Mapping the World for Good with Karin Tuxen-Bettman

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“I grew up loving maps. They draw your eyes — you just want to go look at them and find a new place you’ve never been or look at the places you are familiar with.” — Karin Tuxen-Bettman

Karin Tuxen-Bettman is a Program Manager at Google where she’s worked for more than a decade helping develop Google’s mapping projects. The field of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) married together all of her passions — economics, environmental science, and public policy. Now in the GEO division at Google, Karin’s job is to “help public benefit groups around the world use mapping tools to make the world a better place.”

For the last five years or more, Karin has been focused on Project Air View, a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, creating air quality maps for every city and town in the world so that cities have the data they need to change behavior and therefore the health of its residents and surrounding areas.

“90% of the world’s population lives in conditions that the World Health Organization says are below the livable air quality,” says Karin.

A portion of Google’s street view cars are dedicated to collecting air quality and environmental data in order to power Project Air View. The data collected is then shared with research scientists to produce studies that inform actionable insights.

On this episode, Stephanie and Karin sit down to discuss the various projects she has worked on while at Google, how she is using Google Maps to help nonprofits and public benefits around the world, and why mapping tools are a huge multiplier for these organizations to tell their story.

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Quotes from Karin:

“If you can communicate something about the world, many times you need a map. You need to show what’s happening, where it’s happening, and you need to show potential changes happening over time so mapping tools are a huge multiplier for environmental and social non-profits to tell their story. My director says that ‘seeing is believing’ and if you can see it on a map and you can understand what’s happening, it really changes the game for people.”

“GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is basically a database for maps. It’s taking map data and creating beautiful maps like cartography, but there is all this data behind maps such as roads, the watershed or the soil samples that you can do a lot of spatial statistics or spatial analysis with.”

“A couple things I’ve learned from my one manager, Rebecca Moore, and other great leaders at Google is optimism and motivation are important. A good leader is someone who is optimistic and motivational. They motivate people to work hard, which is not the same thing as working too much, it’s just means working hard, being productive, getting the job done, and really caring. The other thing is giving credit where credits due.”


The Waterkeeper Alliance

Environmental Defense Fund

Save the Elephants


Episode 315