I recently started doing a bit of homework for a client on Google’s efforts at benevolence. In addition to the initiatives supported within google.org and the Google Foundation they have a wealth of other interesting partnerships. The common thread, regardless of the audience or sector of Google, seems to be a desire to use their tools and resources to enable the world’s change agents - young and old.
2006: Google Docs partners with the Global SchoolNet Foundation, inviting students to use Google Docs to dream up inventive new ways to fight global warming
2008: Google Docs partners with the National Writing Project to support Letters to the Next President, an online writing and publishing project for school-aged kids designed to let them express the issues they hope the next president will help solve.
2008: Similar to the American Express Members Project, Google launches Project 10 to the 100, soliciting "ideas to change the world by helping as many people as possible."
2009: Google powers America’s volunteer (search) engine with Allforgood.com. It “aggregates volunteer opportunities around the US” and is now powering the search portion of President Obama’s Serve.gov.
Sign me up for that kind of company!
On the one hand, I’ll admit I love that Google does these things with limited fanfare, and (apparently) without a focused strategy or a plan. They seem to anticipate that these efforts will somehow, someday bear fruit for the brand and, in the meantime, they’re worthwhile. On the other hand, the lack of focus appears to limit the effectiveness of the initiatives. The result of the global warming project was a newspaper ad. The outcome of the writing project is….a website. Project 10 to the 100 still hasn't announced a winner. Where is the follow-through? Couldn’t the Letters project now live on, especially given the publicity letters to President Obama have received in recent months? Couldn't you enlist a team of specialists to help enlist a winning idea (and a team of interns to cull through them all?)
I have to wonder whether Google’s unique employee proposition – 20% of their engineers' time can be spent on personal pet projects – has promoted innovation at the expense of impact?