Google.org today announced a $50 million commitment to education nonprofits over the next two years.
It marks the largest commitment to a single topic area ever made by the organization — the philanthropic arm of Google — and reflects its focus on technology as part of the solution to poverty and inequality.
“We’ve seen there’s a role for technology to play in creating a richer learning environment, but only if we can get all teachers and students really benefiting from it,” said Brigitte Hoyer-Gosselink, education lead at the “dot org” offices in San Francisco, ahead of the announcement.
Nine organizations will receive funding at first, with another round of organizations to be added later in the year for a total of 20 by the end of 2017.
The funding will be focused on three areas in which the organization believes technology can improve education in developing countries: providing access to quality learning materials; training and engaging teachers; and helping students in crisis and conflict zones. However, Google.org says that the priority areas could evolve over the next two years.
The grantees revealed today include Learning Equality, which is taking digital content offline; War Child Holland, which uses a game-based approach to education for children affected by conflict; Million Sparks Foundation, which is focused on teacher capacity building; and Pratham Education Foundation, which works to improve the quality of education in India and will scale to additional villages with support from Google.org.
Support will also go to the Clooney Foundation for Justice — to which Google.org announced a $1 million grant in September — for the education of refugee children in Lebanon.
Khan Academy, the massive online open course company that Google.org supported with $2 million in 2010, will receive an additional $5 million to expand its programming. StoryWeaver, an open source platform for stories from the Pratham Books nonprofit, will have access to expertise from Google Translate team members and technologies, in addition to $3.6 million of financial support. And two more organizations will be revealed later this week, the Google.org team told Devex.
More than money
Google.org President Jacquelline Fuller emphasized that organization always aims to contribute more than just cash, also offering the expertise of Google employees, or “Googlers” as they are known. As part of its contributions to the refugee crisis, for example, employees were deployed to set up WiFi in refugee camps and along the migration route. As part of the education portfolio, Googlers will also be offered the opportunity to travel to Guatemala to support Learning Equality in its digital work.
Betsy Beaumon, president of Benetech — a previous Google.org grantee under its 2015 focus on disabilities — told Devex that the organization “has benefitted from Google support that goes beyond just direct funding, including volunteer engineers on open source projects, access to expertise on machine learning and even a venue to convene accessibility technologists.”
“They understand and support experimental approaches to software innovation that can be seen as messy, involving trial and error and changes in plans,” she said. “This has made projects possible that we could not have otherwise tried. That’s always refreshing in a funder.”
Jim Shelton, the head of Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's education efforts, shares his thoughts on what is needed to move the needle on education for all. Devex reports from the Social Capital Markets conference in San Francisco, California.
For its new focus, the Google.org team did more than 60 interviews with experts to determine whether they could add value to the global education landscape, said Hoyer-Gosselink, who traveled to India over the summer as part of the process.
They concluded that there was a need for more flexible philanthropic funding, and that Google.org could add value through its focus on technology and innovation, she said, arguing that many children are in school but not learning: 130 million students do not have basic subjects mastered after four years of primary education, and 74 percent of students have limited or no access to the internet.
The organization is on the lookout for education nonprofits “where technology can be a meaningful part of the solution and not forced” and “where we could see impact in the near to medium term,” she said.
“We’re here to translate what is possible on the technology side to what is actually needed and can provide the most impact in coordination with our partners and grantees,” she added.
The team also plans to measure this work, whether successes or failures, to “contribute to the knowledge base for what is possible at the intersection of education and technology,” she said.
It ties into other work the company is doing to spread the availability of technology, and especially the internet, more widely.
Fuller told Devex that once the goal of wider connectivity is achieved, “then we can think about: okay, these are areas that are newly receiving the internet, and these are nonprofits on the ground we can think about supporting to make sure that new internet availability is leading to high-quality learning.”
However, the current commitment is seen as an intermediate step, she explained, and they are interested in working with nonprofits that have found new ways to reach students in areas where there is low or intermittent power and internet connectivity.
Individuals and organizations interested in learning more about the funding opportunities available can fill out this form.
Improving education with technology
As the drive to close the digital divide turns some of the world's biggest technology competitors into collaborators, what can the global development community contribute to the effort?
“Technology has the potential to address some of the biggest education challenges in the world’s most underserved communities, through providing teacher support and tools, enabling access to content, empowering students with more personalized instruction and more,” Amy Klement, who leads on education at the Silicon Valley-based philanthropic investment firm Omidyar Network, told Devex.
“Like most innovations, much of this is happening already in the world's wealthier education markets — creating what can be a widening achievement gap that philanthropy can help address,” she said.
“In particular, philanthropists can play an important role by increasing access to edtech in communities that need it, funding user experience design and efficacy testing in disadvantaged communities, and showcasing efficacious technology with key local influencers and decision-makers to promote awareness and understanding,” Klement explained.
Google.org launched in 2004, when Google cofounder Larry Page said he hoped the institution might one day “eclipse Google itself” in terms of global impact.
In 2015, it committed $20 million to building “a more inclusive world” for people with disabilities as part of the Google Impact Challenge.
Fuller, who joined the organization in 2007 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has helped Google move toward its model of corporate philanthropy. Currently, 1 percent of the company’s net profit — between $100 and $200 million a year — is directed toward Google.org and the Google Foundation to support its philanthropic aims.
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