Pierre and Pam Omidyar: Tech Grants

NET WORTH: $10.2 billion


FUNDING AREAS: Global Health, Education, Economic Development, Humanitarian Efforts, Property Rights, Government Transparency, Media, Technology 

OVERVIEW: The Omidyar have committed more than $1 billion toward social causes. Pierre has been instrumental in developing a more entrepreneurial model of philanthropy. In 2004, the couple founded Omidyar Network, of which The Omidyar Group is a part, to support philanthropic endeavors. The network is comprised of an LLC, which invests in for-profit entities with socially beneficial missions, and a 501(c)(3), which makes grants to nonprofit organizations.

BACKGROUND: A coder and self-confessed data junkie, Tufts graduate Pierre Omidyar wrote the prototype code for what eventually became eBay in 1995. The site was a hit, and when the company went public in 1998, Omidyar became an instant billionaire. He is still the chairman of eBay, but he is no longer involved in day-to-day operations.

Pam Omidyar has a B.A. in biology from Tufts University. She then studied plant molecular genetics at the UC Santa Cruz. Pam serves on the Omidyar Network board, and co-founded both Humanity United and Hopelab.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Economic development, and specifically microfinance, is the biggest single object of Omidyar's philanthropy. He supports numerous organizations that provide micro-financing around the world, as well as organizations that provide micro-insurance and other financial instruments to underserved communities. Recently, Omidyar and the development agencies of four national governments—Australia, the U.K., the U.S. and Sweden—partnered to establish the Global Innovation Fund. Together, they will invest tens of millions of dollars in "social innovations that aim to improve the lives and opportunities of millions of people in the developing world." Through his philanthropic organization, the Omidyar Network, he has also invested in the emerging market of India. In fact, at the end of 2015, it was announced that the investing and giving to the country's businesses and nonprofits would increase to $350 million by 2020.

EDUCATION: Both Pierre and his wife, Pam, are Tufts University alums, and they have donated more than $160 million to their alma mater, the largest contribution they have given to any organization. Of that amount, they made $100 million in grants to support their efforts in microfinancing and to establish the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund. Another major contribution established the Tisch University College of Citizenship and Public Service. Pierre is a major donor to the Santa Fe Institute, where a postdoctoral fellowship program is named after him, and he has created a fellowship in Hawaii that offers an executive-level curriculum to Hawaiians and seeks to develop Hawaii's future leaders. The Omidyars also fund education endeavors in developing countries through the Omidyar Network, prioritizing Africa and India.

HEALTH: Along with his wife, Omidyar co-founded Hopelab, a nonprofit organization that creates fun, technology-based products that promote positive health behaviors for young people with chronic illnesses. Pierre has helped present an affordable healthcare summit in India, and supported organizations such as Living Goods, which operates networks of village health entrepreneurs in Africa.

HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS: The Omidyars are two of the biggest donors in the fight against human trafficking and have invested more than $115 million through Humanity United, an organization the two co-founded. These initiatives are largely centered in India, but they can span the globe, involving efforts to end indentured bondage and child labor. Humanity United also partners with organizations such as the Coalition Against Slavery & Trafficking and the Clinton Global Initiative, and it has worked closely with the White House on humanitarian issues.

PROPERTY RIGHTS: In an initiative that spans economic development, environmental, and humanitarian issues, Omidyar is a major champion of property rights, an issue that is often overlooked but has a dramatic impact on billions of people. Citing the issue as the key to economic security, identity and wealth creation, Omidyar funds organizations that strive to increase ownership of land and property for all people, encourage transparency and flexibility in property ownership, and develop legal education on the subject.

GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY: Omidyar funds organizations that promote government transparency and accountability in many regions around the globe. Many of these organizations develop platforms for citizens to report and share information and monitor their government. Others prioritize nurturing citizen voices and protecting journalists, particularly in areas with a history of human rights abuses. Most recently, he has committed $250 million to a new venture with Glenn Greenwald, fueled by "concern about press freedoms in the U.S. and around the world."

MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY: Focusing on the creation of platforms that break down barriers and empower ordinary citizens to improve their lives, Omidyar has funded a variety of organizations such as Change.org, Creative Commons, Common Sense Media, Amicus, Meetup and Guidestar. Omidyar recently donated a tenth of his stock holdings from his own tech giant, eBay.

In 2013, Omidyar funded First Look Media, a venue for "original, independent journalism." The project is a collaboration with Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Laura Poitras with a promised $250 million in funding from Omidyar.

In 2016, Omidyar launched the Omidyar Technology Ventures. It is unclear how much money Omidyar has given the firm to invest, but so far, it has participated in deals for Convoy (on-demand local and regional trucking), Fundbox (cash flow management tools for small businesses) and Nervana (machine learning platform).

REGIONAL–HAWAII, SILICON VALLEY: Omidyar and his wife launched the Ulupono initiative in 2009 to create more locally grown food, increase renewable energy, and reduce waste in Hawaii. They have committed $50 million to the Hawaii Community Foundation and made contributions to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

LOOKING FORWARD: Although many of Omidyar's contributions are made without much fanfare, as friend and fellow philanthropist Jeff Skoll says, "Pierre is dedicated to social change and he will, deservedly, someday be acknowledged as the Rockefeller or Carnegie of our times." When Omidyar supports a cause, he tends to do so on a global scale, and although he already supports organizations that address issues such as micro-financing and government transparency in many regions around the world, look for him to continue to seek out organizations that service additional regions or to help existing donors expand into new ones. 


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