Mega-resources for the good fight: Orinda's Jacquelline Fuller
leads Google's philanthropic arm
By Lou Fancher
What would you call having a staff of 12 people, more than 50,000 tech-savvy advisers at your disposal and over $100 million in your pocket for battling global problems like intellectual and economic poverty, endangered wildlife, child abuse and dwindling energy resources?
While some people would call it "amazing," Orinda resident Jacquelline Fuller calls it "work." Not that the 46-year-old Director of Google.Org takes even one moment of her philanthropic day for granted.
In an interview from her office in San Francisco, Fuller says directing "DotOrg," the group's internal nickname for the charitable foundation, is "the best job in the world." Providing underfunded groups with "the oxygen they need" is rewarding, invigorating, and reinforces her belief that philanthropy pays dividends to giver and recipient alike.
"The literature shows that people are much happier when they spend their money on others, rather than on themselves," Fuller says.
Using that yardstick, Fuller may be the area's happiest resident. Among Google.Org's chosen causes are preparing military veterans and disadvantaged teens for college; disrupting illegal poaching of animal species; preventing young children from being sold into human sex-trafficking circles; and providing transitional employment to recently released prison inmates through a $500k Bay Area Impact Challenge grant to the Center for Employment Opportunities.
But her eight years as deputy director of global health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, before jumping to Google.Org in 2007, also reflect a second, intrinsic motivation: Fuller loves scrappy, down-in-the-trenches problem solving.
"There were 10 people on board and it ran out of an office above a pizza shop," she recalls, about the Gates Foundation's early days. "Over time it grew and grew."
The Gates Foundation's corpus -- Fuller said "balance" isn't accurate and she uses this term for the foundation's financial holdings -- went from $100 million to $40 billion during her tenure. In 2004, she and her family -- husband John, a teacher at Oak Knoll Elementary in Menlo Park, and their two daughters, then ages 8 and 10 -- moved to Delhi, India, where she helped to launch a $300 million health initiative for the Gates Foundation.
The organization, she says, "became slightly bureaucratic" and an intriguing conversation she had with Lawrence Brilliant (Google.Org's first director) convinced her it was time to retrench.
"Google was the first to say, 'We believe in philanthropy as part of our corporate DNA,'" Fuller explained. "We think about philanthropy holistically. We think about resources, the money we can invest, but we also think about how we can use the best of who Google is as a company."
Google.Org ascribes to philosophies -- technology is knowledge; enormous "10X" ideas, not incremental-change ideas, best suit their asset-rich fortress; high-caliber people -- agile, pivotable and dedicated -- form the core of pod-sized nonprofit teams that receive funding and are able to leverage Google's 50,000 employees worldwide to solve problems.
Pooling expert advice on the use of drones with indigenous people's knowledge and the most advanced technological tools to combat elephant poaching in Asia and Africa is just one example of the DotOrg credo applied.
Years of being in the spotlight with high-profile corporate givers has toughened Fuller's hide. Unperturbed by inevitable criticisms, she says, "We shouldn't expect any donor to solve every aspect of every problem. We should expect them to bring what they know best. (For) any problem, education or Ebola, certainly, tech is not the only response."
Google.Org's rapid agility were proven just one day earlier, Fuller says, when they launched an initiative to fight Ebola. Immediate funding provided direct services ($10 million for clinic support), while a portion of the money was reserved for slower-burn tech solutions like exploring vaccines and developing protective suits that can be worn for more than an hour without medical personnel overheating. Tapping into Google's extreme connectivity, DotOrg also launched a website devoted to raising $7.5 million for nonprofits working to stop the virus with a 2-to-1 match for every dollar donated to the cause.
Asked if there is any problem too big or too intractable to tackle, Fuller says, "I don't think (Google co-founder) Larry Page looks out and sees any problem that can't be solved if we align our resources and best thinking on it."