Okay, We Hear You: Google Steps Up Focus on Bay Area Poverty

When it comes to corporate philanthropy, Google has a decent enough record. It now gives away $100 million per year in grants, along with in-kind donations valued around $1 billion, and 80,000 volunteer hours from its employees. And while the company’s global giving has a heightened profile since the launch of the Google Impact Awards in 2013, it's also stepped up its community giving in the Bay Area, to the tune of $60 million over the last three years.

We’ve reported on before on the broader push by the tech sector to address rising income disparity and the general feeling that tech companies don’t do enough to support local communities, especially considering that in many ways, it's the tech companies that are responsible for the area's rising inequality. Back in May, Google was one of more than a dozen tech companies to take the SF Gives Challenge, helping Tipping Point Community create a $10 million fund to fight poverty in the Bay Area.

In addition to its involvement with SF Gives, the company hosted one of its Impact Challenges in the Bay Area this year, and gave out $6.8 million to provide transit passes to low-income youth after criticism of its private shuttle service for Bay Area employees. And just in time for the holidays, it recently announced another $2 million in grants to poverty-fighting organizations, including $1 million to the Hamilton Family Center to serve families at risk for homelessness, and $500,000 to Larkin Street Youth Services for college and career programs for homeless youth.

The connection between poverty and education certainly isn’t a new one for Google. Past grants have been made to organizations like YearUp, Citizen Schools, CodeEd, and the Level Playing Field Institute, all of which provide educational programs for underprivileged youth, which seems to be one of the core focuses of Google's Bay Area giving. 

The most interesting grant in Google’s poverty-fighting efforts, however, has to be the $500,000 matching gift to HandUp. It’s the sort of organization that tech philanthropists are increasingly gravitating toward these daysa web platform that enables homeless and low-income individuals to leverage the power of the Internet and raise money for specific needs. Like DonorsChoose is to education and Kickstarter is to creative projects, HandUp has helped people raise money for things like food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and education. Originating in the Bay Area, the organization distributes funds directly to those who need it through community partners, and is slowly expanding into communities throughout the U.S.

The takeaway for Bay Area charities here is that Google has shifted its focus toward poverty more generally, but nonprofits outside the Bay Area should take note as well. Using technology to address poverty is the sort of thing that gets the money flowing out of Silicon Valley. Throw in education, and you've got a trifecta that tech funders love.