It’s something of an inside joke in philanthropy circles that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, every few years, seems to go through some sort of half-baked pseudo-philosophical reassessment of his priorities and role in the world. He’ll spin out a new organization or two in a restructuring, or decide to go after Mark Zuckerberg and bankroll a Facebook whistleblower, or even just delete his Twitter account—seemingly impulsive decisions usually dressed up in some bullshit-laden, cringeworthy, MBA-strategy gobbledygook about the complex challenges of the world and the systemic changes needed to fix them.
Now, I’m told, the more-reclusive-than-ever multi-billionaire is making another major pivot. Omidyar, who is primarily holed up these days in New Zealand, has recently been sending word to the network of organizations that depend on his support that he is planning to scale back his political and philanthropic giving, perhaps dramatically. The network of organizations, part of a constellation called The Omidyar Group, have received almost all of their funding to date from Pierre and his wife, Pam. Without their largesse, these nonprofit and for-profit companies, each of which have received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Omidyars over the last decade or two, will possibly be forced to scramble to find alternate funding to remain operational. “The folks I have heard from in several of the orgs are worried, some freaked,” said one person close with leaders at multiple Omidyar groups.
The fallout could be a major storyline over the next year. Asked for comment, an Omidyar spokesperson first downplayed the conversations as merely preliminary. But the following day, in a rare, unsigned blog post—the Omidayars’ first substantive post since April 2021—the organization all but confirmed, in the typical Omidyarian word-salad style, that they “are now shifting into even deeper modes of collaboration and diversifying support of our work.” Describing the pivot as “a necessary step in our evolution,” the statement went on to say that “collaboration can take many forms” and that some Omidyar teams will indeed need to partner with new funders to continue their work. “For others, collaboration may be more heavily rooted in advocacy campaigns in coalition with trusted partners, community members, and activists,” the message continued. “There are many other models we are exploring and dynamic learning conversations around this approach are underway. This exploration will take time.”