Author Archives: Alicia Cormie

Mountaineering to Maps: Rebecca Moore’s fight for the planet

Rebecca Moore lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a series of peaks in Northern California where the ocean and redwoods collide. Living there, amongst the trees, she turned to mapping as a way to protect the planet.

When a logging project was proposed in her community, she used Google Earth to show everyone how the plans would affect their daily lives and, more importantly, endanger the precious ecosystem surrounding them.  The logging plan was denied and that redwood forest is now being considered for permanent protection as public open space.

“In a way, technology and digital mapping can give nature a voice — it puts it on the map and helps it defend itself,” Rebecca says. “Seeing facts on a map quickly squashes debate and dispels misconceptions.”

For the past 15 years, Rebecca has led the Google Earth, Earth Engine and Outreach team. Their goal is to create a digital replica of the planet and put it into hands everywhere. They’ve mapped everything from endangered animal populations and fisheries to CO2 emissions and wildfires. We talked with Rebecca about why she thinks maps are so powerful and how she finds it in herself to tackle hard problems, like climate change. 


What does your team at Google do? 

Our goal is to organize all of the planet’s information and make it accessible, understandable and actionable. For example, Google Earth Engine helps us take the flood of environmental information from things like satellite imagery and weather data, and turn it into something that anyone can understand and take action on. And our Google Earth Outreach program helps nonprofits, communities and indigenous peoples around the world use our mapping tools to solve whatever problems they’re tackling. 


What makes maps so powerful when it comes to protecting the planet? 

The world is changing, but it’s hard to visualize it. If we can create a dynamic, digital replica of the real world and extract meaningful insights from it, then we can put it into the hands of people who can help protect and conserve the planet for generations to come. 

For example, we’ve seen how putting this information into the hands of indigenous communities can help protect land that’s under threat. We worked with the Suruí, a tribe in the Amazon, to use Google Earth‘s mapping tools to stop illegal logging in their region. 

Now, with Timelapse in Google Earth, anybody can fly over any region in the world and see decades of planetary change. When you see these changes with your own eyes, there’s what I call the digital overview effect — you become more emotional and more engaged. 


How do you identify areas where Google can have the biggest impact?

I look for the hard problems that Google can make a dent in. Climate change is at the top of that list. It’s an existential threat, and we’re all experiencing the effects of rising temperatures: from droughts to wildfires to islands disappearing. There’s a sense of urgency that we have to act now. 

Then I look for patterns. I've read voraciously over the past few years to understand what the world's best thinkers have identified as potential pathways to solving climate change. I look at how Google can uniquely contribute to those solutions. 


When taking on big challenges, how do you stay motivated? 

I was a rock climber and mountaineer for years — I even climbed in the Himalayas. When you climb a mountain, you don't actually see the summit from where you start. But you know if you head in a positive direction, eventually you’ll see it, and get there. And along the way, the little breakthroughs will motivate you. Same goes for making meaningful change to protect the planet. 

Sometimes the best thing is to make a choice, commit and go forward. Stay attentive and mindful to what's happening along the way, and be prepared to make mid-course corrections. And stay patient, taking on big challenges — whether it’s climbing or climate change — is hard work and it takes time. Even when the summit (or your goal) feels far away, don’t forget to turn around and look back to appreciate how far you have come. That can be super-motivating, and applies to my work today.

You didn’t always work at the intersection of environment and technology. What put you on this path? 

I studied computer science, and after school I just wanted a job that was intellectually challenging. It didn’t matter so much what it was for and what I worked on. That changed after my father, who was an attorney and argued a landmark civil rights case, and my brother, who was an artist and an activist, died within five months of each other. It hit me that we don’t live forever. It seems cliche, but I didn’t want to look back and think I frittered away with stuff that didn’t matter.  

I needed that sense of urgency to stop what I was doing, leave my job and reinvent myself. I didn’t know what my next move was, and it took me three years to figure it out, but I was determined to find a way to bring my own talents to bear and work on things I cared about. I started small, helping protect the nature that surrounds my community in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and went from there.

A recipe for productivity

Dr. Kapil Parakh is a Medical Lead for Google Fit and a practicing cardiologist at the VA in Washington, D.C. During the week he splits his time between seeing patients, developing technology that improves wellbeing and staying active with his family. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s even picked up a new hobby to cope during quarantine: baking baguettes. 


Every day, Kapil draws on his unique background to help people live longer and healthier lives. Before coming to Google, he completed medical school in Zambia, trained at Johns Hopkins in cardiology, public health and epidemiology, and served as a White House Fellow.


His long list of roles and responsibilities makes me wonder how he finds time for it all — so I asked him. Kapil says it boils down to what he considers his ingredients for success: get the most out of everything you work on, use the rule of thirds and have a rock-solid support system. 

Maximize the output of your work. 

Kapil’s consistent advice to others is to find a way to take what you’re working on and expand it into something bigger — with minimal extra effort. A few years ago, Kapil helped develop Heart Points for Google Fit, an activity goal based on recommendations shown to impact health. He then used that body of work to help educate personal trainers, cardiologists and people working in general medicine. It was the same context, repurposed for different groups. 


Similarly, before joining the Fit team, Kapil worked on Google Search for three years. In his day-to-day work he thought a lot about how people searched for health-related content online and how Google could surface helpful information in return. As a result of his team's work, you can see health knowledge panels, information boxes on search results pages that help you quickly find medically accurate information about common symptoms and conditions.


That work could have ended when Kapil left the Search team. Instead, he took what he observed and turned it into something more: a book about how to find and use medical information online. That book, Searching for Health, was just published today. 


“We all have limited time,” Kapil says. “We need to try and maximize our output.” To do so, he suggests taking a single project that you’re working on, and consider how you can turn it into more formats for more people. 

Remember the rule of thirds.

Of course, this can’t apply to all of your work, all of the time. You aren’t going to be able to publish a book based on every work project. This is where Kapil’s rule of thirds comes into play. Roughly speaking, work can be broken down into three buckets: short-term work (like requests from others that pop up in your inbox or administrative tasks that require immediate action), mid-term projects (like creating a training or presenting your work at a conference) and long-term projects (like publishing a book). Those last two buckets are where maximizing your output comes into play.


“It’s a matter of being cognizant of all the things you’re working on and how they fit together toward your goals,” Kapil says. “It’s kind of like rock climbing, you have to be aware of the footholds. The way up isn’t straight up like a ladder, it’s more amorphous.”

Find support — whether it’s in relationships or a bag of flour. 

While Kapil’s advice is all about finding patterns and connecting dots, he doesn’t hesitate to take on completely new things — like baking bread. Last year Kapil was grieving the loss of his father in the midst of the pandemic. To help him cope, his wife handed him a recipe for baguettes. If nothing else, she thought it would be a good distraction. The result was both delicious and therapeutic — and Kapil is still churning out bread from his kitchen. Most importantly, it was a reminder to Kapil of how important his support system is. 

A loaf of bread shaped like a heart.

“It’s this type of support that allows me to balance so many hats,” he says. “As an immigrant and a person of color, I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without the tremendous support of my family and mentors.”

More from this Series

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A recipe for productivity

Dr. Kapil Parakh is a Medical Lead for Google Fit and a practicing cardiologist at the VA in Washington, D.C. During the week he splits his time between seeing patients, developing technology that improves wellbeing and staying active with his family. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s even picked up a new hobby to cope during quarantine: baking baguettes. 


Every day, Kapil draws on his unique background to help people live longer and healthier lives. Before coming to Google, he completed medical school in Zambia, trained at Johns Hopkins in cardiology, public health and epidemiology, and served as a White House Fellow.


His long list of roles and responsibilities makes me wonder how he finds time for it all — so I asked him. Kapil says it boils down to what he considers his ingredients for success: get the most out of everything you work on, use the rule of thirds and have a rock-solid support system. 

Maximize the output of your work. 

Kapil’s consistent advice to others is to find a way to take what you’re working on and expand it into something bigger — with minimal extra effort. A few years ago, Kapil helped develop Heart Points for Google Fit, an activity goal based on recommendations shown to impact health. He then used that body of work to help educate personal trainers, cardiologists and people working in general medicine. It was the same context, repurposed for different groups. 


Similarly, before joining the Fit team, Kapil worked on Google Search for three years. In his day-to-day work he thought a lot about how people searched for health-related content online and how Google could surface helpful information in return. As a result of his team's work, you can see health knowledge panels, information boxes on search results pages that help you quickly find medically accurate information about common symptoms and conditions.


That work could have ended when Kapil left the Search team. Instead, he took what he observed and turned it into something more: a book about how to find and use medical information online. That book, Searching for Health, was just published today. 


“We all have limited time,” Kapil says. “We need to try and maximize our output.” To do so, he suggests taking a single project that you’re working on, and consider how you can turn it into more formats for more people. 

Remember the rule of thirds.

Of course, this can’t apply to all of your work, all of the time. You aren’t going to be able to publish a book based on every work project. This is where Kapil’s rule of thirds comes into play. Roughly speaking, work can be broken down into three buckets: short-term work (like requests from others that pop up in your inbox or administrative tasks that require immediate action), mid-term projects (like creating a training or presenting your work at a conference) and long-term projects (like publishing a book). Those last two buckets are where maximizing your output comes into play.


“It’s a matter of being cognizant of all the things you’re working on and how they fit together toward your goals,” Kapil says. “It’s kind of like rock climbing, you have to be aware of the footholds. The way up isn’t straight up like a ladder, it’s more amorphous.”

Find support — whether it’s in relationships or a bag of flour. 

While Kapil’s advice is all about finding patterns and connecting dots, he doesn’t hesitate to take on completely new things — like baking bread. Last year Kapil was grieving the loss of his father in the midst of the pandemic. To help him cope, his wife handed him a recipe for baguettes. If nothing else, she thought it would be a good distraction. The result was both delicious and therapeutic — and Kapil is still churning out bread from his kitchen. Most importantly, it was a reminder to Kapil of how important his support system is. 

A loaf of bread shaped like a heart.

“It’s this type of support that allows me to balance so many hats,” he says. “As an immigrant and a person of color, I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without the tremendous support of my family and mentors.”

More from this Series

Work Smarter

How Google tools can help you work smarter, and advice from Googlers on how they get it done.

View more from Work Smarter

Dr. Ivor Horn talks about technology and health equity

Dr. Ivor Horn’s career has spanned medicine, academia and technology. Along the way she’s been focused on one thing: making sure that people get what they need out of the healthcare system and attain their fullest health potential — no matter who they are. 

She recently joined Google as the Director of Health Equity & Product Inclusion. We sat down with her to learn more about what health equity looks like, how technology can help and what she’s working on at Google. 

Where did your passion for this work come from? 

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. When I was in the fourth grade, my dad had a head injury and developed a seizure disorder. Being Black in Mississippi, where I grew up, my mom would make sure that we all dressed up when we went to the doctor so they would recognize that my dad was someone who was cared for and who was loved — all that with the hope that we’d get better care. Living through that made me want to go to medical school so I could change the healthcare system. I didn't want other people to go through what we did. 

Once I was a practicing pediatrician, I saw patients in communities that were underserved by health care. I noticed young parents bringing their child and their flip phones into the clinic. They’d pull out their phone to show me things like a photo of their child’s rash that faded overnight. This tool helped them communicate with me more effectively, and I became interested in figuring out how we could use technology like that to improve health care more broadly. 

Can you tell us more about health inequity and the pandemic?

It’s important to remember that health inequity is the product of systemic and structural racism, particularly in the U.S. We know that people’s experience with health can be impacted by where they live, how wealthy they are, and their ethnicity or skin color. Before the pandemic, studies showed that people of color had less access to primary care, received a lower quality of treatment in places like emergency departments, and were less likely to be given additional examinations like blood tests. 

When you have a broken foundation, those cracks eventually become tremendous fissures — and that's what we saw with COVID-19. Health inequities surfaced at every level — from the lack of available protective equipment in developing countries to the higher than average death rates and infection of people of color. Health inequity has been an endemic aspect of the pandemic.

How do you even begin to solve that?

We cannot continue to build on something that's broken. Mending the cracks starts with building technology that helps those who are experiencing what's most broken about the healthcare system. If you build for that community, it will work for others — then you can transform healthcare.

This week’s news about vaccines is a great example. We’ve created virtual agents so anyone — especially those without access to the internet or people with limited tech skills — can book appointments and get critical vaccine information in whatever way they’re most comfortable with. It's available in multiple languages and modes of communication — whether that’s over the phone, through text, or on the web. We’ve also made vaccination locations available on Google Maps in the U.S. and other countries. All of this is to help reduce inequities, both in the outcomes and in the distribution of vaccines. 

But, technology has its limits; it can facilitate this work, but it’s not the complete solution. That’s why it’s important to partner with community-based organizations to reach people who might not otherwise see mainstream public service announcements or have easy access to vaccinations.

What role does Google play?

When you look at Google through the lens of health equity, so much of what we do touches people along their health journey. Research shows that roughly 7 in 10 people turn to the internet first when they’re looking for health information. We have the chance to build products that guide them to the right resources and find the information they need. 

My job is to look across all of our products to make sure we embed health equity into the DNA of everything we do. 

When tackling big problems, like health equity, what keeps you motivated? 

This generation of young people is fighting for lasting change with an energy that’s contagious. Seeing the things that we’ve worked so hard for, for so long, become the passion of a new generation makes everything I’ve done and continue to do so worth it.  If I can help make the structural changes so that they can fly, I’ll count that as a win. 

3 ways Liza Goldberg uses Timelapse to explore the planet

Liza Goldberg has a big-picture view of climate change — and it all started with satellite imagery. In high school she started an internship at NASA, where she built a program that used satellite imagery and Google Earth Engine, a platform for geospatial analysis, to monitor the loss of mangrove forests. This gave her a whole new perspective of planetary changes. 

“I was seeing the world through a different lens,” Liza says. “Without images, it’s hard to visualize what things like urbanization, deforestation, wildfires and rise in temperatures mean to our planet — just using statistics and data doesn’t get the message across. I wanted to bring a new perspective to others.” Liza is now a freshman at Stanford University and runs Cloud to Classroom, a program that uses satellite imagery to help teach students around the world about climate change. 

Today, that birds-eye view of the planet is available to even more people with the launch of Timelapse in Google Earth. For the first time, 24 million satellite photos from the past 37 years have been embedded directly into Google Earth, creating an explorable view of our planet over time. Now anyone can watch time across the globe. And that perspective can be enough to inspire anyone to take action — just like it inspired Liza. 

“If we want to solve climate challenges, the bottom line is we need to take this information out of scientific papers and put it into the hands of the public so they can make positive change in their local areas,” Liza adds. 

As someone who has spent a lot of time looking at satellite imagery of the Earth, Liza has a few pointers for how to explore the planet with Timelapse and put these changes into context. She shares some of her tips here: 

Zoom in on your community

If you're a teacher, reporter, student or just someone exploring Timelapse, start looking at the places you care about. Use the search bar function to zero in on a region you know really well — whether it’s the city you grew up in, the place your grandparents are from or where you spent your summers growing up. Seeing the changes at a more personal level contextualizes what global environmental change actually means right now and what it could mean in the future of your local community. 

An animated GIF of satellite imagery showing how Cape Code has changed over time.

Take a look at how Cape Cod, Massachusetts has changed from above. 

Look for the patterns

The patterns are everywhere. You can see how the same trends — like rapid changes from wildfires — are taking place on the West Coast of the U.S. and across the world in Australia. Start with the curated videos from Google that show the story of change related to forest change, urban growth, warming temperatures and more. Then start to look for other trends you see happening across the world. It can be an exercise in unity to see what communities are experiencing here and elsewhere, and see how these changes transcend communities and ecosystems.  

An animated image showing how satellite imagery of how urbanization changes the landscape.

See how urbanization changes the landscape. 

Soak up the fragile beauty of it all 

The Timelapse videos are like vignettes of art — enjoy them. Take a step back and remember that this is our planet and it's worth protecting. For me, videos like the meandering rivers are captivating. The ability to watch the planet change over time is now in the hands of everyone, and that makes me optimistic. 

A Google Earth Timelapse of a meandering river over time.

A Google Earth Timelapse of a meandering river over time.

From Liza’s perspective, technology like this can help affect change. In fact, she’s even started to focus more on studying computer science and plans to use those skills to tackle the big issues she cares most about, like climate change. 

For National Parks Week, plan a trip with Google Maps

I’ve ticked a lot of National Parks off my travel bucket list this past year. As parks started to reopen, I planned outdoor trips instead of international ones. And at the end of last year, my boyfriend and I packed up our apartments to cruise around the Southwest in a borrowed camper van. Along the way, Google Maps helped us plan out our days. 

In Utah, we went to some of the most searched for National Parks — like Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. We used Google Maps to scope out the most scenic driving routes and save campsites, viewpoints and trailheads. The best part? We could access everything even if we were in areas that had spotty service since we downloaded Maps to use when we were offline. This came in handy when we were trying to find a campground at Bryce Canyon — a total dead zone for our cells — and at Arches where we perfectly timed our day to catch sunset at Delicate Arch (the infamous arch on the state’s license plate). In New Mexico, we used popular times information on Google Maps to avoid the crowds — thanks to this intel it felt like we had White Sands National Park all to ourselves early on a weekday. 

Saturday marks the first day of National Parks Week, which I’ve deemed as a welcomed excuse to start planning your next outdoor adventure. (I’ve been eyeing Big Bend National Park). If you’re looking for some travel inspiration, Google Maps dug into data from the past year to help get you started! 

Man standing on sand dunes at White Sands National Park.


Popular times to hit the popular parks ?

  • The most popular time on the weekend to visit the top five National Parks is Saturday at 2:00 p.m. 

  • The most popular time on the weekdays is similar to the weekend, between 1 to 3 p.m.

  • On weekdays, the most popular time to visit the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone is Tuesday. 

All trends point to hiking trails   ?

  • Google Maps searches for “hike” have increased 30% year over year

  • Meanwhile, Google Maps searches for “beach” have increased 27% year over year

Top 10 most searched National Parks on Google Maps ⛰️

  1. Grand Canyon National Park

  2. Yellowstone National Park

  3. Yosemite National Park

  4. Zion National Park

  5. Joshua Tree National Park

  6. Big Bend National Park

  7. Sequoia National Park

  8. Bryce Canyon National Park

  9. Glacier National Park

  10. Arches National Park

Top 10 most searched national forests on Google Maps ?

  1. Angeles National Forest

  2. Pisgah National Forest

  3. San Bernardino National Forest

  4. Tonto National Forest

  5. Coconino National Forest

  6. Sam Houston National Forest

  7. Sequoia National Forest

  8. Nantahala National Forest

  9. Cleveland National Forest

  10. Ozark National Forest

Top 10 most searched public beaches on Google Maps ?️

  1. Will Rogers State Beach

  2. Pacifica State Beach

  3. Marina Beach

  4. Seacliff State Beach

  5. Madeira Beach Access

  6. San Clemente State Beach

  7. Gray Whale Cove State Beach

  8. Manatee Public Beach

  9. Manasota Key Beach

  10. Blind Pass Beach

Source: Google LatLong


Rachel Malarich is planting a better future, tree by tree

Everyone has a tree story, Rachel Malarich says—and one of hers takes place on the limbs of a eucalyptus tree. Rachel and her cousins spent summers in central California climbing the 100-foot tall trees and hanging out between the waxy blue leaves—an experience she remembers as awe-inspiring. 

Now, as Los Angeles first-ever City Forest Officer, Rachel’s work is shaping the tree stories that Angelenos will tell. “I want our communities to go to public spaces and feel that sense of awe,” she says. “That feeling that something was there before them, and it will be there after them...we have to bring that to our cities.”

Part of Rachel’s job is to help the City of Los Angeles reach an ambitious goal: to plant and maintain 90,000 trees by the end of 2021 and to keep planting trees at a rate of 20,000 per year after that. This goal is about more than planting trees, though: It’s about planting the seeds for social, economic and environmental equity. These trees, Rachel says, will help advance citywide sustainability and climate goals, beautify neighborhoods, improve air quality and create shade to combat rising street-level temperatures. 

To make sure every tree has the most impact, Rachel and the City of Los Angeles use Tree Canopy Lab, a tool they helped build with Google that uses AI and aerial imagery to understand current tree cover density, also known as “tree canopy,” right down to street-level data. Tree inventory data, which is typically collected through on-site assessments, helps city officials know where to invest resources for maintaining, preserving and planting trees. It also helps pinpoint where new trees should be planted. In the case of LA, there was a strong correlation between a lack of tree coverage and the city's underserved communities. 

With Tree Canopy Lab, Rachel and her team overlay data, such as population density and land use data, to understand what’s happening within the 500 square miles of the city and understand where new trees will have the biggest impact on a community. It helps them answer questions like: Where are highly populated residential areas with low tree coverage? Which thoroughfares that people commute along every day have no shade? 

And it also helps Rachel do what she has focused her career on: creating community-led programs. After more than a decade of working at nonprofits, she’s learned that resilient communities are connected communities. 

“This data helps us go beyond assumptions and see where the actual need is,” Rachel says. “And it frees me up to focus on what I know best: listening to the people of LA, local policy and urban forestry.” 

After working with Google on Tree Canopy Lab, she’s found that data gives her a chance to connect with the public. She now has a tool that quickly pools together data and creates a visual to show community leaders what’s happening in specific neighborhoods, what the city is doing and why it’s important. She can also demonstrate ways communities can better manage resources they already have to achieve local goals. And that’s something she thinks every city can benefit from. 

“My entrance into urban forestry was through the lens of social justice and economic inequity. For me, it’s about improving the quality of life for Angelenos,” Rachel says. “I’m excited to work with others to create that impact on a bigger level, and build toward the potential for a better environment in the future.”

And in this case, building a better future starts with one well planned tree at a time.

Source: Google LatLong


Google.org Fellows help NY State respond to the pandemic

With the help of 10 Googlers, New York State launched a web-based tool that helps connect residents to critical social services. As a result of the pandemic, millions of New Yorkers are seeking out help for daily necessities such as food, housing and COVID-related services—and many are doing so for the first time. To make it easier to find relevant services, residents simply have to answer a few questions from their phone or computer. The app is also open-sourced, so other states and civic organizations can implement it for residents.

This tool was the main project that Googlers worked on during a six-month pro bono Google.org Fellowship, making it the fifth civic entity to receive support from Google.org Fellows to date and the first working directly with a state administration. In April—during the height of New York’s COVID-19 outbreak—Google.org Fellows were tasked with helping Governor Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 Tech SWAT Team respond to the pandemic. Using their skills in engineering, product management and user experience research and design, they helped build the recently launched social services application in collaboration with the New York State Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) and Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). 

Image of a phone with the social services app introduction page.

To make it easier to find relevant services, residents simply have to answer a few questions from their phone or computer. 

We sat down with Malika Chatlapalli, one of the Google.org Fellows, to hear more about her experience working with New York State. 

What drew you to this Google.org Fellowship? 

I’ve been an interaction designer out of the Google NYC office for two years, and I grew up in East Fishkill, NY. One of things I love about Google is the responsibility we feel to do the right thing, and I thought this fellowship was an opportunity to do that. With COVID-19, I wanted to do more to help—whether it was New Yorkers or people in general.

What was unique about this project for you?

When designing products, you start with the user. In this case, that meant designing for a wide range of age groups, reading levels, languages and familiarity with technology. 

That’s why working closely with the state’s UX team was so invaluable. I learned so much working with them—they are experts on who New Yorkers are and what they need. For example, we learned that when exploring social services New Yorkers want to follow instructions carefully and do things right the first time around, so we experimented with a variety of different ways to phrase questions throughout the tool so they were clear and direct, while also showing empathy. Asking for help can be very personal and we wanted to respect that.  

Having the opportunity to work with the UX team and test the design with actual New Yorkers was an incredibly enlightening and humbling experience. 

A grid image of a video conferencing call showing the Google.org Fellows who worked on this project.

Google.org fellows worked with New York State on a number of projects, including a web-based tool that helps connect residents to critical social services. 

What was it like working on these projects at the beginning of the pandemic?

It was a time of unknowns. The unemployment claims were at an all time high, more and more people were looking for social services. We wanted to jump in and solve problems that the state was facing in that moment—anything that could make people’s lives a little bit easier—but we also knew that in order for us to be successful, we needed to act as a cohesive team first. We invested time in getting to know each other and found moments to pause and reflect on the work we were doing. Despite being 100% virtual, we were able to build trust and camaraderie as a team. 

What were you most proud of? 

Together with the state, we built and launched a web app in three months—that rarely happens! It’s also configurable, meaning the state can easily update and customize the tool to quickly adapt to the changing needs of residents, in real time, no coding necessary. While developing the web app, we also worked with the state on a design sprint and hackathon project which helped us get a deeper understanding of the challenges New Yorkers were facing. 

How did the Google.org Fellows and New York State make that happen?

The NY State team advocated for this fellowship and partnered with us—it felt like we were one team!  The state truly welcomed us with open arms, allowing us to build with them and not for them. The UX team even included us in their daily standup meetings and chat rooms. We were all so proud of the work that we accomplished together, and without that close collaboration it wouldn’t have been possible.

Maab Ibrahim works each day to fight for racial justice

In her role at Google, Maab Ibrahim works to guide the company on the path toward creating a more just and equitable future. And she draws from her personal experience to guide her work.


Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, Maab reckoned with the city’s painful history and observed everyday injustices like racism and economic inequality. As the child of Black immigrants, she noticed racial inequity in her own backyard as her family and community navigated structural barriers. Today, as a grant portfolio manager for Google.org, Maab has spent the last four years working alongside nonprofit leaders to find solutions to address racial injustice—from centering community-led voices in the movement to using data to identify and analyze bias in the criminal justice system. 

How do you describe your job at a dinner party?

I’m a philanthropic portfolio manager for Google.org. My core focus is to provide support, such as grant funding and technical expertise, to nonprofits that are working to advance racial justice across a number of issue areas, including criminal justice reform, education, and economic opportunity. 

What inspired you to pursue racial justice work?

I draw a lot of inspiration for this work from Black and Latino communities where I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. Virginia has a deep and pained racial history. Our state welcomed the very first slave ships to America, housed the Confederacy, and was a battleground for historic civil rights cases such as Loving v. Virginia. As I learned about this history, I couldn’t help but notice the racial disparities that continue to persist in Black and Brown neighborhoods. Children in our classrooms were over-suspended and over-punished. Parents were attempting to be present in their kids’ educations, while overcoming language barriers or managing two or three jobs. Many families had a loved one behind bars due to biased policing and harsh sentencing.  

Over the years, I’ve learned strategies and tools, but my personal experience continues to deeply influence my approach to the work. As one of very few black women in philanthropy, I believe in trusting and supporting community leaders who are most proximate to racial injustice.

As one of very few black women in philanthropy, I believe in trusting and supporting community leaders who are most proximate to racial injustice.

Can you describe Google.org’s approach to racial justice grantmaking and racial justice work? 

We've primarily directed our grant funding to criminal justice work over the last five years, making more than $44 million in grants and giving more than 15,000 hours in pro bono services to nonprofits working in that space. Google has a deep appreciation for data science; it's a part of our DNA. So our largest grants in this space have been to nonprofits working to close data gaps across the criminal justice system. For example, we’re funding work to identify bias in policing practices and jail population trends in rural communities. 

Alongside the criminal justice data work, we’re also funding community-led solutions. We take to heart the importance of centering on the dignity of marginalized communities and affirming the flourishing of Black and Brown lives. What that means in practice is funding organizations that are led by and advocating on behalf of Black or Latino communities, such as the Black Lives Matter Movement.

What have been some of the biggest challenges this year?

We saw the most recent racial justice uprising happen in the wake of COVID-19. People from all kinds of communities came out on the streets in response to the death of George Floyd and demanded change in our justice system. As a result, reforms kicked off across cities in America. But behind the mobilization, the Black community continues to feel the loss of many loved ones due to COVID-19. The pandemic has exasperated systemic inequities in healthcare and in our economic system that leave Black communities most vulnerable. 

From the grantee perspective, that means organizations and their staff are dealing with two crises at one time. It's been very challenging but I’m proud that we’re able to support groups like The Satcher Health Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine that are working to address these disparities.

What keeps you motivated and positive? 

Racial justice work, at its core, requires a necessary discomfort that drives progress forward. But at this moment, I’m feeling energized by the catalytic shift the U.S. is experiencing in addressing systemic anti-Black racism. I am deeply inspired by the visionary leaders that drive community-led solutions. For me, it's a great honor to be in solidarity with their work.

What advice do you have for women starting out in their career? 

When you are early in your career, it can feel like there’s so much to learn from the people around you. I’d ask young women to consider just how much the world has to learn from them, too. Young people are the driving force behind social movements, the first adopters of new technologies and more willing to imagine the world differently. That perspective is invaluable to innovation and progress.

I’d ask young women to consider just how much the world has to learn from them, too.

Avni Shah wants to keep learning going for everyone

Growing up, Avni Shah’s father drove an hour and a half to work every day so she and her sister could enroll in a better school district in Alabama. She later watched her parents put away savings for years to be able to afford college tuition for their daughters. From a very young age, she came to understand the meaning and importance of a good education. 


Today, as the VP of Google for Education, Avni works every day to help build tools that make a  high-quality education available to everyone. That mission is especially important now as widespread school closures from the COVID-19 pandemic have challenged schools and families to quickly adjust to distance learning.  


Through it all, Avni remains optimistic about the future of education and the role technology can play in shaping it. She says that over the past few months the resiliency of teachers and students alike has inspired her, and that there have been “bright spots” of positivity.  


How do you explain your job at a dinner party?


My team builds tools for teachers, students, and education leaders to help improve teaching and learning at scale. One thing that’s great about working at Google is that describing my job is pretty easy, and always a great conversation starter—I get lots of feature requests (and bug reports ?) wherever I go. 


The use of technology in education is especially important now. What are you most excited about?


It’s been amazing to see the role technology has played to keep learning happening, no matter what. As I look ahead to the next six to twelve months, I’m excited about working alongside teachers, education leaders and students to build tools that can really meet their needs, both now—in this ever-changing situation—and for the future.


What we’ve seen in the past few months is an unexpected acceleration towards the digitization of education and learning. As that shift continues to happen, I see an opportunity longer-term to unlock even more of the potential of technology and the role it can play in being helpful to teachers, students and families. While tech is only part of the solution and there’s still a lot of work left to do, it’s clear that technology will have a unique part in shaping the future of education.


What has surprised you the most over the past six months?


The adaptability and resiliency of everyone, especially teachers. Teachers, schools and entire governments across the world had to quickly adjust to huge changes when schools started closing, and in many cases, the shift to distance learning happened in a matter of days.


I saw it with my own daughter. Back in March, her school closed on a Thursday, and by Monday, the whole school was up and running with a full virtual curriculum. They literally went from zero to distance learning in seventy-two hours. And that story isn’t unique—we hear stories like this from our teachers and students all over the world.


What’s more is that my daughter’s class continued to adapt and adjust. I remember their first video call and hearing twenty second graders talking all at once—it was definitely a bit chaotic. But the students, teachers and administrators quickly adapted. And now my daughter is teaching me things like what online classroom etiquette looks like. 


How have you and your team stayed motivated? 

Over the past few months, my team started a weekly tradition called “bright spots” where we share inspiring stories about how teachers, students and families use our tools. 


We’ve heard creative ways teachers turn their homes into virtual classrooms—including one teacher who used their shower as a whiteboard surface. There was also a family in New Zealand who sent a photo of a distance learning classroom they built on top of a hill so they could have access to satellite Wi-Fi; it was made out of a generator-powered farm trailer! 


Who has been a strong female influence in your life?


My mom. She’s incredibly hardworking and approaches life with this calm, yet tireless, optimism. When she and my dad moved to the U.S. from Mumbai, she worked multiple jobs to help make ends meet and taught herself English by watching Nick at Nite on TV. Later on, she worked full time while she studied (and passed) the CPA exam, and she moved in to help me when my first child was born—while still working herself. 


I started keeping a list of all the positive things that wouldn’t have happened if COVID wasn’t here to remind myself that there are nuggets of good. Getting to see my mom every day is definitely on the list. She lives in Alabama and I live in California, but since the pandemic, my kids video call her every day.


What advice do you have for women starting out in their careers?


Careers are not linear, and things that feel like sideways or downward movement can still be progress. Be open to opportunities that might be surprising or sound scary because that's usually where learning and growth happen. 


I’ve been at Google for seventeen years and moved around the company quite a bit, working on Search, Maps, Chrome and now Google for Education. Some transitions were harder than others. For example, there was the time when I moved to Zurich, took on a new role, became a manager for the first time, and got married—all within the span of three weeks. Every time I made a transition, I had to learn about an entirely new product, industry and team, and where I could fit in. But every transition helped me get used to feeling uncomfortable and learning new things again. And, in hindsight, I can see how each of those moves was extremely valuable.