The Google Foundation supports select organizations whose work addresses the challenge of global poverty in ways that are effective, sustainable, and scalable. From time to time we will invite guest bloggers from grantee organizations to tell their story. Here's the first of this occasional series.



Arriving at Google, we somehow found a spot in the overflowing lot and emerged onto a sprawling campus reminiscent of my days at Stanford. At the front desk, our team commented on the simple yet impressive display we spotted on a monitor depicting the volume of searches originating from every point on the globe with colored dots. Interconnectedness: Acumen Fund is building a global community of like-minded individuals committed to solving problems of poverty through market-based approaches and enabling poor individuals to make their own choices.

We followed the yellow brick road to Building 40, past the packed beach volleyball courts and an outdoor cafĂ©. More than 100 people came to our talk. I was introduced by Sheryl Sandberg, who is Google’s VP of Global Online Sales and Operations and the current acting director of Google.org. Sheryl emphasized Google.org's aim: to work with ventures that are sustainable, collaborative, and able to achieve scale. (To that end, the Google Foundation already supports Acumen Fund; read more here.)

My talk (it was taped) focused on Acumen Fund's mission: to build blueprints for delivering critical goods and services to people earning less than $4 a day. If we can determine better ways for making water, health, housing, and energy available to the poor – and make them affordable and accessible – I believe we'll go a long way toward ending poverty. I spoke about some of Acumen Fund’s key investments: For example, our malaria bednet investment in Tanzania. It employs more than 2,000 women to produce more than 3 million long-lasting bednets per year, impregnated with insecticide to stop mosquitoes. We're hoping to manufacture 6 million of these by the end of 2006, which will mean another 12 million people protected from malaria. This is a good start in teaching us critical lessons about how sustainable enterprises can make an enduring contribution toward solving pressing social problems.

Even more important, our work teaches us what the poor want as consumers. And this is where Acumen Fund will see the greatest returns: the more we understand who poor people are, the better solutions we can develop based on their choices and needs. Indeed, finding iterative – or possibly revolutionary – improvements to delivery systems is where the partnership between Google and Acumen Fund could have great impact. Larry and Sergey believe that scale is key, as is sustainability, and these are the core concepts driving all of Acumen Fund's work.

As a first step, we hope to collaborate with interested Googlers to find better ways to learn what works around the world. Identifying powerful solutions to poverty that are useful to people in different settings, and that are market-driven, scalable, and sustainable, is our greatest challenge. Second, we're hoping to strengthen how the world measures both social and financial returns to investments in delivering critical goods and services to the poor. Like Google, we hold a deep belief in the power of measuring everything we can.

This unique partnership will enable us to do this work in a more powerful way, and to share lessons more broadly. At the end of the day, both Google and Acumen Fund are trying to bring solutions to the world that enable people to make their own choices, solve their own problems. This is the only way we will really be able to end poverty.