Omidyars top list of ‘Best Givers’
Published: Friday, December 4, 2009
Updated: Friday, December 4, 2009 10:12
Barron's financial magazine on Monday named preeminent donors Pierre (E '88) and Pam Omidyar (LA '89) the world's top philanthropists.
In selecting them for the top spot in its rankings of this year's "25 Best Givers," the magazine cited the couple's continued efforts toward increasing global access to capital and education.
The Omidyars, who have earned great wealth thanks to Pierre's founding of eBay, established the Omidyar Network in 2004 as an alternative to traditional philanthropic foundations. The organization functions as an investment firm that infuses money into both for-profit and nonprofit social change enterprises.
Barron's magazine applauded the Omidyar Network for its innovative take on philanthropy. "They're applying a lot of business practices to philanthropy, which is a relatively new approach," Phil Roosevelt, assistant managing editor of Barron's, told the Daily.
University President Lawrence Bacow said the Omidyars were optimal examples of Tufts graduates who reflect the school's commitment to active citizenship. "We are incredibly proud of Pierre and Pam for all they have done since graduating from Tufts," he said in an e-mail. "They are true active citizens. This latest recognition by Barron's is yet another illustration of how they continue to influence the world through their energy, imagination, and philanthropy."
The Omidyars in 2005 gave Tufts $100 million to establish the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund (OTMF). Microfinance involves the lending of small loans to poor clients who normally do not have access to financial institutions. The goal of the fund is to facilitate $1 billion in loans to these clients by 2015.
Roosevelt cited the OTMF as an example of the impact the Omidyars' giving has had.
"Tufts' microfinance fund is an excellent model for modern philanthropy," Roosevelt said. "This microfinance fund helps [impoverished] communities and the benefits go on and on."
Barron's rankings focused on the influence, rather than the amount, of the philanthropists' donations. "What the list aims to do is see who's having the biggest impact right now for the amount of money they're putting in," Roosevelt said. "We looked at the multiplier effect. If you give a dollar, how can you have three dollars' worth of impact?"
Roosevelt explained that the rankings' emphasis on immediate effect is the reason that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did not earn a top spot in the rankings.
"Bill Gates, who has the largest fund, tends to focus on long-term impact. They don't have the immediate results," he said. "So Gates, who would be at top of big philanthropists, is number seven on our list."
The Omidyars remain active within the Tufts community. Pierre Omidyar serves as a university trustee, and the couple makes up two of the four chairs of Tufts' Beyond Boundaries campaign, the goal of which is to raise $1.2 billion to support the university.
Half of the returns earned from the OTMF are directed back to Tufts, while the remaining half is reinvested in the fund. In addition to the OTMF, the couple was also instrumental in the establishment of the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.
Early supporters of the college, the Omidyars went beyond giving a sizable financial support, also providing experienced staff to aid the college's early development, according to Tisch College Dean Robert Hollister, who holds the college's Pierre and Pamela Omidyar professorship.
Hollister said that the effectiveness of the Omidyars' unique approach to philanthropy — adopting a strategic investment approach rather than simply a grant approach — was key to the development of Tisch College.
"[The Omidyars] made it clear that they intended for their participation with active citizenship at Tufts and Tisch College to be a long-term partnership and backed that up by assigning staff to help develop the college," Hollister said. "As a result, we made much quicker progress than if the support had come from a traditional foundation grant."
This effectiveness of the Omidyars' donation strategy distinguishes them as leaders in the philanthropic field, Hollister said.
"[This recognition is] naturally appropriate because they're pioneering, not only in that they're hugely generous, but they're also being innovative and strategic in how they give," Hollister said.
Trustee Jonathan Tisch (A '76), whose donations largely funded Tufts' library and Tisch College, explained that the rankings' focus on measuring the actual impact of philanthropy is important — especially given today's unstable financial situation.
"The needs in the world today are growing exponentially. As governments have fewer resources, it is going to become the responsibility of those in the private sector to do more," he said.
Tisch lauded the Omidyars as exemplary models of active citizenship. "It is essential for individuals to understand their roles and responsibilities in societies today," he said. "The Omidyars have shown this through their gifts to Tufts University … They embrace and embody what it means to be active citizens."
Katherine Sawyer contributed reporting to this article.