FUNDING AREAS: Global health, education, economic development, humanitarian efforts, property rights, government transparency, media, and technology
SOURCE OF WEALTH: eBay
NET WORTH: $8 billion
OVERVIEW: Omidyar may be quiet in his philanthropy, but having already committed more than $1 billion toward social causes, he is one of the biggest philanthropists of his generation and one of the first who made his fortune in the tech boom of the mid to late '90s to make a significant commitment to philanthropy. He has been instrumental in developing a more entrepreneurial model of philanthropy. His efforts have earned him a Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy Award and led former president Bill Clinton to describe him as "the new face of philanthropy."
BACKGROUND: A coder and self-confessed data junkie, Pierre wrote the prototype code for what eventually became eBay in 1995. The site immediately took off, and when the company went public in 1998, Omidyar became an instant billionaire. He is still the chairman of eBay but is no longer involved in day-to-day operations. In 2004, he founded the Omidyar Network to support his 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 non-profit organizations. He is known for being a rather private individual in both his business and his philanthropy, and he still lives a relatively modest lifestyle. He is based in Honolulu.
PHILOSOPHY: One of the first to adopt an approach to philanthropy that is similar to a venture capital firm, Pierre has been a philanthropic innovator and a powerful advocate for a variety of causes. Distinguishing between charity and philanthropy, he focuses on developing philanthropic teams that can create long-term transformational change. When supporting nonprofits, he looks for solid business plans and earnings streams capable of sustaining the non-profit work. "Everyone is born equally capable, but lacks equal opportunity," he said, explaining that the primary impetus of founding the Omidyar Network was to give disadvantaged people the tools they need to achieve financial success. He stopped donating to political campaigns in 2008 but works closely with elected officials to impact policy in a variety of areas.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Economic development, and specifically microfinance, is the biggest single object of Omidyar's philanthropy. He supports numerous organizations that provide microfinancing throughout the world, as well as organizations that provide microinsurance 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 vehicle, the Omidyar Network, he has also made an impact investing 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 non-profits would increase to $350 million by 2020.
EDUCATION: Both Pierre and his wife, Pam, are both Tufts University alums, and they have donated more than $160 million to their alma mater, the largest contribution given to any organization. Of that amount, $100 million has gone to support their efforts in microfinancing, establish the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund, and another major contribution was made to help establish 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 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, focusing on Africa and India.
HEALTH: Along with his wife, Omidyar cofounded HopeLab, a non-profit organization that creates fun, technology-based products that promote positive health behaviors. He has helped present an affordable health-care 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, having invested more than $115 million through Humanity United, an organization the two cofounded. These initiatives are largely centered in India but 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 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 an issue that is often overlooked but has a dramatic impact on billions of people. Citing property rights 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 different regions across the globe. Many of these organizations develop platforms for citizens to report and share information and monitor their government. Others involve 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 gave away 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, Jremy 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 already 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 microfinancing and government transparency in many regions throughout the world, look for him to continue to seek out organizations that service additional regions or to help existing donors expand into new ones.
The Omidyar Group