Investing in aloha


POSTED: Thursday, December 31, 2009

When Pierre and Pam Omidyar returned to Hawaii several years ago, they were inspired by the aloha spirit—embodied not only by the way people care for one another, but work together to transform the community.

The couple have exhibited the aloha spirit themselves, most recently with a $50 million donation to the Hawaii Community Foundation.

The donation, believed to be the largest single gift by living donors in the state's history, is to be used over six years to launch several community initiatives.

Among them is an effort to provide local families with financial counseling, which will be anchored with an initial $2.25 million grant from the Omidyar Ohana Fund; the launch of a new innovation fund next year; and a six-year challenge grant to help build a new kindergarten-first grade complex at Punahou School.

“;The Omidyars are regarded globally as leading philanthropists,”; said Hawaii Community Foundation President and CEO Kelvin Taketa. “;For the foundation to have an opportunity to work with Pierre and Pam, and all the people associated with their global philanthropy, has been an incredible experience for us.”;

Pierre, best known as the founder of eBay in 1995, attended Punahou in eighth and ninth grades, and was appointed to the President's Commission on White House Fellowships this year. His wife, who grew up in Hawaii Kai, is a major supporter of the He'e Nalu Learning Center, which teaches life skills to at-risk youth through surfing.

Both of the Omidyars have been longtime philanthropists, named as most generous donors in the Chronicle of Philanthropy as well as top givers in Business Week. To date, they've committed more than $900 million to their philanthropic efforts.

Giving is something the Omidyars consider a responsibility.

“;Given the current economic situation, we felt it was the right time to expand our local philanthropic efforts,”; Pierre Omidyar said. “;We are delighted to have found a great partner in the Hawaii Community Foundation. They are helping us identify where we can have the most impact both immediately and over the long term.”;

And they're just getting started.

The Omidyars, both 42, have a novel approach to philanthropy.

The Omidyar Network, established in 2004, is both a limited liability company and a 501(c)(3), dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunities for people to improve their lives. That means every tool in the toolbox is used—whether through for-profit investments, nonprofit grants or coalition building.

The Ulupono Initiative, based in Hawaii, uses a similar approach. Founded and sponsored by the Omidyars, it's aimed at investments in renewable energy, locally produced food and waste management.

The Omidyars also founded Humanity United, which is dedicated to ending mass atrocities and modern slavery, and Hopelab, which uses technology to improve the health of young people.

In addition, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Fund supports groups like Doctors Without Borders, CARE and the World Food Program.

Since returning to Hawaii in 2006, the Omidyars have supported a number of local causes and organizations—from helping to launch Kanu Hawaii to backing the expansion of MA'O Organic Farms in Waianae.

“;The organizations that we created and our investments here locally through the Hawaii Community Foundation are all rooted in what we witnessed in the eBay community: People respond to opportunity in inspiring ways,”; Pierre Omidyar said. “;Each and every one of us is inherently capable, but what's lacking in the world is equal opportunity for individuals to improve their lives. In many ways, what inspires us is the possibility of creating that opportunity.”;

The Omidyars, both Tufts University alumni, also have personally donated $100 million to Tufts, as well as $7.5 million to the Santa Fe Institute.

In Hawaii, they named MA'O as an example of an innovative nonprofit—with the mission of providing young people with education and job opportunities while growing healthy, local food.

The Omidyars have visited the farm a few times, and continue to be inspired by their work.

“;While we can't visit every organization that we're involved in, we continue to be humbled by the accomplishments of Kanu Hawaii, MA'O, and many others that we support,”; said Pierre Omidyar.

The Omidyars, who have three children, enjoy going to the beach and parks.