“The best answers often come from those closest to the problem.”

Google.org
Oct 23, 2020 · 4 min read

Google.org Portfolio Manager, Maab Ibrahim was recently featured on the Google Keyword where she shared how her personal experiences motivate her work. Continuing our series of Google.org Team Profiles, we spent more time with her talking about philanthropy, racial justice grant making, and what she’s learned in her four years on the team.

Maab at the NAACP ACT-SO reception.

Can you describe Google.org’s approach to racial justice grant making?

Data is part of our DNA at Google, so our largest grants and volunteer projects have focused on nonprofits closing data gaps across the criminal justice system, ranging from bias in policing practices to jail population trends in rural communities. Over the past five years, we’ve directed over $44 million in grants and pro bono services to nonprofits working on criminal justice reform.

Alongside our data work, we’re also funding community-led solutions. We take to heart the importance of centering the dignity of marginalized communities and funding work that affirms the flourishing of Black and Brown lives. In practice that means funding organizations which are primarily Black or Latinx led and honor the diversity of lived experiences across the folks they serve.

Thinking across your four years at Google, what is a memorable day that fuels your passion for this work?

There are many moments that stand out, but I often think about a day two years ago I spent in Oakland alongside the women of Essie Justice Group, a Google.org grantee harnessing the collective power of women and families with incarcerated loved ones. On the steps of the courthouse, I stood with Gina Clayton-Johnson and the sisters at Essie to announce that Google would no longer allow bail bonds platforms to advertise on our Search platform. Studies show that for-profit bail bond providers make most of their revenue from communities of color and low-income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable: facing the incarceration of a loved one.

Together, Essie and Google made a statement that this practice was not aligned with our values or policies. We held space for women to share stories about their loved ones behind bars and highlight the impacts of mass incarceration on women and their families. Adding to the energy of the crowd, the event was just days before the Black Mama’s Day Bailout, a powerful day of action where racial justice organizations donate funds to mothers facing significant challenges for making bail payments.

Looking back on that day, I am encouraged to think big and be creative about the ways that tech companies can be in solidarity with directly impacted communities.

Maab alongside a coalition of racial justice organizations announcing Google would no longer allow bail bonds to advertise on Search

Can you talk about what you’ve learned from your four years of grantmaking work at Google.org?

One thing I’ve learned is that criminal justice data can be a powerful tool in the hands of organizers, policymakers, and researchers, but variation in county and state-level data collection can complicate our ability to measure trends and monitor our progress towards ending racial injustice.

While criminal justice operates as a system, in practice, justice issues happen through a series of individual interactions — an encounter between a police officer and a community member, for example. Through good, clean data, we are able to understand if that interaction is an outlier or part of a broader community, state, or national systemic issue. But when there are 3,000 counties across the country all with different data capture, storage, and management approaches, how do you then slice the data to pinpoint biases and by extension, drive meaningful change? Thankfully, we’ve been able to support organizations like Center for Policing Equity, Measures for Justice, and Vera Institute of Justice, to create more standard tools for local governments and researchers to adapt.

Data is important, but useful data is even more important. Have conversations with those on the frontlines about the issues they are facing. Talk about what kind of data is helpful in moving the conversation forward.

— Maab Ibrahim, Portfolio Manager at Google.org

What advice would you give to funders that are new to the criminal justice grantmaking space?

I would ask other funders entering this space three questions:

What do you bring to the table? Think through your organization’s unique capabilities and positioning. What is it that you do really well? And how can you leverage that expertise to empower communities that have been systematically excluded from accessing resources? While we support a range of projects, our criminal justice data grants allow us to not only extend grant funding, but also provide engineering support in the form of six-month, pro-bono Google.org fellowships. We’ve learned that access to Google’s top engineering talent can be just as valuable to nonprofits as funding.

How can you share what you’re learning? Philanthropy can surface new and impactful solutions to deeply-rooted, societal challenges, but funders can find those solutions faster and with more intentionality when we exchange progress, failures, and what we are learning openly. Surfacing those insights also requires us to build trust and transparency with nonprofit leaders. We must demonstrate that we truly want to learn together and support them as they pivot their approach based on what they’ve learned.

Who are you supporting? Echoing Green recently shared that on average, their white-led grantees had budgets 24% larger than organizations led by people of color. Across all grantees, Black women were the most likely to be underfunded. Funders should pay attention to these trends, be intentional in centering leaders that represent the communities they serve, and supporting leaders as they navigate biases in philanthropy. After all, the best answers often come from those closest to the problem.

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We bring the best of Google to help solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges & provide opportunity for everyone.