as it attempts to tackle global problems that others have wrestled with for decades, with questionable results.
I’m proud to be a part of Google.org, in large part due to the scope of its ambitions. However, this piece is a healthy reminder for everyone attempting to do social good to approach their work with humility.
Samasource just got a bunch of HD footage that Ushahidi took for us in Mirebalais while we were over there. It will be a while before we edit it down into something presentable to the public, but here’s a short segment of me, talking about our work there and my own motivations for joining Samasource.
Frednel: How do you feel about doing SMS translations to help survivors of the earthquake?
Richard Pierre: Sometimes, I feel very sad when I translate a tragic message; for example, there was a message that said that there was a person who was still alive under rubble. Sometimes, it’s a baby who is under the rubble, or sometimes it’s a 6 year old child. My heart tears up when I hear these sorts of messages, but I oblige myself to stay strong and make the translations because life is not really easy. Life is difficult, know that anything can happen in life. Life has its ups and downs; this means that a person should be strong and have a lot of courage to resist difficulties in life. Life puts up great fights. In order to live, you have to be a good soldier; when you fall, you have to get up.
I translate the survivors’ messages at the best of my ability in order to understand what they desire to say. This is nearly all I can offer them in assistant. After that, I couldn’t do anything else because I don’t have other opportunities to help them.
Unfortunately, the Haitian government is struggling more than ever to serve its people. Aside from the vast neighborhoods that were leveled by the earthquake, there was nearly uniform destruction of all of the government institutions in the center of town. This included the national palace, supreme court building, government ministries, and police headquarters. Almost every institution struggling to serve Haitians today was reduced to rubble.
The resource that remains in abundance in Haiti is human spirit. It is here that Samasource is investing in Haitian recovery. Our newest digital work center is being built by our service partner in Mirebalais, 1000 Jobs/Haiti. Mirebalais is one of those towns many Haitians have fled to. This underdeveloped region is a particularly important long-term focus for Samasource, because a stronger economy here will draw more people from the overcrowded city of Port-au-Prince. By bringing digital work to this area, Samasource is creating high-value jobs where they are needed most.
Here’s a Flickr set of photos I took in Mirebalais, Haiti. And here’s one video, of me teaching one of our students to speak Vietnamese
Here’s a cool video of an undercover operation in Goma to arrest a gorilla trafficker and some of the subsequent efforts to nurse the baby gorilla back to health.
I was curious about the high production quality of the piece. It was produced by Virunga National Park’s rangers, who have their own website. It’s sophisticated and very well designed, with ongoing media production and tools for distributed fundraising. Clearly, this is a well-funded project.
I’m surprised to see them have such a slick public presence, but hopefully this is a good sign. Preservation of the park is in direct competition with its other, more destructive economic value: charcoal production. The charcoal producers and park rangers have been in conflict for many years, now (The gorilla murders that took place a few years ago were a direct result.) Hopefully, with enough outside funding, preservation and ecotourism will become the more valuable product of the region.
This short biopic essay discusses a trend linking India and its diaspora that would be great to see to this extent in Vietnam. Snippet:
Our parentsâ€™ generation helped India from afar. They sent money, advised charities, guided hedge-fund dollars into the Bombay Stock Exchange. But most were too implicated in India to return. Our generation, unscathed by it, was freer to embrace it.
Countries like India once fretted about a â€œbrain drain.â€ We are learning now that â€œbrain circulation,â€ as some call it, may be more apt.
India did not export brains; it invested them. It sent millions away. In the freedom of new soil, they flowered. They seeded a new generation that, having blossomed, did what humans have always done: chase the frontier of the future.
HASA (Harvard Alumni for Social Action) was started by a bunch of ’81 alums to advocate the use of the university’s enormous endowment (estimated to go from $35 to $100 billion in the next ten years) for social good. From the site:
Harvard Alumni for Social Action (HASA) is an independent organization open to all Harvard alumni who seek to encourage the University to use donations for social good. HASA members believe that Harvard’s prominence and wealth make it uniquely able to support educational and research institutions in developing countries. HASA therefore works to fund scholarships for African graduate students at Harvard and also to fund infrastructure improvements at needy African universities.
At the moment, the mission sounds like it’s limited to educational grants. I hope they think bigger as more people take interest in the idea and join the org (I just did.) Harvard is a university which presumably has a huge number of innovative ideas around development. Example: the Kennedy School alone probably has half a dozen graduate students thinking about how unhealthy political structures cause the “resource curse” in developing countries (see this TED talk for an interesting discussion on that topic.) Now, imagine if there were huge grants for those graduate students to do research abroad. “Business plan” competitions for social ventures. New departments, even.
I hope HASA expands into a general-use fund directed globally at fixing the social problems that current markets can’t fix on their own. If such things already exist at Harvard and at other schools, I hope HASA finds ways to support them. This is a topic of such enormous interest (academically, politically, and meathook-future realistically.) If they aim higher, perhaps they can draw many orders of magnitude of funding more than they’re currently raising.
Pangea Day looks amazing. Trailers for it have been playing after every TED talk for months, now, and I finally clicked over to check it out.
Starting at 18:00 GMT [Note: 11AM on the US west coast] on May 10, 2008, locations in Cairo, Kigali, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro will be linked for a live program of powerful films, live music, and visionary speakers. The entire program will be broadcast â€“ in seven languages â€“ to millions of people worldwide through the internet, television, and mobile phones.
Here’s a provocative example:
There will be public and private viewings all over the world, including about twenty in San Francisco:
A great article in the NYT. Long, but worth it. Excerpt:
The premise of the work is simple â€” get to know your potential customers as well as possible before you make a product for them. But when those customers live, say, in a mud hut in Zambia or in a tin-roofed hutong dwelling in China, when you are trying â€” as Nokia and just about every one of its competitors is â€” to design a cellphone that will sell to essentially the only people left on earth who donâ€™t yet have one, which is to say people who are illiterate, making $4 per day or less and have no easy access to electricity, the challenges are considerable.