As the New York Times reported a couple of weeks ago, Google's founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have put $1 billion into a charitable organization whose mission is to tackle big, global issues such as poverty, energy and the environment.
This is good news, of course. What is different about Google.org is that instead of being a traditional, non-profit foundation, this is a for-profit entity -- a business that will be in the business of alleviating humanity's voes.
"We hope that someday this institution will eclipse Google itself in overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world's problems," say the founders.
Nonprofit companies are classified as such by a tax code; one that makes it appealing for the contributors to give in exchange for a deduction and that shelters the organization from having to pay taxes on the funds it may have in its coffers each year. I worked in a nonprofit environment for several years and to this day I find it hard to describe whether the status guarantees effectiveness. In fact, I know it doesn't per se -- status does not hire the right people, nor it builds a team that can tackle the organization's mission with energy and passion for results.
Is the answer to charity and socially responsible work to go the for-profit route? There's an interesting thread on this in Australian blog The Age.
Google.org, led by Dr. Larry Brilliant, plans to begin work on a project to develop a high-efficiency vehicle that, if a success, could be produced and sold directly thanks to its legal status as for-profit. The organization would then be able to invest the proceeds back into the business of charity.
The indication is there that we're seeing a 'greening' of business. Socially and environmentally responsible organizations are becoming more mainstream. I knew we had hit some sort of tipping point when Wal*Mart announced it was going organic in its produce aisle. A recent joint effort by the retail giant and GE to produce and sell energy-efficient lightbulbs has the potential to change the world, as Charles Fishman says in the September 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.
Tom Friedman's closing remarks at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia May event can be summarized in one word: green. What he's observed during his research and follow up on the trends that have made and continue to make our world flat is that sustainability is not a mere trend anymore, it is the future of business.