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Updated: March 17, 2010 18:22 IST

Helping others help

Shalini Shah
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Jayant Sinha, managing director, Omidyar Network, India
The Hindu Jayant Sinha, managing director, Omidyar Network, India

eBay founder makes waves with philanthropic investment firm in India

eBay founder Pierre Omidyar started Omidyar Network with the aim of enabling organisations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, generate social impact through philanthropic activity. Now, the company has started its India operations, with its national headquarters in Mumbai, becoming, as it claims, the first philanthropic investment firm in the country.

According to Jayant Sinha, managing director, Omidyar Network, India, “A lot of what Pierre has done in Omidyar Network is based on his eBay experience. It was through eBay that he discovered it was possible to generate a very high growth in business as well as experience a high degree of social impact.”

The Network's contribution is centred around two areas – access to capital (with microfinance, entrepreneurship and property rights being the key investment areas), and media, marketplaces and transparency. Besides help in the form of financial investment to for-profit organisations and grants to not-for-profit ones, Omidyar Network will also provide assistance in the form of human capital. “Our support could be in terms of board governance, organisational design, legal aid or strategic organisation,” says Sinha. “We are prepared to provide whatever capital is effective.”

To qualify as an investee, an organisation has to satisfy a few criteria – innovation (in terms of products or services offered or even business model), potential for scale (the inherent growth potential of a company, so that maximum people can be affected), flexibility of capital (in terms of the kind of investment an organisation wants), and proven credentials in terms of a company's leadership. Investees range from Research Development Institute, a non-profit organisation operating in South Asia involved in helping the economically weaker sections in gaining land rights; Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based organisation working towards government transparency and accountability in the U.S.; SONG Growth Company, a for-profit investment fund that supports SMEs in India; Quickr, an online marketplace that allows people to post and access classifieds for free, and even Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia.

“If we can take what we have done in microfinance to something similar in the fields of education, rural development or sanitation, it will be amazing,” says Sinha. “We call ourselves a network, not a foundation. We work with people and companies who want to bring about positive social change,” he adds.

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