Feature Profile

Twenty first century native

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39548.369977.AD (Published 01 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:986
  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor
  1. 1BMJ
  1. tdelamothe{at}bmj.com

Larry Brilliant is executive director of Google’s philanthropic arm. Tony Delamothe talked to him about his medical career, Google’s global health projects, and how the appointment finally made sense of his life

In their first founders’ letter, Larry Page and Sergey Brin said they wanted to “make Google an institution that makes the world a better place.” They committed 1% of the company’s equity and 1% of its annual profits to philanthropy and set up Google.org as the main route to disburse these funds. Two years ago, they put Larry Brilliant in charge, and earlier this year he announced the five core initiatives that will provide the focus of Google’s philanthropic efforts over the next 5-10 years.

“We tried to pick areas that allowed us to bring the energies and talents of Google engineers and Google resources to bear,” says Brilliant. Altogether, $75m (£38m; €47m) has been committed to projects in three areas: global health, poverty, and climate change.

Unsurprisingly, given Brilliant’s background (of which more later), the initiative on global health is called Predict and Prevent. It “supports efforts to empower communities to predict and prevent events before they become local, regional, or global crises, by identifying ‘hot spots’ and enabling a rapid response.” The initial focus is on southeast Asia and tropical Africa.

Brilliant joined Google shortly after winning a Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) prize in 2006. (These are awarded annually to three people, who each receive $100 000 to grant their “one wish to change the world.”) Brilliant’s wish was to “help build a global system to detect each new disease or disaster as quickly as it emerges or occurs.” The system became InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters), whose brief was broadened to offer relief agencies ways of communicating and sharing data, thus allowing coordinated …

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