Maab Ibrahim (MBA/MPP ’16) is the Inclusion grantmaking lead at Google.org, a data-driven, human-focused philanthropy powered by Google. Through a unique blend of funding, products, and technical expertise from Google volunteers, she is currently accelerating the progress of nonprofits that use data science and innovative new approaches to advance social justice.
Describe the path you have taken to your current role as Portfolio Manager at Google.org.
As the Inclusion Grants Lead at Google.org, I work to provide resources to nonprofits that are challenging bias and exclusion to transform systems of inequity in America. The work is deeply personal to me, as the child of first-generation immigrants and as a black woman in America. It’s informed by my experiences growing up in Richmond, Virginia, a city of beautiful communities pushing to thrive against a pained history of slavery, Confederacy, segregation, and mass incarceration. While in college, I was drawn to social policy to better understand these challenges. I began to study the data and develop the language to contextualize my experiences and those of my loved ones — words like structural inequity, gentrification, economic exclusion, gender-based violence, and school-to-prison pipeline. The more I understood these issues and their intersections, the more I was driven to work on solutions.
How have you leveraged your Ross and Ford school experience in your career?
A career in social impact is equal parts subject-matter expertise to define the challenge and business savvy to make the case for solutions. I often speak of Ford as a place for me to sharpen the “what” and Ross as a place to perfect the “how.” At Ford, I could spend a morning debating social welfare structures with Luke Shaefer or contextualizing social movements with Yazier Henry. I would then cross the street to Ross to learn methods for building successful teams and influencing within institutions.
I have always believed in the power of technology, but there was something about being at Michigan right after the Arab Spring and during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement that gave my studies new urgency. Organizers were bringing the fight for justice to the center of public imagination and taking advantage of the internet as a space for organizing and democratizing access to information. They were, and they continue to be, disrupting social paradigms. This sparked my interest in technology as a tool for advancing social progress and encouraged me to find communities that embraced disruptive solutions, like The Social Venture Fund.
How is Google.org impacting people’s lives? How does the Google.org model and portfolio advance social justice?
At Google.org, we aim to bring the best of Google to solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges — combining funding, innovation, and technical expertise to support underserved communities and expand access to opportunity. We join forces with nonprofit innovators and commit Google volunteers, technology, and over $200 million in grants every year to help scale their impact.
Can you share more about the work you lead to advance racial justice?
Google.org’s racial justice portfolio is focused on reducing disparate racial outcomes and affirming the flourishing of Black lives. Our company and its employees are passionate about criminal justice reform and that has led us to direct over $44 million and 15,000 pro bono volunteering hours to organizations fighting mass incarceration. As a tech philanthropist, many of the grants I make use data science to identify and analyze bias in the criminal justice system. For example, Google.org grantee Center for Policing Equity measures bias in police behavior, and Vera Institute of Justice develops real-time data to model how many people are currently in jail. Our portfolio is balanced with intentional support to movement leaders who are most proximate to impacted communities, such as the Movement for Black Lives and Essie Justice Group.
As the lead on racial justice grants, I source and support these projects, while also spending considerable time brainstorming ways to advance justice through our people, products, and philanthropy. For example, Google.org partnered with Google product teams to prohibit from our platforms ads from bail bonds services, which have shown to generate revenue from communities of color when they’re at their most vulnerable. We’ve collaborated with marketing teams to digitize Equal Justice Initiative’s Lynching in America project.
What do you want to see business schools do to prepare students for careers with impact?
I would love to see business schools be intentional in hiring underrepresented faculty and building inclusive classrooms. Black, Latinx, and Native American people continue to be the most socially marginalized and economically excluded communities in America, driving a severe underrepresentation of their voices in corporate leadership. The data shows us that the social impact sector is not exempt from these inequities, and that Black, Latinx, and Native American nonprofit directors and social entrepreneurs receive disportionately less philanthropic and venture capital investment despite their proximity to the communities they serve. Business schools that are serious about social impact should invest in leaders that are committed to bridging across company and community. Programs like The Consortium and Management Leadership for Tomorrow are first steps in breaking down barriers.
What advice would you give to students pursuing an impact career?
There’s a perception that social impact jobs are less demanding than traditional business, but I have found that shared accountability to company, nonprofit leaders, and marginalized communities sets a high bar for personal and professional success. When you are working to deconstruct systems, it can feel like the work is never over. And it’s especially hard to take a pause when your identity and community is represented in the work. The failures feel more personal, and successes feel like they’re just scratching the surface. Find as much balance as possible, because we’ll need your skills, talent, and focus for the long run. Energize by being in community and celebrating incremental successes. Remember that the best answers often come from those closest to the problem. Center the dignity of the most marginalized people in society in all that you do.