Google CEO Sundar Pichai said it has been “heartbreaking” to witness the pandemic’s devastating impact on India, which is experiencing the world’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus. In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow Wednesday, Pichai discussed the unfolding situation, how his company is responding and what others can similarly do to lend support. “India deserves our attention right now,” Pichai said.
The interview comes after Pichai and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella – together, two of the most famous Indian-born US-based CEOs – publicly pledged Monday to help battle the surge of coronavirus cases. Google said in a blog post that it would provide a grant to UNICEF for urgent medical supplies, as well as a grant to online donation platform, Give India, to support in-need families impacted by the virus. Google is also putting $15 million into public health information campaigns. Pichai became CEO of Google in 2015 before becoming head of Google’s parent company Alphabet (GOOGL) in 2019.
Here are the highlights from Pichai’s interview with Harlow:
On witnessing the unfolding crisis in India from afar:
Pichai: The situation there is dire, and it’s been heartbreaking to see. I think the worst is yet to come. Being here, seeing the attention here, I realize at the highest levels from President Biden, Secretary Blinken – there’s been focus on seeing how we can help India and the other countries being affected.
On what Google is doing to help:
Pichai: Different companies have different capabilities, and the US government has its unique capabilities. From our side, we really focused on providing the most helpful information. There are 600 million people connected to the internet and they’re looking for information about vaccine and testing. So working with the Ministry of Health in India, making sure we can get the right information on the ground has been a big focus for us. As for us partnering with NGOs and public health organizations to get the messaging out. It’s important that people are able to stay home and mask and stay safe. So we’re helping get the message out in partnership.
On how other companies can make a meaningful difference:
Pichai: I think taking the expertise in your company where you can and being ready to help in a coordinated way is going to be helpful. The second, it’s very possible to provide cash and other resources to organizations on the ground I think can make a big difference.
On vaccine supply and a possible intellectual property waiver:
Pichai: I was more involved in the conversations around providing raw materials, supply access so India can begin manufacturing its vaccines. I’m not familiar enough around the issues around IP to weigh in on them. I was encouraged by the AstraZeneca doses to India. This pandemic will involve us tackling it globally. The U.S., we’re very fortunate. We need to work hard to make sure we can get access to vaccine supply around the world as soon as possible.
On India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the pandemic:
Pichai: If you look around the world, Covid has been humbling in the sense that, when you think you’re on top of it, there can be a surge back. I think encouraging good public safety measures and paying attention to crisis is the only thing you can do in the short term. That’s the effort I’m seeing. As a company, we stand by ready to help.
On recent take-down requests from the Modi government over critical pandemic posts on Twitter, Facebook:
Pichai: Normally we do comply with local laws, particularly in Democratic countries which through their norms and processes have passed laws. I think one of India’s strengths is a deeply rooted democratic tradition, based in freedom of expression and allowing for diversity of viewpoints. That’s a strength … We haven’t had any requests. In the past we’ve been able to work constructively with governments around the world, and we’ll continue that approach here.