Jen Carter has been doing amazing work at Google.org for six years, but this powerful changemaker really made a splash on my radar screen in 2021 when her group shared top Halo Award honors with The Trevor Project for a series of skilled volunteerism projects that, among other things, enabled the nonprofit to leverage artificial intelligence to better serve LGBTQ youth.
Jen recently provided me with a better understanding of what led her to found the impressive Google.org Fellowship program, how it works and advice she’d offer peers seeking to create strong skilled volunteering programs.
David Hessekiel: Please share a bit about your professional journey, how you ended up at Google.org and what you do.
Jen Carter: I spent the better part of a decade working on Google’s Trust & Safety team, developing tools to help keep people safe online. I was also always passionate about volunteering, and over the years helped a variety of nonprofits make use of technology to further their mission.
Joining Google.org in 2016 gave me the opportunity to combine my interests in technology & volunteering. As the global head of technology at Google.org and the head of Google’s skills-based volunteering efforts, I lead a team that helps nonprofits and civic entities harness the power of technology to accelerate their impact.
Nonprofits were telling us that they wanted to do more with technology, but it was difficult to find & retain technical talent. At the same time, we were hearing from Googlers who wanted to do more pro bono work, but it was tough to find the right opportunities to make use of their skill sets.
So in 2019, I founded the Google.org Fellowship, which enables teams of Googlers to complete up to six months of full-time pro bono work with nonprofits & civic entities. Googlers work together with their host organization to build products that help solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges, with a focus on education, economic opportunity, inclusion, and crisis response.
David Hessekiel: What are some of the projects fellows have undertaken that stand out to you?
Jen Carter: Over the past two years, Google.org Fellows have stepped up to build & scale a number of solutions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – from immediate relief to long term recovery and future preparedness.
- Health & Humanitarian Response. Health systems have been stretched thin, so Google.org Fellows supplemented public health efforts, especially those using data and technology. For example, Fellows worked with researchers at the University of Oxford, Boston Children’s Hospital, and other institutions to create a scalable platform, Global.health, that provides anonymized and verified case-level COVID-19 data to enable timely decision making.
- Economic Relief & Recovery. Vulnerable small businesses and households are experiencing profound economic shocks, so Google.org Fellows supported organizations that increased access to capital and expertise. For example, Fellows worked with the City of Detroit to create a tool to help Detroiters find affordable housing.
- Distance Learning. With >1 billion students out of school globally, Google.org Fellows supported organizations that are helping students learn remotely. For example, Fellows assisted TalkingPoints in using natural language processing to enable two-way translated communication & provide personalized coaching support for families & teachers.
Google.org Fellows have also done a lot of work to support organizations in the fight for racial justice and those responding to the sustainability crisis.
David Hessekiel: Recently Google announced that a group of fellows will work with a young Polish nonprofit to alleviate some of the suffering caused by the Ukrainian crisis. How did that come together so quickly and what will they do?
Jen Carter: As part of Google’s response to the invasion of Ukraine, we announced a grant and Google.org Fellowship for Tech To The Rescue, a Polish foundation that matches nonprofits building solutions to support Ukrainian relief efforts with tech companies who can provide pro bono support.
From coordinating humanitarian aid to providing urgent information to refugees, Tech To The Rescue’s #TechForUkraine campaign is helping nonprofits get the technical assistance they need. We’re honored to be able to support them in expanding their efforts globally, and in particular are proud to enable other companies to do more pro bono work.
David Hessekiel: What would you advise other companies that are trying to create effective skilled volunteering programs?
Jen Carter: There is a lot that goes into building and managing a skills-based volunteering program, so I find it’s helpful to break it down into stages. We’ve had lots of lessons learned throughout but here’s one top tip from each stage:
- Selecting: Develop a clear set of criteria to evaluate potential projects. There is no shortage of projects that could occupy your attention, so start by developing a clear set of selection criteria.
- Scoping: Narrow down the scope and identify key deliverables. No matter how long an engagement is, it’s never enough time, so it is critical to align on the host organization’s highest priorities.
- Recruiting: Find projects at the intersection of your employees’ skill sets and interests. Understand what employees are interested in and where they can uniquely add value. For us that’s often projects that help make the world’s information accessible & useful.
- Executing: Take advantage of extensive research around what makes an effective team. Research shows it’s not about hiring the best people, it’s about creating the strongest team. Invest in the team as if it was their core role.
- Offboarding: Have a plan in place for offboarding before a project is even selected. A solution is only as useful as it is sustainable. Plan for how your work will be carried forward to ensure lasting impact.