Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Founder of The Well to lead Google philanthropy




From Mercury News:

Founder of The Well to lead Google philanthropy
By Elise Ackerman
Mercury News

Google has selected one of the Bay Area's earliest online pioneers and social venture capitalists to head its philanthropic efforts, the Mountain View search giant announced Tuesday.

A physician who co-founded a dial-up BBS known as The Well in 1985, Lawrence Brilliant has been juggling technology companies and social ventures for more than 20 years.

Most recently, Brilliant was chief executive of Cometa Networks, a company founded by AT&T, IBM and Intel to establish high-speed wireless access points around the country.

Brilliant is also a director of the Seva Foundation, a non-profit he founded in 1978 to build culturally sustainable solutions throughout the world to problems such as preventable blindness, diabetes, poverty and inequality.

Early supporters of Seva included Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, countercultural guru Ram Dass, clown and activist Wavy Gravy and Steve Jobs.

Brilliant said he was attracted by the depth and sincerity of Google's commitment to sustainable social change, noting ``there's a lot of pent-up demand'' among young people to do good work.
``I'm hoping that Google will become an inspiration to that generation of kids as well as to other companies to consciously try to make the world a better place,'' Brilliant said.

Brilliant will head Google.org, which oversees the Google Foundation, with a $90 million endowment, as well as partnerships with and contributions to various for-profit and non-profit entities.

Over the next 20 years, Google has pledged to spend the equivalent of the price of 3 million shares of its stock on Google.org -- close to $1 billion, according to Tuesday's closing price of $366.59.


From San Fracisco Chronicle:

Foundation names Larry Brilliant chief

Google Inc., which has said it plans to put $1 billion into its charitable efforts, hired as its first chief of philanthropy a man who has helped eliminate smallpox in the Third World, founded a pioneering online community and rubbed elbows with the Grateful Dead.


Dr. Larry Brilliant, 61, of Mill Valley will become executive director of Google.org as it gets started on its mission of "applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world's problems," in the words of Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

Although on the surface it may seem counterintuitive to put a counterculture figure in charge of what is destined to become one of the world's largest charitable institutions, Brilliant's friends see his selection as a logical choice.


He has led both technology companies and international nonprofit organizations. He is a founder of the Seva Foundation, which has built eye hospitals in India and Nepal, and was the personal doctor to the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia. This week in Monterey, he's accepting $100,000 from a technology conference to go toward fulfilling one wish that can change the world. (He hasn't said what he's wishing for.)


"To launch something like this, to be there at the creation, it's huge, and I can't think of any better person than Larry Brilliant," said Peter Schwartz, founder and chairman of the Global Business Network in Emeryville. "He understands and can communicate with the Google people because he's part of their world, and he has real hands-on experience tackling extremely difficult problems in extremely difficult places."


Or, in the words of famed hippie clown Wavy Gravy of Berkeley, "They couldn't have picked a better guy. The guy's got chops. What can I say?"


In a telephone interview Tuesday, Brilliant said the job will allow him a certain amount of creative flexibility, in that Google.org won't operate as a traditional nonprofit group. Instead, it will have one arm, the Google Foundation, that runs as a nonprofit agency, and other arms that will invest in businesses that won't necessarily bring great financial returns but will have a large social impact.


"The world is black and white -- you're either nonprofit or for-profit -- and there's not a third category, where you make a little profit but do lots of social good," Brilliant said. Google is willing to invest in that field, which in recent years has grown with labels like "social entrepreneurship."
Google, one of the most successful firms in Silicon Valley, makes a big splash in whatever field it enters, and philanthropy is likely to be no different. In the company's most recent quarterly earnings report last month, it said it had put the first $90 million into its foundation. In addition, Google has said it would give Google.org 1 percent of its equity and 1 percent of its profit.


Brilliant wouldn't put a dollar figure on it, but he said the organization was endowed with 3 million shares of Google stock, 1 percent of the shares created at its initial public offering. At Tuesday's closing price of $366.59, that stock is worth $1.1 billion. According to company literature, Google will give those shares over 20 years and will give 1 percent of annual profit, which includes this year's $90 million donation, plus $175 million over the next three years. Google has also given away $33 million in advertising.


Brilliant would not say what he would be paid in the job, which will be at the company's Mountain View headquarters. "I'll be making a difference in the world," he quipped.


The Google Foundation has already sponsored a contest in Ghana where the winners get startup financing. It also gave $5 million to the Acumen Fund, which helps create businesses in developing countries to help with health and housing, and $2 million to a program trying to develop inexpensive computers for children in poor countries.


Sheryl Sandberg, Google's vice president for global online sales and operations and a board member of Google.org, said Brilliant was picked after a lengthy search because of his "true and heartfelt vision to change the world" and his "proven ability."


Brilliant came to Google's attention through Chris Anderson, director of the TED conference; through Larry Page's brother Carl, also an Internet entrepreneur, who had heard Brilliant speak several times; and through a talk about avian flu that Brilliant recently delivered at Google's offices.


Brilliant had been working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the past five months on preparing for a potential human outbreak of avian bird flu. Most recently, he has been affiliated with the Global Business Network and with the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley.


In the 1970s, he worked in India with the World Health Organization to help eradicate smallpox. With the successful campaign concluded, he returned to the United States to teach at the University of Michigan and wound up starting two lasting ventures: Seva and the Well.
"I'm much better at giving away money than making money," Brilliant said.


"My kids say the Google position makes sense out of my life, as if my life did not make sense before," he said. "There's an element of truth in that."


E-mail Dan Fost at dfost@sfchronicle.com.

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