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What happened, Google.org?

January 14, 2009

As many of you may already know, Google.org’s Head of Global Development, Sonal Shah, announced a “change in direction.” Shah relayed the message that Google.org would retreat from its original efforts to help entrepreneurs in poor regions of the world as part of changes in its international-development work. Instead, the Foundation will focus on its Inform and Empower program, which seeks to improve developing nations by organizing vital information and making it accessible to the public.

The reason for the shift is not clear. Shah provides as an explanation, “[i]t’s best to do one thing really, really well” and “[a]s we evaluated our efforts this past year, it became clear that given Google.org’s unique strengths — including the ability to tap Google engineers to build and link better pathways to information — we could have a greater impact on the lives of the poor by focusing our efforts on Inform and Empower.”

It is difficult to discern – even from the Google.org site – the new intent or focus of the “Inform and Empower” program. Or for that matter, the ways in the which the force of the Google empire will create added pathways to information.

I know Sonal Shah has been the subject of much controversy over the past few months. Nonetheless, if she continues to hold her current position, she will play a very important role in world of philanthropy. I hope she and Google do not squander their opportunity to act as a turbo-charged catalyst for social innovation – in one, or two, or even three things.

Do any of you have any thoughts on the Google.org change of direction?

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