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August 20, 2009 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-08-20

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Special Report


Mighty Heart from page 11

"Larry does not
just talk about
values, but lives
them in his every
and deed."

"He embodies
the best of
tzedakah and
service ..."

— Dr. Dean Ornish

— Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg

either side, from Detroit Mumford — with
its pink and blue tiles — in 1961.
The halls of Mumford quickly turned into
the streets of Ann Arbor. His undergradu-
ate training and master's degree in public
health were obtained at the University of
Michigan. At \\Tayne State University in
Detroit, he earned a medical degree.
In 1969, his travels took him to San
Francisco. When the protest group Indians
of All Tribes took over Alcatraz, he
answered a call to help a pregnant Native
American woman deliver her baby and
became unofficial doctor on the island
until the government forced them all to
leave. A movie — Medicine Ball Caravan
— followed.
"This vas very heady stuff for a young
kid from Detroit, Michigan," Brilliant
remarked a few years ago in an interview.
"I went from being a pretty straight-laced
medical student in Detroit to being in the
absolute heart and center of the cultural
revolution that was San Francisco. And I
don't think I've ever recovered from that"
Payment for his movie skills was a ticket
to India, where he ended up at a mon-
astery for 10 years studying with Hindu
sages and helping victims of the devastat-
ing 1970 Bhola Cyclone in East Pakistan
(now Bangladesh).
He also joined the movement to end
smallpox and ultimately spearhead the
World Health Organization effort — first
door to door in India, then by region;
staving until the disease was eradicated.
Through each experience, he says he has
"always struggling to understand how God
could allow such horrific acts in the woricr

Philanthropy Beckons
In the mid-1980s, he founded The Well,
a visionary online community that pro-
vides a virtual dialogue on topics from
society to computers. After the Sri Lankan
Tsunami, he immediately packed up to


help refugees in camps for several months
in 2005. A prestigious award followed,
the TED Prize, an annual conference that
grants 5100,000 for an individual to select
one wish for the world. Brilliant's choice:
build a global system to detect each new
disease or disaster as quickly as it emerges
or occurs.
Listening to Brilliant's acceptance
speech for the prize was Sergey Brin, a
co-founder of Google, who was looking for
someone to run the corporate foundation.
He offered Brilliant the job on a comment
card after the talk.
On Feb. 22, 2006, Brilliant became
executive director of Google.org , whose
philanthropic mission is to use "the power
of information and technology to address
the global challenges of our age: climate
change, poverty and emerging disease
"During his years as executive director
of Google.org , Brilliant has been playing
on a larger stage, but the script he's fol-
lowing retains that same profound dedica-
tion to addressing the world's problems
that I saw in him over 30 years ago," says
Kenneth Warner, dean of U-M's School of
Public Health.
Google.org was developed to redefine
the philanthropic world by using Google's
significant resources and technology
expertise to solve major societal problems.
Since its launch three years ago, one of its
major goals has been to invest in renew-
able energy that can be produced cheaper
than coal. This has led the organization to
search out and invest in emerging areas
such as wind, solar and geothermal.
It is also working on applications to
empower citizens with useful information,
such as the ability to predict and prevent
the spread of diseases, and empower
developing nations to make informed
choices about the public services in their
As a partner with the U.S. Holocaust

Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.,
Google developed a program called "Be
A Witness." This merges visual evidence
from the crisis in Darfur onto Google
Earth. You can see damaged and destroyed
villages, testimonies and a 3-D map iden-
tifying displaced persons in Darfur and
refugees in Chad.

Tikkun Olam

The New York Times calls Brilliant a mem-
ber of the Sillicon Valley digital elite; but
when you talk to the people who know him
and his career, they talk less of the busi-
ness leader and more about their admira-
tion for his values.
"Who else in the world spent 10 years
traveling from village to village in India,
spearheading the U.N. effort to stamp
out smallpox and at the same time is one
of the pioneers in the online world, hay-
ing co-founded the Well," says Professor
Howard Rheingold, a leading technology
scholar from Stanford University and
University of California Berkeley.
"He understands the suffering of the
people at the bottom of the socioeconomic
ladder. And he understands technology
and the technology business. I sleep better
at night knowing that he's on the job."
Sheryl Sandberg originally worked at
Google with Brilliant and now is COO of
the online community Facebook."Larry
has the most unique combination of any-
one I have seen in my career — true dedi-
cation to making the world a better place,
deep knowledge about the fields of phi-
lanthropy and business, and an ability to
inspire people to achieve great things. Lar-
ry does not just talk about values, but lives
them in his every interaction and deed."
Craig Newmark, founder of the online
marketplace Craigslist and a prominent
technology entrepreneur who lived in
Detroit for a decade, said, "Larry practices
tikkun °lain, the repair or betterment of

the world, and he's made exceptional con-
tributions in India and elsewhere."
Dr. Dean Ornish, clinical professor of
medicine at the University of California,
San Francisco, has known Brilliant for
several decades as a great friend and
now serves as chair of the Google Health
Advisory Board.
"He's certainly lived up to his name with
an amazing vision to inspire systems and
people to serve others': Ornish says."He
embodies the best of tzedakah and service
... and is equally compassionate in his per-
sonal friendship."
Brilliant recently opened a new chapter
in his career. As of April, he is leading the
Skoll Urgent Threats Fund — a 5100 mil-
lion initiative to work on some of today's
biggest problems — from climate change
and water scarcity to nuclear proliferation
and the Middle East conflict.
"This is an extraordinary opportunity
for me to bring my life's work and experi-
ence to loin with so many others who
feel the urgency of the times to work on
the most critical challenges facing us as
global citizens;" Brilliant said in a state-
Rather than hone in a singular expertise,
Brilliant's brilliance, literally, is spreading
his passion across fields: medicine, global
development, technology, advocacy, aca-
demia, alternative energy, epidemiology.

Defining Moments
The 1960s had a strong influence on
Brilliant, beginning in his sophomore year
at U-M. He attended a lecture advertised
along the lines of "The Moral Dimensions
in Discrimination" at Hill Auditorium
given by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The weather was a classic Michigan snow-
storm and only few arrived in the massive
"He gazed at the handful of us who had
braved the weather and laughed so hard,

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