In their 2004 IPO letter, Google’s cofounders established the Google Foundation and committed “employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits” to the foundation’s efforts. This vision evolved into Google.org, the company’s current philanthropic arm. On December 4th, the Global Social Entrepreneurship Program hosted a virtual session with Yale SOM alumna Brigitte Gosselink, who manages several initiatives for “dot org,” as the group is informally known.
Gosselink shared her unique career trajectory with students keen to learn how one of the world’s leading technology companies applies its expertise to social sector challenges. After earning her B.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia, Gosselink worked in international development, including a position at USAID. She matriculated at SOM and spent the summer with a private sector consultancy, but chose upon graduation to advise social sector organizations with the Bridgespan Group.
Working with these organizations, she consistently saw a lack of ability to engage with technology in the same ways that it is transforming the private sector. As Google.org expanded its portfolio, it offered an opportunity to address global problems through grant-making around technology and innovation, with the goal of having a greater social impact. Today, Google.org focuses on education, economic opportunity, inclusion, and crisis response, allocating $150 million annually to organizations taking innovative approaches in these areas. Gosselink’s particular emphasis is on “product impact,” or how emerging technologies within Google can be applied across these program areas. In particular, she and her team are considering how artificial intelligence (AI) can address these intractable problems, and are soliciting proposals through an AI Impact Challenge. Some early successes include collaboration with Thorn, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), to improve tools that help get ahead of abusers’ and traffickers’ activity.
Gosselink spent the better part of an hour answering students’ questions. She discussed the unique nature of accountability when engaging in corporate philanthropy as a public company; the kinds of projects that are difficult for corporate philanthropists to take on (such as systemic education issues in developing countries); the challenges of innovating around funding when Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has several investment vehicles; and the exchange of information that flows from the commercial side of Google to the philanthropic side and back again.
The work that Gosselink and her team do is situated at a critical nexus of rapid innovation and long-cherished values. In her words, it is an “important time for the tech sector in terms of thinking about values.” Just as her team relies on the rest of the company to continue developing technologies that can be of broad use, her team continues to push the developers to remain thoughtful about technologies and how they affect more vulnerable populations.
By Alex Kasavin