Now Moving on Five 21st Century Challenges

At the end of last week, the leaders of, the philanthropic arm of Google, finally announced the five areas that they will focus their money and attention in the coming years. In the language that we use around NDN and the New Politics Institute, the areas are five 21st century challenges that the old politics of the 20th century has ignored but that the new politics of this century needs to address.

I sat in on the conference call they held with Larry Brilliant, the head of, and he outlined the plan to take an initial $25 million and support organizations or invest in companies in each of these five spaces. They are:

  • “Developing renewable energy cheaper than coal.” This is the holy grail of the green tech world, and Google is going to help make this happen as fast as possible.
  • “Accelerate the commercialization of plug-in electric vehicles.” Which ties into the first one, because once the electric grid is running off clean energy, then the plug-ins leverage that same clean energy source.
  • “Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-sized enterprises in the developing world.” This fills the gap between the World-Bank level infrastructure projects, and the Grameen Bank micro-loan space. In between, there are the bulk of job-producing small business which need capital and resources too.
  • “Inform and Empower to Improve Public Services.” This leverages one of Google’s core competencies of aggregating good information and getting it into the hands of those who can make for change. It can involve simple things like getting the information of results about kid’s schools in rural areas to the authorities and international agencies who might be able to help.
  • Predict and Prevent.” This is all about getting early warning system in place to detect the outbreaks of any pandemics that might arise, like Bird Flu. This stems from Brilliant’s personal interest in this area.

I know Brilliant from pre-Google days, and his personal story is a fascinating one, one that I laid out in a lengthy magazine-length interview earlier this decade. In short, Brilliant was part of the team the helped eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, a daunting 20th century challenge that we definitively solved.

Onto this century’s challenges….

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute