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The founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, has named a new leader for his personal philanthropy, Omidyar Network, as he explores ways to play a bigger role in shaping public policy, the NYT reported yesterday. The new leader is Matt Bannick, a former president of eBay International and general manager of PayPal, who as managing partner of Omidyar Network will lead expansion beyond for-profit and nonprofit investments into public policy and other areas that enhance the organization's reach and impact, the NYT reported.

“We’re trying to engage whole systems and all of the actors participating in a system,” Mr. Omidyar said in a telephone interview, “whether nonprofit groups, for-profit businesses, government or media, to increase the impact we have.”
For example, he said, government regulations can affect the Omidyar Network’s experiments with microfinancing, in which poor people are given small loans to start businesses of their own.
Phil Buchanan, executive director of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, a nonprofit group backed by the Omidyar Network that works to help foundations improve operations, said more and more foundations and philanthropists were looking for ways to influence public policy.
“It’s a hot topic among foundation leaders and donors, and more and more people are embracing it as a tool for change,” Mr. Buchanan said.

Omidyar Network is the eBay of philanthropy not only because of the origins of Pierre Omidyar's money, but also because of his experiments in using the on-line trust building tools that made him a billionaire to find new and better ways to allocate his gifts. Oddly, news of the changes didn't spark extraordinary interest on Omidyar.Net , where an announcement was posted on Wednesday, the day before the Omidyar press release and the NYT story.
It will be interesting to see whether and how the Network's expermiments in mixing for-profit and non-profit philanthropy and using social networking tools mesh with an increased focus on public policy. Omidyar Network began as a foundation, but rejected that model as too constraining becasue of the requirement to give money only to not-for-profits.
More broadly, it's exciting that philanthropists are focusing more on policy. Exciting, but not surprising, given that people who make a fortune usually know plenty about leveraging their money. You won't find anybody here at CGD quarelling the idea that improving public policy is an extremely cost-effective way to make the world a better place.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.