- Alex Diaz has a cool tech job: He’s in charge of crisis response for Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm.
- Diaz and his team work to help people affected by issues like natural disasters and conflict. Right now, his team is focused on the coronavirus crisis.
- Google.org has pledged $US50 million to aid in coronavirus relief efforts, plus $US5 million to give cash directly to people who are struggling.
- Diaz and his team are also working with Health Map, a team of researchers using data to track the spread of the virus.
- Diaz shared his advice for how anyone can help in times of need and how he takes care of himself after working through a crisis.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
This article is part of Business Insider’s series, Coolest Jobs in Tech, which highlights people who work in unusual, exciting, or futuristic roles in the tech industry and provides an inside look at a day in the life.
Alex Diaz spends his days thinking about one central question: How can we help communities be better prepared for disaster?
Diaz, 27, is the head of crisis response and humanitarian aid for Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google that’s fuelled by about 1% of the company’s net profits. And as the world remains in the throes of the coronavirus outbreak, his work is more important than ever. To date, Google.org has pledged $US50 million to aid in coronavirus relief efforts, along with $US5 million to Give Directly, an organisation that gives cash directly to people who are struggling.
Prior to the coronavirus, Google.org’s crisis response team worked to help people affected by issues like natural disasters and conflict. But working for the philanthropic arm of a tech giant doesn’t necessarily mean an unlimited pool of resources – even Google can’t fix every crisis. Instead, Diaz and his team focus on areas where they are uniquely qualified to help.
“Our lens is always supporting the most vulnerable,” Diaz told Business Insider. “I’m not limited to geography, so I scan crises around the world that are either under-invested or where folks are incredibly vulnerable, are suffering, and see where our unique differential philanthropic capital, coupled with technology, can actually play a role.”
Business Insider talked to Diaz about how Google.org is helping amid the coronavirus pandemic, his advice for why everyone should be helping right now, and how he takes care of himself after working through a crisis.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about something you’ve worked on that gets to the heart of what you do at 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’s a program that allows Googlers to basically go on secondment to nonprofits for six months, full-time, pro bono, to help them. For Give Directly, we gave them a team of Google.org fellows to create a data-mapping tool that ingested a bunch of socioeconomic data. Imagine a hurricane hits in Texas and we look at the map of Texas and say, “OK, here are the populations where we know vulnerable people exist.” And then you can overlay that with disaster data, like where the hurricane hit the hardest, and at a moment’s notice, you can find out where the aid should be targeted immediately.
There are so many crises that need solving. How do you decide which ones need Google.org’s attention?
It’s the hardest problem to solve and I don’t think it can be solved. For my work in particular, I leave my superhero cape at the door. We have limited resources – even several million dollars for a project is a drop in the bucket of what’s needed to actually solve these things. But hopefully our project is innovative enough, it’s interesting enough, that our drop in the bucket can catalyze other folks to put additional drops in the bucket and those drops become somewhat of an ocean of the support that’s needed to solve these things.
Tell me about some of the work Google.org is doing during the coronavirus crisis.
What we’ve realised in short order is policymakers around the world need good data to make good decisions and that that data be updated in real-time so they can iterate on their decision, should there need to be a policy shift. One thing we’ve started to do is support this organisation called Health Map, which is based out of Boston Children’s Hospital. It’s putting a system in place that uses artificial intelligence to scrape and collect data to generate pretty rich demographic profiles of folks that can help get a real-time sense of where the disease is, where it’s spreading, and then using some mobility data to understand what’s the effect of social-distancing policies and do I need to ratchet up? Do I need to pull other levers?
Not everyone has the scale and resources that Google does, but are there ways that smaller companies or even individuals can do what you do?
Everyone can do something. I think that’s really the underlying message of this COVID-19 response – we’re in this together. I think we should ask ourselves, what are you doing during coronavirus? I think everyone should have an answer for that. A small thing in this case is also big because the interactions between so many people can be quite a multiplier. You’re saving lives by [staying in]. Compound the number of lives that are saved by each of those small actions, and I think it’s a truly beautiful thing.
You have a big job, and one that involves thinking all day about the world’s problems. How do you make time for yourself? What are some ways you unwind and stop thinking about work?
I play basketball regularly – hard to do in this current environment. I read a bunch, so if you ask anyone on the team, I think they’d call me like the resident student. I really do a lot of my de-stressing, however weird that sounds, through reading. I like to play chess. I’m also a big video game player, I play pretty often. So that’s been especially helpful in this time.
What game are you playing throughout the pandemic?
I’m getting my fill of sports through video games. It’s not on TV, but at least I can make believe that it’s on TV.
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