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Large Foundations Show Leadership During Challenging Economic Times

While the stock market continues its wild roller coaster ride and the economy is in a tailspin, there is a little good news on the the philanthropic front. In today’s (Oct. 22, 2008) Wall Street Journal Robert A. Guth reports that EBay Founder’s Philanthropic Firm to Donate More. (subscription required although may get free access via Digg).

Mr. Omidyar’s firm, Omidyar Network, during the next year will increase its total investments and donations, officials at the organization said. The group also will add two new areas of investment and create six new management positions, filling them with executives from companies such as eBay, Hewlett-Packard Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and a philanthropic arm of the British Broadcasting Corp.

Mr. Omidyar, with a net worth estimated at roughly $8 billion, has been closely watched in the world of philanthropy since he pledged to find innovative ways of putting his fortune to use. His expansion comes as some of the largest foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Skoll Foundation, which is headed by a former eBay president, Jeff Skoll, are steadily boosting their donations, investments and hiring despite broad concerns about a global recession. “The current situation encourages us to be more aggressive and more active as, unfortunately, a lot of philanthropic organizations will pull in,” said Matt Bannick, managing partner at Omidyar Network. “Not that we’re going to fill the gap, but I feel like we need to step forward.”

Gates Foundation logo

According to the article, several other of the world’s largest foundations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Skoll Foundation are similarly increasing their donations, investments and hiring during this challenging economic period.


Interestingly, each of these foundations is relatively young and the majority of their vast wealth was generated by individuals who themselves became wealthy from the companies they founded or lead during the technology / productivity / Internet era of the 1980’s through today. The chairperson of each foundation is the person who lead their respective company (Pierre Omidyar and Jeffrey Skoll of EBay and Bill Gates of Microsoft) through this period.

Of course, these foundations, despite their immense size and wealth, will not make up for the shortfall of support that could result from corporations, individuals and smaller foundations during a global recession. But through their leadership they can continue to fill in some of the gaps and more importantly fund innovative ideas to try to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems. It will be a heavy burden to bear and one that surely will not be free from vocal critics.

Note: It’s also interesting that despite each of these foundation being a product of the wealth generated from technology, I could only find one blog on their websites which is rather disappointing. (Skoll Foundation blog).

About the author

Peter A. Mello, Founder/Editor Founder of Weekly Leader and Sea-Fever Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and strategic communications consultancy. Previously, CEO of an international nonprofit organization and COO of a national insurance/risk management services firm. Peter has been leading people and managing organizations for over 30 years, writes a leadership column for MarineNews magazine and blogs about maritime culture at Sea-Fever. Follow him on Twitter.

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