Feds Grab Google Talent to Fight Poverty

The U.S. Agency for International Development hires Ann Mei Chang, Google's former senior engineering director, to confront poverty with tech solutions.

by / December 2, 2014
Ann Mei Chang, executive director of the United States Agency for International Development's Global Development Lab. Flickr/ITU-Pictures

In the battle against global poverty, the federal government has drawn yet again from Google’s pool of tech talent.

This time it comes by way of Ann Mei Chang, a former senior engineering director at Google, hired by the United States Agency for International Development. Chang will lead its Global Development Lab, a new group tasked with assisting in innovation efforts for the agency and its ambitious campaign to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2030. Since the lab's inception this year, its projects have included the creation of a $200 million Global Innovation Fund, the Ebola Grand Challenge — which crowdsourced ideas for Ebola assistance and other aid projects to alleviate problems of impoverished communities. Chang was positioned to develop and deploy such kinds of innovations that combat poverty in atypical, yet impactful, ways.

More than just a new hire, the move represents a continued push from the Obama administration to inject more Silicon Valley know-how into the federal government.

Google’s former site reliability manager, Mikey Dickerson, was placed at the head of the freshly minted U.S. Digital Services in August; and in September Megan Smith, Google’s vice president of SolveForX, an innovation campaign, was appointed as the next U.S. chief technology officer. The additions come as Todd Park, Smith’s predecessor, has been sent by the administration to scout for additional Silicon Valley recruits.

In tweets on Dec. 1, Chang said she was elated to take on the new role and highlighted a call by Smith for more private-sector expertise.

Extending past Chang’s background at Google, where she led a number of successful mobile technology projects from 2004 to 2012, Chang recently served as the chief innovation officer of MercyCorps, a humanitarian aid organization, from 2013 to 2014, and as senior adviser for Women and Technology in the U.S. Department of State, from 2011 to 2013.

In both positions, Chang directed socially minded initiatives and projects. At the State Department, she worked to erase gender gaps in technology in developing countries. And at MercyCorps, Chang designed social ventures that harnessed mobile and online technologies to improve the quality of life for the poor.