Omidyar network targets $350 million investment in 5 years

Venkatesh Ganesh Mumbai | Updated on September 02, 2019 Published on September 01, 2019

Roopa Kudva, MD, Omidyar Network India   -  PTI

Omidyar India has so far invested around $290 million in India

Omidyar Network India aims to invest $350 million over the next five years through both equity investments as well as grants.

Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar, which doesn’t invest in funds directly, but through non-profit as well as for-profit entities.

Autonomous unit

As an investment firm focused on social impact, Omidyar India has so far invested around $290 million in India.

Roopa Kudva, MD of Omidyar Network India, told BusinessLine that having spun out from its parent firm earlier this year, the Indian arm had become an autonomous business unit. “This means that we can take faster investment decisions, have a specific investment strategy for India and will be accountable for financial results and social impact in India to our Board,” she added.

The investment focus that Kudva talks about involves three things. “First, we look at ways in which we can support entrepreneurs who are leveraging technology to create aspirational services for population that were historically not empowered.” This includes Dalits and other backward caste entrepreneurs who still continue to be on the fringes of society.

Second, Omidyar Network is looking to create good institutional infrastructure for technology. As an example, it explores how public digital infrastructure meant for government services can also be used by entrepreneurs. Third, Omidyar Network is looking to contribute to the discourse on privacy, data protection and fair use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Tech monitoring

Kudva pointed out that while millions in India have benefited by technology, there is a need to protect them from the risks and harms of technology.

Omidyar is looking at ventures that can impact the workings of judiciary, something which may not have been so relevant globally. Kudva cites the example of Vayam, which is encouraging to build a citizen-centric legal system. It is also exploring public digital platforms for agricultural technologies, which could be a skill stack or land records stack, amongst others.

Similarly, to ensure land rights for the beneficiaries, Tata Trusts has partnered with Omidyar Network, Cadasta Foundation and Transerve for a drone survey. “This is the first such programme where geospatial technology is being used for large-scale mapping of slums and Transerve Technology flew the drones which mapped the slums of Orissa and is the world’s largest slum project which would result in giving titles to one million people,” said Kudva.

Then there is the investment in Affordplan, which allows low-income populations to save money for pre-planned medical procedures.

“For medical procedures such as childbirth or knee replacement, the business aids people from the lower income communities to start through a savings product that allows them to build up the corpus for meeting medical expenses. We also help make arrangements with the hospitals. We provide the hospitals with bulk customers who, in turn, get discounts in medical bills,” Kudva said.

In all these areas, Omidyar believes that its dual strategy of grants and for-profit investments differentiates it from others.

“Their dual checkbook approach of making grants, as well as private equity investments is very interesting because complex issues such as data governance need to be tackled on multiple fronts,” said Venkatesh Hariharan, Senior Fellow, IDFC Institute.

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Published on September 01, 2019
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