Emil Zatopek, a Czech long-distance runner, once quoted: “An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.” This quote completely signifies the strategy adopted by Omidyar Network, the company we’re featuring on the cover this month. Founded in 1998 by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire investor and founder of eBay, Omidyar Network is working towards building a whole new approach to solving worldwide problems. It is a philanthropic investment firm that invests in varied kinds of business models – both nonprofit and for-profit – that can play a catalytic role in shaping up the world and making it a better place. The investment firm’s mandate is to groom a network of companies that can create widespread, sustainable social impact.

For this edition’s cover story, we gathered in-depth information about the working style of Omidyar Network, its approach to investing and the progress made, till date, by some of its portfolio companies. As narrated in the feature, Pierre Omidyar is excited about how India and Indian entrepreneurs can play a crucial role in solving some of these large-scale problems. The reasoning behind this is that India is unique in the opportunity it provides. It is a country, as we all know, where intelligent and motivated people live in close proximity to several social problems they witness everyday. Going by the logic that people close to a problem can come up with a good solution for it, Indian entrepreneurs now have access to more capital that they need to build social ventures. This certainly is the biggest role a company like Omidyar Network can play. The capital is now available. Now, more than ever, we call for more social entrepreneurs, who can come up with unique ideas that can sustainably solve problems in education, healthcare, energy, infrastructure or simply aid in helping improve the quality of everyday life. We’d like to thank Jayant Sinha, managing director of Omidyar Network India, Pierre Omidyar and the rest of the team at the firm for sharing with us their thought process and helping us put together this cover story.

Now, I am going to get a little audacious and list out a few open-ended questions. Each of these questions aims to push current and future entrepreneurs to think about business ideas – products or services – to solve some of these problems. Here you go:

Can we build an efficient marketplace where people in the bottom of the pyramid segment can buy food, clothing and entertainment services? Can we build a market, a mall of sorts, where micro-entrepreneurs run businesses to sell to and provide employment for the BoP segment? Can we convince the government to grant land for such a project?

Can we start a sustainable campaign to reduce road rage and manage traffic in India better by engaging with various communities including drivers, public transport operators and traffic cops? Can we get brands to sponsor these campaigns? Can this be a media company that organises several such campaigns and thrives on sponsorships?

Can we start an educational services company to revamp the curriculum to suit state-run schools and maybe, even offer teaching services? Can we build an ultra-large network of teachers – comprising of educated Indians – to teach part-time at corporation schools? Can we build a revenue model around this and make it a for-profit business?

Can we get a few Indian billionaires to setup social venture capital firms that are focused on sorting out problems – be it in healthcare or education or clean water?

The last question, particularly, excites us at The Smart CEO. If we can convince the Ambanis and the Tatas to setup philanthropic investment firms focused on impact investing (or for that matter any form of capital for social ventures), we could certainly attract tens of thousands of entrepreneurs who’ll go out there to solve societal problems. We need a campaign of sorts to make this happen. The early progress made by a firm like Omidyar Network can certainly be inspirational to many. We hope this catches the attention of some of our billionaire-entrepreneurs and pushes them towards impact investing.

Hope you enjoy reading this edition of The Smart CEO.

S. Prem Kumar

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