SPH Digest

SPH Digest

Reasons for Hope

Larry BrilliantLarry Brilliant is in his third year as head of Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google. As of September, Google.org had committed more than $150 million to support projects aimed at slowing global warming, predicting and preventing the spread of infectious diseases, improving public services in the developing world, and fueling the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises in India and East Africa. It's the kind of work Brilliant, who earned his M.P.H. from Michigan in 1977, has done throughout his life, most famously in the early 1970s when he spent six years in India helping to eradicate smallpox. Last April, the man Rolling Stone calls the "guru of Google" came back to SPH to address the class of 2008 at graduation. His speech was vintage Brilliant—funny, wise, packed with information, and brimming with optimism. Here's an excerpt:

Thirty years ago when I lived on the subcontinent, 50 percent of children died before their fifth birthday in Bangladesh and Nepal. Today it is half that many. Similar progress is being made throughout Asia and Africa, even in economics: last year's list of best performing stock exchanges includes names like Peru and Indonesia and countries in sub-Saharan Africa. And whatever we may think of human rights issues, China has created a modern-day miracle, lifting 300 million people out of poverty and thrusting them into the middle class.

In large part because of the Gates Foundation, children's deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases are plummeting. Thirty years ago, less than one in five kids was vaccin-ated against childhood diseases in developing countries. Today it is the reverse four in five children in most developing countries have gotten all their childhood immunizations.

As the Dalai Lama has said, "We are improving."

As you go forth today you will find many reasons to be optimistic.

But you need to speed it up. That is your destiny.

Young people can and are making things better, faster.

I am constantly encouraged by a related trend: the sea-change I see in philanthropy. Charity used to be mainly the province of the very old and often the very guilty, who waited until they died so a foundation named after them could fund the university or opera house. Now we see 30- and 40-somethings with fortunes to dispose of talking about "strategic" giving and thinking seriously and imaginatively about huge problems that include sustainable jobs in Africa, rainforests in Indonesia, green-collar jobs in Oakland, California.

These changes in philanthropy are also creating a new and much broader context for public health careers. If I were giving this talk a decade ago, I might have warned you of how little funding there was for a lifetime car-eer serving the poorest and sickest in the world. Yet that is simply not true any longer, thanks to the expanded awareness of new philanthropists such as Bill Gates, Herb and Marion Sandler, eBay's Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar, Salesforce's Marc Benioff, and two people I admire greatly, Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page. These are great times for strategic philanthropy and for the opportunities they will give birth to.

So my hope for you today is to go forward with confidence. Yes, things are not as good as they should be and they are not as good as they will be, but thank God they are not as bad as they once were.

Here is the best news for you, class of 2008. This is your time.

The largest movement for good in human history is taking place today and they have saved a place for you.

Send correspondence about this or any Findings article to the editor at sph.findings@umich.edu. You will be contacted if your letter is considered for publication.

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