Google Fellowship

Google Fellowship invests in nonprofits that are using technology to tackle the world’s toughest challenges. They take a human-focused yet data-driven approach, making FII an excellent fit. So when generously offered not only to fund FII’s work but to place Googlers with our technologists to do pro bono work as a part of their fellowship program, we said yes. Six Googlers joined FII’s Analytics4 team for several months, working full time to help us advance our mission. Specifically, we wanted to better understand the content that families were posting on our social networking platform, UpTogether. To do so, we needed in-house expertise in the use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) where words can become data. By helping FII to analyze families’ journal entries with machine learning, the Googlers were able to transform family posts into meaningful quantitative data. When combined with the naturally quantitative data we collect from families, our ability to communicate the initiative families are taking and the success they are having is significantly strengthened, allowing us to make the case for systems change locally, regionally, and nationally.

Google Fellows Speak

Google fellows (insert names) with FII Chief Technology Officer David Henderson.

How has FII’s Trust and Invest approach impacted you?

The Google Fellows sat down with FII’s Chief Technology Officer David Henderson to reflect on the project. They all sited FII’s Trust and Invest approach as something new, and share a bit more about the assumptions that were challenged by FII’s commitment to giving families choice and control over the decisions that impact their lives.

Scott: When I was starting out on the fellowship and I was speaking with some other Googlers about the opportunity that I was getting ready to pursue, an analogy that came up pretty frequently was the old one about giving a man a fish versus teaching a man to fish and making that investment of your time in another person to help them better their lives.

Someone else told me, “Well, that’s not really all of it. Why should it be fishing?” To me, that was pretty impactful and it stuck with me and it fits FII’s model even better because that’s where the trust part of Trust and Invest comes in, I think. It’s trusting one another to teach and to share information and help whole communities rise together.

Sonia: Shayna and I were actually just talking earlier today about how our understanding of FII has changed from when we first started working on the fellowship to now. I think at the beginning, because FII is so different and a very unconventional model, it’s hard to wrap your head around it. All the different moving pieces that come together to make FII the philosophy: the data collection, the research, the partnerships with other sectors. I think it takes a little bit of time in immersing in the work to really understand. Talking to families, I think, is probably the quickest way to get to understand what FII is all about.

I think now, it’s become more ingrained in the way that I even view the whole sector which I think is part of FII’s approach. Also, we were talking about what it means to talk to other people about philanthropy and the social sector and how pervasive that mindset is now that we understand the different model, it’s hard to remember that most other people don’t have that perspective and what it means to then bring that perspective to the rest of the world.

Shayna: Going into the fellowship and starting to work with FII, I thought I knew what it would feel to work with a nonprofit. I thought I knew about how nonprofits operated, where the motivations were, but FII is so different. It was very interesting to not only be in my first experience working with the nonprofit but to be working with one like FII that really is rethinking the way that organizations can work with people. I learned a lot in that way. I also have just been challenged through my work with FII.

FII challenged me to be more critical about the way that I think about these problems. It used to be that I would like read a book about it and take it at face level, but I think FII and working with you all, especially, with you, David, not take things at face level, think more critically and just trust families, trust the work that they’re doing and in that way.

David: You said that it changed your perception of the nonprofit sector initiative. What was your preexisting perception and what was that shift?

Shayna: Yes. I think what really was brought to life for me was– I have a lot of friends and family that work in the nonprofit sector and they’re all really good people and are doing really good work. I think that what you brought to life for me was that sometimes a lot of that good intention and good work isn’t as effective as we might think, not that it isn’t effective always, but it helped me seeing the way FII approaches the problem, helped to give me the tools to apply that thinking to the way I now analyze the way other nonprofits work.

That just helps me be more critical. Maybe sometimes what nonprofits do is self-serving without realizing it. 

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