PIERRE OMIDYAR, FOUNDER OF EBAY AND OMIDYAR NETWORK, SPEAKS:
What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt since becoming an impact investor?
One of the most important lessons we’ve (Omidyar Network) learnt is that while money matters, impact matters more. Often, the shortest path to impact is not by writing a cheque. It’s finding the right talent to put up against the challenge.
If you think about the challenges that we’re all currently wrestling with, they are enormous. Education, health care, even democracy is at stake. And while there’s a lot of positive movement being led by a lot of people in these areas, there’s still a long way to go.
That’s why our work in human capital is so critical. Take our model at Omidyar Network, which is a combination of ‘venture capital’ and ‘foundation’. Our investment leads manage fewer investments than you would find at a typical foundation, allowing them to spend more time with each investee, whether it’s serving on their board, providing strategic advice around leadership recruitment or guiding the organisation’s overall strategy. This type of investment can make a huge difference on the success of a company or organisation, and ultimately, its impact in the world.
If you had the opportunity to pitch the ‘idea of impact investing’ to Indian billionaires, what would the pitch be?
I’m a strong believer that people should find their path when it comes to philanthropy. For us, impact investing gave us the flexibility that we needed to increase our impact. We saw great social impact as a result of eBay in the U.S. We wanted to find ways to support for-profit businesses that might also create social impact. Impact investing gave us that flexibility and while unconventional for some, it worked for us.
I would tell Indian billionaires that impact investing is one of the ways we choose to invest in the future – but there’s no silver bullet. Our work in impact investing has coexisted alongside many other vehicles like grant making, social capital and human capital.
If you can suggest only ONE big idea to minimise the economic inequality (gap between the rich and poor) in countries like India, what would that idea be?
My experience tells me that it’s people who are closest to the problem that most likely have the solutions. With that in mind, the promise I see in India is the juxtaposition of a large number of incredibly well educated and motivated people living and working in close proximity to those in poverty. These talented people are surrounded by vast social problems and therefore they are most likely the ones who will create the solutions. Our responsibility as philanthropists is to seek out and support those with creative solutions to the problems they see every day.