Omidyar Network Executive Forum (ONEF) Convening the World's Leading Social Entrepreneurs

The heads of Kiva, Guidestar, BRAC, Wikimedia Foundation, DonorsChoose, Ushahidi, Refugees United, and others of their peers, will convene this week at the Omidyar Network Executive Forum (ONEF). As Sal Giambanco, Partner, Omidyar Network (ON) told me, this is ON's "signature event of the year that focuses on leadership."

Giambanco further explained that "the top executives of 50 of our investee/grantee organizations will participate in sessions shaped in part by our investees/grantees, peer learning, and 1:1 and small group coaching. The ONEF provides a unique opportunity to focus for three days on common challenges, best practices and practical solutions."

Omidyar Network (ON) has a unique philanthropic approach

ON, founded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar in 2004, has granted and invested over $400 million dollars in both nonprofits and for-profits that have market-based, scalable approaches to help people around the world improve their lives. ON is distinctive for its innovation and business-based approaches. Its investees/grantees are among the highest-impact organizations in addressing the most pressing issues in the U.S. and around the world. Here are the factors that underlie ON's success. ON:

  1. Is based on the very two key principles that made Pierre Omidyar's eBay a business success: a belief in the potential of individuals and in the power of markets
  2. Has made significant multi-year financial investments to a select group of approximately 100 organizations—high six figures and low seven figures (as opposed to traditional philanthropy which often means small grants, one year at a time, to a much larger portfolio, making it more difficult for grantees to succeed)
  3. Invests in for-profits that advance social purposes as well as making grants to nonprofits, with the belief that both sectors can have solutions that are innovative, scalable, and sustainable in addressing global challenges. (See my post here.)
  4. Is based on a strong belief that financial capital must be complemented by human capital—thereby providing an array of services that are customized to help organizations to grow and succeed
  5. Convenes the annual ONEF for the leaders of its investee/grantee organizations to work on common challenges, effective practices, and useful solutions

Omidyar Network's key investment areas are Access to Markets; and Media, Markets, and Transparency

ON refers to itself as a philanthropic investment firm that creates "opportunity for people to improve their lives by investing in market-based efforts that catalyze economic, social, and political change." Its tagline: "Every person has the power to make a difference."

Key investment areas are Access to Markets—microfinance, entrepreneurship, and property rights; and Media, Markets, and Transparency—consumer Internet and mobile, and government transparency. "Because we are inspired by people's resourcefulness, ideas, and ability to address even the world's most challenging problems, we believe that no matter what their economic, social, or political starting point, people everywhere can be empowered to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them." (ON website)

A few examples of Access to Markets include:

  • BRAC, that empowers people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease and social injustice. See my post about BRAC this week.
  • Kiva, that harnesses the power of technology to bring needed capital to microfinance institutions. Many of my readers will know of Kiva by having made loans to help people in the most remote areas of the globe to hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others.
  • Landesa, that transforms 400 million lives worldwide through land rights. See my post about Landesa (formerly known as the Rural Development Institute—RDI) from our meeting at the Clinton Global Initiative 2010.

A few examples of Media, Markets, and Transparency include:

  • Guidestar, that brings rigor to philanthropy with data and transparency. I myself have used Guidestar several times a week for many years to research nonprofits that I am exploring for my clients who are board candidates. I also recommend Guidestar on my blog and to people who ask me how to research nonprofits where they want to give.
  • Jumo fosters ongoing relationships between individuals and cause-based organizations through a web-based platform. Jumo is the brainchild of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.
  • Ushahidi and Refugees United are others I have blogged about and for which I have great admiration and respect for their innovation, impact, and scale in making the world better.

From these several examples, you can see what an exponential impact each of ON's investee/grantee organizations has, and also how ON's investee/grantees provide opportunities for many of us to participate in helping people to improve their lives through self-empowerment.

ON investing in human capital as well as financial investment

For Omidyar Network (ON), investing over $400 million dollars is not enough by itself. With an objective to help its investees/grantees to grow and succeed, "All investees receive the benefit of working closely with our investment leads who provide ongoing strategic counsel and monitor the milestones associated with the grant. We also provide a broad set of human capital services that are tailored to the needs of each organization," explained Giambanco.

"People are at the core of all organizations, and we believe financial capital must be complemented by human capital," added Giambanco. As a result, ON holds governance roles on many of the organizations; provides assistance with legal, marketing, finance, and IT; and also "provides recruiting services supported by our full-time recruiting team, talent training and leadership development."

I am honored to be part of the ONEF. This week, I will be presenting a new toolkit—The Board Vector—for ONEF CEOs and boards to assess where the board is, where it needs to be, and how to transition the board in order achieve the organization's greater potential. As Giambanco described, the format will be highly interactive, followed by small group coaching. (You can find The Board Vector toolkit here — including the survey and a sample report.)

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