A Google charity executive shares her simple advice for helping people affected by the coronavirus crisis: Just give them cash (GOOG)


FILE PHOTO: One hundred dollar notes are seen in this photo illustration at a bank in Seoul January 9, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

  • Google exec Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink has advice for people wanting to help others impacted by the pandemic: Just give them cash.
  • Hoyer Gosselink is a principal at Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm that has pledged $50 million to COVID-19 relief efforts.
  • She is a strong supporter of direct cash assistance over less direct aid efforts — arguing it is more efficient, more flexible, and offers recipients greater dignity.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, she shared four tips for people looking to help their neighbors and communities affected by coronavirus and the economic downturn.

The advice from Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, a principal at Google’s charitable division, to people who want to help others affected by the coronavirus crisis is simple: Just give them cash.

The Google charity executive extols the virtues of direct cash assistance as one of the most effective ways to assist people who are facing hardship as a result of the pandemic, over less direct charitable aid like food donations. Giving people cash, she said, is more efficient, more flexible for people’s varied needs, and affords recipients greater “dignity.”

Via its philanthropic arm Google.org, Google has pledged $50 million to help with coronavirus relief efforts, from financial aid to distant learning tools, as well as a $5 million program to give cash directly to struggling San Francisco Bay Area residents. Business Insider spoke to Hoyer Gosselink about Google.org’s COVID-19 strategy, why it might spend even more than its initial $50 million commitment, and what ordinary people can do to help. (Read the full interview with Gosselink here.)

So what can regular folks who don’t have $50 million to deploy do to help their local communities and neighbors affected by COVID-19? Hoyer Gosselink had a few tips:

  • If possible, give people cash — allowing them to directly buy the things they need most at that moment in time. “GiveDirectly is one organisation that’s working on it, but there are others,” she said.
  • Support charities and organisations who are already part of the community: “Those who are part already of the fabric of that, and are already serving most vulnerable populations. They’re often best-positioned to respond in a crisis so they can be directing resources through those existing relationships.”
  • Whatever you do, do something. Don’t get caught up for too long in trying to decide the best cause of action if that causes inaction. “Some bias toward action is quite helpful here, right? There are a lot of groups who are doing a lot of great work. And it’s easy to get caught up and trying to stack-rank them and make some sort of list of priorities, when actually there’s a lot of need right now,” she said. “So as long as it’s a need that is aligned with a particular organization or individual’s interests.”
  • Where possible, put your existing expertise to good use. “And I think the final thing is just for us as Google.org, having a clear expertise is a helpful lens,” she said. “And I think individuals and other companies can have that too, when it feels right to them. For us, it’s tech and innovation because that’s who we are, but it’ll be something else for someone else.”

Google is aiming to give $5 million to needy families in the Bay Area, where Google is headquartered, via a $1 million donation from Google.org, a $1 million donation from CEO Sundar Pichai, and a public fundraising effort that has so far brought in an additional $2 million. The funds will be distributed by GiveDirectly, a non-profit that specialises in direct cash assistance.

The company is also considering other direct cash assistance programs elsewhere outside of the Bay Area, Gosselink said, with a focus on “other big cities where we have offices.” 

Coronavirus is prompting a renewed focus on cash transfers as a method of aid, with the US federal government also sending citizens stimulus checks and GiveDirectly’s Project 100 effort trying to get $1,000 payments to 100,000 Americans in need. The effort is backed by universal basic income-supporting former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, as well as Democratic politician Stacey Abrams.

Vox’s Sigal Samuel recently wrote that “what’s remarkable about the current moment … is that it’s made cash into a relief method of choice for actors that have not rushed to embrace it in the past — from individual private donors to traditionally minded foundations to government officials.”

But what’s the benefit of giving people cash over other aid? “Cash is one of the most studied intervention models in the world, in terms of being able to point to evidence that shows that it’s extremely helpful,” Google.org’s Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink said.

“I think there’s two pieces of it for us. One is that evidence that when you give people the flexibility to purchase what they need, the data shows that they’re able to make the right choices for themselves in that moment, to prioritise needs that they have.

She went on: “And in a disaster context, it’s even harder than a typical one — in crisis mode — to know what someone might need. Someone might need to purchase medication, and someone else might need to pay rent, someone else need to do something with their car. It’s just impossible for anyone to pick one thing and decide that’s the service or good that a person might need, whereas with the cash, there’s that ultimate flexibility. And with that kind of comes this respective dignity that, you know, you’re sort of saying: ‘look, you know best we don’t.’ And I think that’s something that’s really important and valuable for us as well.”

Read Business Insider’s full interview with Google.org’s Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink »

How has your workplace been affected by COVID-19? Contact Business Insider reporter Rob Price via encrypted messaging app Signal (+1 650-636-6268), encrypted email (robaeprice@protonmail.com), standard email (rprice@businessinsider.com), Telegram/Wickr/WeChat (robaeprice), or Twitter DM (@robaeprice). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by standard email only, please.

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