Alex Diaz, head of crisis response and humanitarian aid at Google.org.
- Alex Diaz has a nice technical job: he is responsible for responding to the crisis at Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm.
- Diaz and his team work to help people affected by problems such as natural disasters and conflicts. At the moment, his team is focused on the coronavirus crisis.
- Google.org has pledged $ 50 million to help with coronavirus relief efforts, as well as $ 5 million to donate money directly to people who are struggling.
- Diaz and his team are also working with Health Map, a team of researchers who use data to track the spread of the virus.
- Diaz shared his advice on how someone can help in times of need and how he takes care of himself after going through a crisis.
- Visit the Business Insider home page for more stories.
This article is part of the Business Insider series, Best Technology Jobs, which highlights people working in unusual, exciting or futuristic roles in the technology industry and provides an inside view of a day in life.
Alex Diaz spends his days thinking about a central question: how can we help communities to be better prepared for disaster?
Diaz, 27, is the head of crisis response and humanitarian aid for Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm that is fueled by about 1% of the company’s net profit. And, as the world remains agitated by the coronavirus outbreak, your job is more important than ever. To date, Google.org has pledged $ 50 million to help with coronavirus relief efforts, in addition to $ 5 million for Give Directly, an organization that gives money directly to people who are struggling.
Before the coronavirus, the Google.org crisis response team worked to help people affected by problems such as natural disasters and conflicts. But working for the philanthropic arm of a technology giant does not necessarily mean an unlimited pool of resources – nor can Google solve all crises. Instead, Diaz and his team focus on areas where they are uniquely qualified to help.
“Our lenses are always supporting the most vulnerable,” Diaz told Business Insider. “I’m not limited to geography, so I look at crises around the world that are under-invested or where people are incredibly vulnerable, are suffering and see where our unique differential philanthropic capital, combined with technology, can really play a role.”
Business Insider talked to Diaz about how Google.org is helping in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, his advice on why everyone should be helping now and how he takes care of himself after facing a crisis.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about something you worked on that is at the heart of what you do on Google.org?
We have a program that called the Google.org fellowship – I haven’t seen anything like it, I’m super proud of it. It is a program that allows Googlers to stand out basically for non-profit organizations for six months, full time, free of charge, to help them. For Give Directly, we gave them a team of Google.org fellows to create a data mapping tool that ingested a lot of socioeconomic data. Imagine a hurricane in Texas and we look at the map of Texas and say, “OK, here are the populations where we know there are vulnerable people”. And then you can override that on disaster data, like where the hurricane hit the hardest, and at any time, you can figure out where the aid should go right away.
There are so many crises that need to be resolved. How do you decide which ones need Google.org’s attention?
It’s the most difficult problem to solve and I don’t think tin be solved. For my particular job, I leave my superhero cape at the door. We have limited resources – up to several million dollars for a project is a drop in the bucket of what it takes to really solve these things. But, hopefully, our project is innovative enough, it’s interesting enough, that our drop in the bucket can catalyze others to put more drops in the bucket and those drops become an ocean of the support needed to solve these things.
Tell me about some of the work that Google.org is doing during the coronavirus crisis.
What we see in a short time is that policymakers around the world need good data to make good decisions and that data is updated in real time so they can iterate their decisions should a policy change be necessary. One thing we started doing is supporting this organization called Health Map, based at Boston Children’s Hospital. It is implementing a system that uses artificial intelligence to collect and collect data to generate very rich demographic profiles of people who can help to have a real-time sense of where the disease is, where it is spreading, and then uses some data from mobility to understand what is the effect of social distancing policies and need to increase? Do I need to pull other levers?
Not everyone has the scale and resources that Google has, but are there ways in which smaller companies or even individuals can do what you do?
Everyone can do something. I think that’s really the underlying message of that response to COVID-19 – we’re in this together. I think we should ask ourselves: what are you doing during the coronavirus? I think everyone should have an answer to that. A small thing in this case is also great because the interactions between so many people can be a multiplier. You are saving lives [staying in]. Combine the number of lives that are saved by each of these small actions, and I think it is a truly beautiful thing.
You have a great job and it involves thinking all day about the world’s problems. How do you make time for yourself? What are some ways to relax and stop thinking about work?
I play basketball regularly – hard to do in today’s environment. I read a lot, so if you ask someone on the team, I think they would call me a resident student. I really do a lot of my stress, strange as it may seem, through reading. I like to play chess. I am also a great video game player, I play a lot. So this has been especially useful at this point.
What game are you playing during the entire pandemic?
I am getting my fill of sports through video games. It’s not on TV, but at least I can believe it’s on TV.
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