is Brilliant

Some news just give me the warm and fuzzies. Like this one about Google philanthropy as reported by the NYTimes. It is starting off with a billion dollars and (like the winner of a beauty pageant), aims to tackle poverty, disease, and global warming.

But unlike most charities, this one will be for-profit, allowing it to fund start-up companies, form partnerships with venture capitalists and even lobby Congress. It will also pay taxes.

One of its maiden projects reflects the philanthropy’s nontraditional approach. According to people briefed on the program, the organization, called, plans to develop an ultra-fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid car engine that runs on ethanol, electricity and gasoline.

And Larry Page in a brilliant move hired Dr Larry Brilliant to head the org.

The executive director whom Mr. Page and Mr. Brin have hired, Dr. Larry Brilliant, is every bit as iconoclastic as Google’s philanthropic arm. Dr. Brilliant, a 61-year-old physician and public health expert, has studied under a Hindu guru in a monastery at the foothills of the Himalayas and worked as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

How cool is that? After his medical training, Dr Brilliant spent two years with Neem Karoli Baba who finally instructed him to exchange his ashram whites for medical whites and help with the smallpox problem. He did.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Dr Brilliant wins the TED Prize (see my earlier post on TED) and gets invited to give a talk at Google HQ and Larry and Sergey like Brilliant and they hire him.

I like the for-profit orientation of I believe that every charitable, NGO, and governmental organization should be either for-profit or should be “pseudo-for-profit.” What is pseudo-for-profit? That’s my brilliant idea 🙂 which shall be written about later.

Author: Atanu Dey


14 thoughts on “ is Brilliant”

  1. We as a society have somehow begun to expect that Business Houses should do Philanthropy, while the fundamentals premise for existence of a Business House is Make Profit Honestly.

    It seems, many business houses are forced to enter this field of philanthropy, becz people are expecting them to do that.

    WalMart was good on this count. It’s Founder, consistently refused to indulge in Announced Philanthropy.


  2. While profit may not be a primary motive for a philanthropy initiative, profits are necessary for sustenance of such initiatives. In order to grow in scope and in effect, the initiatives should create a self sustaining ecosystem around it. Profits not for the sake of profits, but rather for re-investment so to say.


  3. I got this snippet from Infosys blogsite where the underlying theme again seems to be Giving back to Society.
    Keeping the world more safe and prosperous also entails making sure that IT companies don’t use developing countries as colonial powers did, not so long ago. Don’t just abuse a region by stealing their natural resources (in this case, educated labor). Give back to the society you are building in. Help out the poorer levels of society by investing in good infrastructure: housing, sanitation, clean water, medical care. It’s not only good for the society–it’s good for the company too. Maybe it’s not your windows that get smashed in the next round of rioting. If you’re already doing so, and people don’t know about it, you’re missing an opportunity. Not only do you foster good will by making your good deeds known, you’re losing the opportunity to be a good corporate example. Any company benefitting from cheaper labor in other countries should be making similar investments in their own long-term interest and survival!


  4. I’ve always felt leery about “non-profit” partly from the bad rap that NGOs get over their money management partly from their attitude of non-accountability but mostly from the inherent bad practices (fiscal) it breeds (due to atrophied “moral” values). I’ve been thinking something along the lines of what you allude to – ‘psuedo for profit’ – albeit mostly as inarticulate gunk :-). Wait to hear more of your idea…with a begining middle and end.


  5. Atanu,
    Do you support unemployment insurance for Indians?

    HAHA strange twist….

    Well I dont know if
    Shri Dey supports it,
    but I dont for INDIANS, and no way for
    Bhartiyas(i disagree with the attempts when
    Bhartiy as a moniker represents a dichotomous group of people under one governing entity)

    For other groups the situation may be different…

    The reason I would give is that such gaurentees(ie an
    unearned safety net) is when a society is wealthy wrt
    its desires.

    In the current state of things it appears that
    oil reach countries do have such policies where people are payed to do nothing but pretend to be at the leading edge of knowledge…

    Non Oil rich countries with a high(ABSOLUTE comparison WRT every one in the planet) per capita income can afford such luxury to help out
    social cohesiveness.

    In my township in US a strange trio comprises the
    taxpayer subsidized ‘Animal Control officer’ municipal position.
    I was able to calm and walk on a leash with a loud barking rotwielerish looking dog thay they werent and thougth of it as a nuicance to be caged alone till its euthanized…
    The point is that they have a gaurenteed goodwill generating job with an awesome health benifit and
    a structure where NO ONE has ever been FIRED for not performing….

    Trust me When i say I dont know much about animal behaviour, I was using common sense. I desensitized the animal to human motions when still behind a cage and then took it for a walk….
    yet the guy who has been doing the job for 20+ year did NOT really care for the animal to invest time in it, yet he does have a side business whose affairs he deals with half the time for which city folks pay
    taxes for…

    How is this related to insurance ?
    The point is some one an amount for the insurance…

    Since the society cant figure out an optimal way to do a specific task
    (eg find 3 people in a town of a 80,000 who can handle ‘scary’ animals)

    how can they figure out the optimal unemployment insurance….
    Will it be the fellow who will inherit money 10 years from now and decides its better to milk the governmet for $ through a redistribution plan….

    Such things are left for wealthier societies that can tolerate inefficiencies.
    Poor societies cant AFFORD any further inefficiencies


  6. Poor societies cant AFFORD any further inefficiencies
    What do you propose to prevent “race to the bottom(desperation & collusion)” in India without unemployment insurance?

    My proposal is India does nothing.

    The best policy for the government is to not create inefficiency and curroption.

    The 100 day act for rural employment is going to be as big of a moneywaster as
    the youth loan programs that were running in late 80’s in MP india.
    The idea was to provide loans to youth entreprenuers that were government backed,
    ie banks wouldnt really care.
    What happened almost all the loans which were not repayed went to bank employees friends/relatives.

    I already gave another scenario where a person can take advantage of the proposed unemployment insurance.
    eg Consider case of Mr Raju.
    If Raju can hide my income(which a lot of indians accross all income levels do)
    ie the family has a business, that Raju will inherit. Raju works in it, but does not get a salary but his dad gives him ample to support himself.
    Raju takes unemployment compensation benifits….

    Ever Wonder why so many europeans backpack accoss south america and not americans even though it is nearby.
    B/c the government there has created incentives for people to not work for extended periods and not lose much.
    Health Care:- The government gives…
    Retirement:- the government gives
    So a fella in his prime working age bums around for a couple of years.

    India has a tough road ahead and it is better off not wasting money.

    India does not have a decent national ID
    system for security purpose, that ration card was outdated when it started.
    Bangladeshis vote in west bengals election.

    Defense is not great, Counter terrorism and intelligence is in name only
    Sewage system when existant doesnt work.

    There are thousands of services that ONLY
    the government can provide…

    It is an act of criminal incompetance that indian government shifts resources away from those problems.


  7. Today’s NGOs are tomorrow’s commercial feudal war lords fighting a battle with all those in the field, to garner a chunk as huge as it could get, from out of a pile of resources available in land and abroad. Unfortunately, charity has lived upto its proverb of bygone era in a twisted way – ‘Charity begins at home’. Todays barons of charity are filthy rich, spending more on their person than the needy. should be aware of such sharks in its endeavour to give charity a new meaning, direction and destiny, particularly in developing nations like India.


  8. Guru, do you support inheritance tax in India?
    Sorry for the late reply I hadnt been checking this page…

    No for the same reason as above…
    I dont see a good way to impliment any of it without enhancing inefficiencies….
    This idea that strong government influence can solve all inequalities is not something i would entertain, especialy when
    there are many things that only the government can provide and is not doing well.


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