• Google.org is working to address the SDGs through innovation and funding.
  • Unlocking capital is key to helping some of the poorest people.
  • The SDGs help provide data so that work can be prioritized.

Jacquelline Fuller heads up Google.org, the tech giant's data-driven, philanthropic arm tackling the world's biggest problems using a combination of innovation, funding and technical expertise.

Here she discusses how the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) help frame the group’s thinking, how they changed gears to help tackle the COVID crisis and how technology has made it easier to get resources to people in need during a crisis.

You can hear her interview on The Great Reset podcast, coming to you from the Forum's Sustainable Development Impact Summit:

How is your work led by the SDGs?

We think about some of the greatest challenges we're facing across the earth as encapsulated by the SDGs. And then think what are Google's unique assets that we could leverage? Where could we make a differential impact against some of these challenges? For SDG 3, for example, we're thinking about health and science and data gaps.

The SDGs to me are a great way to look at data, help prioritize and stack rank, and then galvanize the world to say, "What can we do together?" And it doesn't mean that every person or every community or every company is going to tackle every one of the SDGs. I think we all need to think about where we can plug in and have the biggest impact.

When the COVID crisis hit, we just threw out our objectives and key results for the entire year 2020 and said, let's just entirely reorient around the COVID crisis. We have galvanized more than $100 million that we've put to work through Google.org with partners. And then we have also leveraged our Googlers, our employees, and their expertise in particular.

Sustainable development environment climate change inequality oceans
There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, that aim to protect the planet and promote prosperity.
Image: United Nations

Tell us about your work on loan funds and direct cash transfers.

This global pandemic has also been devastating for the economy. COVID is just accelerating all of the negative trends, in terms of income, loss of jobs, widening income gaps. The way that Google.org plugged into that was to think about the barriers that small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) face in particular. The SMBs led by women and people of colour have been particularly hard hit.

One of the big barriers they face is access to capital. So how could we help unlock capital in such a critical time where cashflow is so important? We worked with financial intermediaries who work with community groups that are getting resources out to small businesses everywhere and built their infrastructure.

We gave grants and also involved our friends from the treasury group here at Google to make loan funds available. So we put into place the $200 million loan fund to provide immediate access to capital.

We've also thought about individuals. Everyday people who have been hammered by job losses, they still need to pay their rent and feed their families, so you've seen a big upswing in the amount of resources that are flowing in the form of direct cash assistance.

Google.org has been involved in that area for more than a decade. We worked together with a group called GiveDirectly to help really build the scale to allow people to provide resources, a dollar for someone who's in absolute poverty in Kenya or Uganda. This idea works so well in development contexts, because we know just by giving direct cash, 90 cents of every dollar that you're giving is going directly into the hands of someone in need.

Giving people free, direct cash allows them to make choices about what they need in their life at the moment. And one of the things that we've really seen, working together with partners, is that in a moment of crisis, speed is of the essence.

How hopeful are you that we can solve the biggest challenges facing the world?

I tend to be an optimist. And there are things that make me hopeful and make me think we actually can chip away at this. Globally, we’re seeing scaled solutions around providing different paths, pathways to jobs, jobs that provide good wages, jobs that have growth in them.

There's been a really big global movement around teaching digital skills. We have seen that gap, that lack of knowledge at the most basic level of people not even being able to look for a job online, all the way to more advanced skills around computer science or how to become an IT support professional.

Google has launched an effort that we call Grow with Google. We have major programmes across Europe, Africa, Asia and in the US where we're working with different partners to say, what are the key digital skills that people need in order to advance, to get a job, to increase their earning potential.

We're seeing, for example, even at Google that not every job actually needs a college degree, and people can learn skills. They can bring skills to the table through different pathways. People who don't have a four-year degree can take a course on a platform like Coursera. We offer some scholarships for that where people can grow into being an IT support professional within six months to a year.

These kinds of digital skills programmes that Google and others are doing are providing the kind of ladders that we're going to need to see as part of the COVID economic recovery.