Google’s Philanthropic Efforts Bridge the Digital Gap

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SEATTLE — Google has been at the forefront of technology for over a decade. The company has pioneered technological advances to help underdeveloped nations gain access to technology. Investments into Khan Academy, the Android Open Source Project and Google Balloons are just a few examples

Google’s philanthropic efforts and its push for cheaper technology, easily accessible education and connectivity have helped decrease poverty and created new ways to monetize and participate in the global economy.

Funding of Khan Academy Grows Education Access

In 2010, Google’s philanthropic arm invested $2 million into a nonprofit declared to be the future of education. Khan Academy, founded by Salman Khan in 2008, offers more than 6,000 instructional videos on math, biology, physics, chemistry, economics and many other subjects.

Since its initial investment, Google has continued funding Khan Academy, with a total of $11 million invested to date. Khan Academy provides a world-class education that runs on Google’s ever-growing cloud platform.

The impact of Khan’s education program is global. Google has not only funded Khan Academy, it has also helped build its technical infrastructure and created new content while further helping to connect, serve and engage with more teachers.[hr_invisible]

Low-Cost Smartphones Have a Worldwide Impact

Google CEO Sundar Pichai committed resources in 2014 to help bring inexpensive smartphone technology to developing countries. At Google’s I/O conference, Pichai said that in his home country of India, only 10 percent of users have access to smartphones. Google created an inventive way to get its vendor partners to source components in a manner that would allow them to offer low-cost, robust and generally secure devices, called the Android One program.

Black Enterprise reported that Pichai showed off a 4.5-inch Android One device Google has been working on with manufacturer Micromax. “It has features that matter to a country like India, like Dual-SIM, a removable SD card, and FM radio. I’m used to cutting-edge devices … and it’s really good.” But the real surprise? “It costs less than $100,” Pichai said.

Because of Android’s open source nature, developers and manufacturers around the world are empowered to create low-cost devices with access to millions of cutting-edge applications. The data gathered by these smartphones can help researchers and scientists find innovative ways to address poverty.

Android has opened the door for diversification in manufacturers, allowing these companies to hire local engineers and source local parts that can better serve their communities at a much lower cost. Other effects include mobile operators around the planet adding more capacity and connectivity and lowering access costs as more users share the costs of network maintenance and upgrades.

According to a 2012 report by the World Bank, more than 2.5 billion people (half of all adults in the world) do not have access to a bank account. Android proliferation in places like Nigeria has slowly eroded this statistic. More than 55 million Africans use their mobile device to send money, collect payments and transact in the digital economy.

In addition, NGOs like Malaria No More use these now-developed mobile networks to send text messages about where to meet for health diagnostics and access to reliable drugs used for treatment.[hr_invisible]

Balloons Increase Global Connectivity

In 2011, Google’s philanthropic efforts invested in yet another significant technical infrastructure deployment called Project Loon. Project Loon is a fleet of balloons that provide internet coverage to rural areas around the globe by traveling on the edge of space.

After a testing phase in California’s Central Valley, the project officially deployed in June 2013. Google provided LTE coverage to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other countries. After the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Project Loon was able to bring 100,000 people back online.

Project Loon enables users to access the internet from their LTE equipped device. The project eventually became its own company under Google called Loon Inc. In partnership with local telecommunication operators, Google has been able to extend its networks to reach individuals in the most remote areas of the world.

The combination of these three initiatives paints a much broader picture of the company’s goal to bring connectivity to those who need it most. Cheap Android devices paired with Loon connectivity and Khan Academy’s education platform are potent tools to decrease poverty and encourage education and innovation from anyone anywhere on the planet.

– Hector Cruz

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Hector Cruz

Hector writes for The Borgen Project from Washington, DC. His academic interests include infrastructure technology and previously he was a sales team manager at AT&T and Microsoft. Currently, Hector's an Account Executive in the enterprise Cloud/Infrastructure space.

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