A group of prominent Silicon Valley tech leaders have formed a non-profit company and on Friday shipped out their first packages of personal protective equipment (PPE) to front-line medical personnel battling the coronavirus pandemic.
“All of us knew friends or relatives who were doctors or nurses who were working in hospitals without a proper mask or PPE,” said Meagan Pi, a vice-president at Google. “We quickly realized that this was a situation that the government may not be able to fill the needs quickly enough. Private citizens will have to do something.”
The group of 15 volunteers includes a former Google director, the chief technology officer for GoFundMe, a doctor, two lawyers, a venture capitalist and assorted entrepreneurs. They have taken advantage of skills and connections built through their high-level work in Silicon Valley’s tech industry to launch a non-profit enterprise called “HumankindNOW” capable of raising funds, obtaining products, identifying needs and — starting Friday — moving to fulfill them via reliable logistical systems and strict quality-control.
About 200 healthcare professionals have requested safety gear from HumankindNOW, Pi said.
“We have done some validation, figuring out who is legit,” she said. “We have a team of people who having been working around the clock to make sure we’re not sending equipment to rogue players who will profit from this.”
On Friday, the group sent out 140 “care packages,” each containing two pairs of protective goggles and 10 FDA-approved masks, to doctors, nurses and nursing home staffers across the country, including in California. They also sent out 20 “protection packages” containing enough masks for one person for two months. They’re working to match donors of large quantities of protective equipment with hospitals, “to send the supply to the most-needed demand,” and said they have provided 5,200 N95 masks from a private donor to San Francisco’s VA hospital.
HumankindNOW seeks to provide protective gear to 10,000 front-line healthcare workers. Since Monday, the group has raised more than $54,000, with a similar sum pledged and soon to arrive, said Bill Davidson, a retired Google director and chief financial officer for HumankindNOW. The group will use funds it raises to buy more protective items, and is also gathering donated equipment and collaborating with other groups to secure donations of large quantities of equipment, they said.
“We don’t want to contribute to the problem with scarcity of the resources,” said Pi, the HumankindNOW CEO. “We try to combine our efforts with other organizations who are doing exactly the same thing as us.”
Working with other groups boosts negotiating power, to keep procurement costs down, and get in the door with manufacturers and vendors of protective equipment taking only large orders, Pi said. HumankindNOW has a robust process for vetting equipment donors and vendors, and monitoring the supply chain, she said.
“We want to be mindful that we don’t bring in poor-quality products,” Pi said.
Partner organizations will provide some of the shipping services required for procuring and distributing the equipment, either at cost or through donations. Pi said the group cannot identify its major partners but they include large companies and government agencies.
Silicon Valley’s tech giants have also pledged to provide protective gear to healthcare workers on the front-line against the virus. Apple CEO Tim Cook on March 21 said the company had sourced millions of masks to donate to health professionals in the U.S. and Europe. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said March 22 that the company would donate to healthcare workers 720,000 masks it had on reserve for wildfire smoke, and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said his company delivered 9,000 masks to UC San Francisco, and was working to deliver more than 5 million masks and other protective items to healthcare workers. Intel said March 23 it would donate more than 1 million masks, gloves, face shields and other items to healthcare workers. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said March 27 that the company was working with another firm to produce 2 million to 3 million face masks in coming weeks to donate to the non-profit associated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The people at HumankindNOW have their eyes on another tech giant: Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, who on Tuesday promised to donate $1 billion of his equity in mobile-payments firm Square to the fight against coronavirus. Substantial backing from Dorsey would allow HumankindNOW to “get heard above the noise” and make large orders of protective gear, said Chi-Chao Chang, chief technology officer at Redwood City fundraising-platform company GoFundMe and the non-profit’s chief product officer.
The group want to hear from anyone needing protective gear on the coronavirus front-lines, and they’re seeking donations of expertise as well as money — including through a HumankindNOW campaign on GoFundMe — and safety items, Pi said.
“Whether you are Jack Dorsey or whether you’re my daughter who has donated $10 from her piggy bank, we need your help.”