From Governance & Citizen Engagement initiative to Luminate
Established in 2018 by Pierre and Pam Omidyar, Luminate is a global philanthropic organisation with the goal of empowering people and institutions to work together to build just and fair societies. We do this by funding and supporting non-profit and for-profit organisations and advocating for policies and actions that will help people participate in and shape the issues affecting their lives, and make those in power more transparent, responsive, and accountable. We prioritise delivering impact in four interconnected areas that underpin strong societies: Civic Empowerment, Data & Digital Rights, Financial Transparency, and Independent Media.
For more than 10 years we were the Governance & Citizen Engagement (GCE) initiative at Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm set up by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. Over that time, we grew as a global team and supported more than 200 organisations in 18 countries with more than US $300 million of grants and investments. The decision to establish Luminate was driven by two critical factors: first, the need to respond robustly to the complex and connected issues we were seeing emerge in the current political and social environment; and second, the changing needs of our investees as they work to achieve greater impact, often in the face of fast-moving and sometimes unpredictable challenges.
Evaluating our practices using a human-centred lens
The journey to becoming Luminate required that we reflect deeply on our first ten years. A critical part of that process was to listen to the experiences of our primary stakeholders – our investees. As part of Omidyar Network, we had as a team engaged in previous efforts to collect feedback from our portfolio, including via the Center for Effective Philanthropy Grantee Perceptions Survey (in 2014) and the Partner Voice Survey (in 2017) – a bespoke survey of Omidyar Network’s portfolio, to dig deeper on opportunities for improvement.
Building on the insights from those efforts, we commissioned Simply Secure, a non-profit organisation specialising in human-centred design with a focus on privacy, security and transparency, to undertake a feedback gathering process between July-September 2018, using a human-centred research approach. Human-centred research is grounded in empathy and takes the approach that understanding the experiences, needs and values of people, in this case our investees, is essential to developing practices and processes that serve them best. The purpose was to gain a deeper understanding of our investees’ experiences and perspectives and to generate actionable insights to improve our work and practices that would better centre our investment practices around their needs.
We are excited to share the outcomes of that research in this report. Whilst many of the issues will be well known in the philanthropic community, we see value in publicly sharing this report to: 1) acknowledge the insights that have emerged from our portfolio; 2) establish a baseline against which we can evaluate ourselves in the future; and 3) contribute to the ongoing discussion of funders’ responsibilities and the importance of understanding and addressing the needs of those we fund.
Parallel, complementary efforts
The research process and drafting of this report coincided with ongoing efforts by our team to improve investing processes and practices and re-establish the values and principles that we will operate by. As such, several changes have already been made that go some way in addressing the recommendations in the report. These include:
Transparency around our strategy and investment processes
Diversity, equity and inclusion
- We published a blog in December 2018 which articulates our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and introduces some of our work on the topic since our launch. This includes publishing our policy document outlining our DEI priorities on our website, revamping our diligence process to account for inclusive workplace issues, and clarifying our legal documentation to ensure it includes specific language which commits our investees to upholding values and principles related to inclusive workplaces that mirror our own commitments.
- Portfolio support: We are working to prioritise portfolio management and help our organisations to build capacity and resilience (e.g., executive coaching, fundraising support, digital security trainings, or diversity, equity and inclusion reviews). As such, we developed a portfolio support function in January 2019 and are building this out.
- Learning & Impact: We hired a Director of Learning & Impact, who began in May 2019, and will be working to improve our approach to monitoring, learning, and impact evaluation.
Implementing the recommendations
As mentioned above, we have already taken efforts to become more investee-centred, and we were pleased that the importance of such initiatives was emphasised in Simply Secure’s research and subsequent recommendations. We will continue working to better understand and consider how we can integrate the other insights and recommendations from this research into our practices and future decision-making, and will keep you updated as to how we get along. We will also explore possible opportunities to utilise human-centred design methods in our work more broadly.
There are inherent challenges in any funding relationship, and we won’t always get things right the first time. But we commit to listening and communicating more, continuing to reflect and improve on our practices, and we ask you, as our investees and peers, to hold us accountable for this.
We hope that in doing so, we can work in partnership to build stronger societies.