Omidyar's Latest Big Thing

Maybe it's all those years Pierre Omidyar spent in Silicon Valley, where the rule is innovate or die. Or maybe it's the realization that fulfilling the Giving Pledge is no easy thing when you've got $8.2 billion, a fortune that's actually grown in the past decade even as millions have gone to philanthropy.

Whatever the case, the philanthropy of Pierre and Pam Omidyar is anything but static. Just as with Apple, new product lines come regularly rolling out. 

Related: Can't Get a Grip on Omidyar Philanthropy? You're Not Alone, So Take This Guided Tour

Last year it was First Look Media, a $250 million effort to strengthen media. Before that, it was the Democracy Fund, a hefty investment in resuscitating U.S. democracy. 

And now comes the Global Innovation Fund, a big partnership between the Omidyar Network and the development agencies of four national governments—Australia, the U.K., the U.S., and Sweden—that 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." 

Let's just pause for a second and look again at the group of partners above, who've kicked in $250 million for the fund so far. In remarks at the news conference on Tuesday announcing the fund, U.S. AID Administrator Rajiv Shah called them "five of the most dynamic leaders in global development."

Whether that's a factual statement is open for debate. In the meantime, it's not hard see which funder doesn't belong: That would be the foundation backed by two private citizens whose wealth enables them to operates as a peers with top public officials in tackling the great issues of our day. If that's not a sign of how much outsized inequality has remade the policy world, I don't know what is. 

The Global Innovation Fund is very much in sync with today's trend toward social investing, as well as the growing obsession with finding breakthrough ways to elevate the world's poorest people, after decades in which a range of development approaches fell short. 

The mandate of the fund is broad: It seeks ideas of nearly any kind in any sector that hold the promise of achieving scale and improving the lives of millions of people. As well, the fund will deploy its money in lots of ways, including outright grants, loans, and equity investments. And the sums given will range from small ($50,000) to big ($15 million). What's more, the fund is open to coming in at different stages, welcoming projects still on the drawing board and those on the cusp of achieving scale. 

The most important thread here is the focus on stuff that's new. The fund, which will be based in London, is looking for fresh ways to tackling problems that trump existing approaches. 

All of this is spelled out on fund's website, where you can also take a look at its team and board. 

In many ways, the Global Innovation Fund both embodies and advances the Omidyar approach to global development. This is a funder who has long pulled an array of levers to combat poverty, mixing traditional grantmaking with market approaches in ways have drawn criticism at times. Additionally, because of its eclecticism, Omidyar giving has often shot off in many different directions, raising questions about its coherence. 

Now, with this fund, the Omidyars have formally operationalized their "everything's-on-the-table" approach, and with some of the most formidable partners you could imagine.

That strikes me as a pretty impressive achievement, at least in a provisional way. The real test lies in whether the fund is actually able to find and scale the kind of transformational ideas that it's looking for. 

We'll be watching. 

Related: Full IP profiles of Pierre and Pam Omidyar