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Google.org

Placing a bet on building a better world



A few years ago, Google.org was looking for a way to encourage innovation in the non-profit sector, especially when the need is urgent and overwhelming, or when the challenge is complex and daunting.

The result was the Google.org Impact Challenge, an open-call that travels to different parts of the world to identify and fund organizations that are looking to use technology in transformative ways.

The first Canadian challenge took place last year, and ten projects were selected. Google.org provided five million dollars in grant money, and in partnership with our team at the LEAP | Pecaut Centre for Social Impact, we jointly provided a unique blend of support that includes mentorship, education and access to Google’s tech expertise. LEAP also leveraged the deep bench of experience from our sector partners, the Boston Consulting Group, EY, McCarthy Tétrault, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, and the Offord Group, which provided pro-bono services and worked closely with each of the selected organizations.

Over the past twelve months, we’ve seen up close that Canadian nonprofits can do tremendous things when they are given not only tools, but also the room to fail and the freedom to spend capital where they most need it in order to meet their bigger goals.

The lessons we have learned together over the past year are applicable to any business with tight budgets and a risk-averse culture:

  • Invest in great ideas and visionary leaders - there are lots of good ones, be selective and only choose to invest in the best. Similarly, look for the leaders with ambition who want to drive forward a project. We look for leaders who want open source their technology, who build models with the potential to scale, who will speak publicly about their successes and failures so that others can learn and benefit.
  • The right toolkit is so much more than money - we don’t want to fund projects that dry up as soon as our grant is spent. We help our partners scope their projects to make sure that they can sustain the work after our investment is complete. We empower them to use the technology themselves, we don’t just do it for them. We look to harness their existing talent and expertise, and accelerate their learning in new areas.
  • Learn from each other - all of the nonprofits participating in the Google.org Impact Challenge have an opportunity to connect and learn from each other. They share what’s working, what failed, and how they have overcome challenges. They have built a community to continually turn to.

The money Google.org invested in non-profit innovation in Canada is already paying dividends. The Impact Challenge participants have done everything from deploy drones to find safe routes through disaster zones to build a digital map of climate change impact on sea ice ecosystems in Hudson Bay. They have developed ways to create educational opportunity for kids living on indigenous reserves and ways to divert surplus food away from landfill and onto the plates of hungry people through Canada’s Food Bank network.

When innovation works, the smart investor re-invests. We’re proud to share that five organizations will be partnering with us for a second year, and have been granted an additional $100,000 each from Google.org to continue their work. This brings the total investment across the Google.org Impact Challenge Canada to $5.5M in grant money, and an additional $1.5M in pro bono investment across Google Canada, LEAP and our partners.

The projects that will participate in this second phase are:

  • The Rumie Initiative - Only 40% of students on indigenous reserves graduate from high school, compared to 90% of students in the rest of Canada. The LearnCloud Portal is an offline, tablet-based curriculum to help high school students learn about Indigenous culture, history and language while gaining employment skills and financial literacy.
  • World Wide Hearing Foundation International - Globally, 32 million children suffer from significant hearing loss, the majority of whom live in countries where access to hearing care can be a significant barrier. The Teleaudiology Cloud will connect children living in remote communities with audiologists and speech therapists who can assist with remote screening, hearing aid fitting, speech therapy and parent counselling.
  • Arctic Eider Society - With Arctic sea ice declining at over 13% per decade, changing conditions make navigation unpredictable and limits access to traditional foods for Arctic communities. The SIKU platform will provide a set of open-source tools that help Inuit communities map changing sea ice, and build a living archive of Inuit knowledge to help inform decision making for stewardship and sustainable development.
  • Food Banks Canada - Each year, close to $31 billion of food is wasted in Canada, yet nearly one in ten Canadian households have to worry about whether they have food on the table. The FoodAccess App diverts surplus quality food away from landfill by connecting farmers, manufacturers and restaurants with donation agencies and Canadian dinner tables that might otherwise go empty. 
  • Growing North - In Nunavut, nearly 70% of adults are food insecure - meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Growing North addresses food insecurity issues by building greenhouses that will provide fresh produce all year round in latitudes above the Arctic Circle at about half of the present cost.