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Friday, November 26, 2004

The eBay Way -On Philantrophy

Businessweek writes about Pierre Omidyar unique approach towards philantrophy. We earlier covered in this blog -Paul Allens article on perptual philantrophists, where he wrote about,Pierre Omidyar,founder of eBay,who in 2002 publicly said he would give away 99% of his wealth over the next 20 years, much of it to the Omidyar Foundation. Excerpts from the Businessweek article :

After becoming one of the richest 31-year-olds in history, eBay Inc founder Pierre Omidyar cleared out his cubicle, sold his modest home, and set off for his native Paris with his wife, Pam. It was a change born partly of the Omidyars' need to escape Silicon Valley's bubble frenzy of 1999, when they got mobbed at cocktail parties and endlessly hit on by business-plan-pushing MBAs. The Omidyars had already vowed to give away virtually all their wealth. The next part was harder: how to spend their billions and have an impact as immense as eBay's.

Omidyar's thoughts about his philanthropy have matured , Just as his vision of the perfect marketplace revolutionized commerce, so too are his ideas about philanthropy likely to disrupt the rules of traditional giving. Omidyar is at the forefront of a new trend that is starting to blur the old church-state divisions between the for-profit and non-profit worlds, creating structural shifts that could lead to a new, hybrid philanthropy. The Omidyar Network would house both a foundation and an arm that would also invest in for-profit companies. All the money made from the stakes in those companies -- chosen by Omidyar and his team of due-diligence specialists for their emphasis on open information, giving power to the little guy, and fostering social capital -- would flow back into the investing arm to leverage into yet more charitable giving. In many ways, Omidyar is the anomaly among BusinessWeek's Top 50 givers. Philanthropists like Bill Gates, Gordon Moore, and Michael Dell went beyond old-school giving, where you give your money to a foundation, which then doles it out for you. Instead, the new superphilanthropists applied the same brilliance that built their businesses to their philanthropic causes. They are deep on vision and heavily hands-on.

Omidyar is pioneering a third way, a philanthropy that's fanatically bottom-up. It's anti-vision. Anti-dictate. And, in a sense, Omidyar isn't even choosing how his $10 billion is given away -- or to what causes it goes. He wants you to do that. How? For starters, there's omidyar.net, where Pierre and Pam recently opened up a conversation with the world to discuss the direction of their philanthropy. People already engaged in solving social problems know a lot more about how to fix them, they figure, than a cloistered elite ever could.Secondly, the foundation arm of the Omidyar Network, which still hands out the vast bulk of the money, focuses on grants to individuals who are already creating social change through their nonprofits. The critical tool of these mostly smallish groups is the Internet, which enables people to take tiny ideas and give them a global launch, in much the same way Omidyar created what fans call the "first truly democratic marketplace" after selling, among other things, his broken laser pointer online.

By taking out the middleman and shifting decision-making power from experts to practitioners, Omidyar believes something more efficient and innovative -- and with a far bigger impact -- will happen. With conventional giving, whether it be to the Red Cross, United Way, or small local charities -- once you write your check, you're often clueless as to any particular outcome achieved. What's unique about Omidyar's projects is that, like eBay, there's often a transparent system in place that allows donors to monitor where their money goes and who receives it.
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