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Last year, Omidyar Network spun off its ten-year-old Governance & Engagement initiative into a separate unit, called Luminate. Now the new organization just published its four-year strategic plan. For social entrepreneurs in civic tech and related areas, it’s worth noting.
Why the spinoff? According to CEO Stephen King, it’s thanks to the scale and fast-moving acceleration of significant threats to democracy globally. He points to events ranging from Brexit to the rise of authoritarianism, which is deepening social divisions, and what he calls, “an increasing weaponization of technology.” These developments call for an urgent and more muscular response than the initiative was able to make when it wasn’t its own enterprise.
“At a time when the foundations of healthy democracies are under sustained attack, we want to ensure those organizations that are working on these issues are able to access the support they need,” he said in an email.
The enterprise has a dual structure, with a 501(c)3, through which it can give grants, and an LLC, allowing King and colleagues to make for-profit investments. (Pierre Omidyar is chairman of the board). In 2019, King expects to make around $60 million in grants and investments across four areas, which are expansions of the original initiative’s focus topics. They include:
- Civic empowerment. That includes strategies and technologies helping regular people to participate in governance, as well as examining the potential downsides of technology, like government surveillance.
- Data and digital rights. Looks at ways to protect individuals and groups, along with questions of ethics and openness of data.
- Financial transparency. That includes investing in new methods for accountability, with such moves as social audits, which are a way to measure, understand, report and improve social and ethical performance
- Independent media. This involves support for investigative journalism and other outlets in need of philanthropic funding and, at the same time, exploring new models allowing independent media organizations to achieve financial sustainability. Also included: press freedom.
With these areas in mind, one of Luminate’s objectives is to direct more attention to direct advocacy for policy goals and “reimagining the rules of the road,” says King. That means examining, for example, how best to approach a bill of data rights that would protect individuals’ privacy, allowing them to control the use of their data. Another is to try to prevent further attacks on the media.
What are some of the Governance & Engagement initiative’s previous investments? Unite Us is one for-profit investment, first made in 2015, with a later infusion in 2017. It has a care-coordination platform allowing medical providers to connect with each other in real time through electronic referrals and automated outcome tracking. The goal is to ensure that no patient falls through the cracks. Another: a 2017 investment in Elucd, after the startup finished Y Combinator’s accelerator program. Its technology lets cities measure how residents feel and prioritize fixing what they find is not working.
The Governance & Engagement initiative invested about $314 million over the last decade, supporting around 236 organizations in 18 countries.
January 31, 2019 at 02:46PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs