Dear Omidyar Network family,
Our hearts go out to the millions of people whose lives have been impacted by COVID-19: nurses, doctors and medical professionals; people who have contracted the virus and the families taking care of them; small business owners who don’t know when they can re-open; working people who suddenly find themselves on the frontlines like delivery drivers and cashiers at grocery stores; parents who are juggling children and jobs; and those who find themselves out of work because of the global pandemic.
While many things continue to be uncertain and evolving rapidly during the COVID-19 crisis, one thing remains steadfast — our commitment to our Omidyar Network family — our grantees and investees, our partners and allies in the funder community, our colleagues at Omidyar Network and throughout The Omidyar Group.
We wanted to share how we are addressing the myriad challenges that are emerging every day and highlight the admirable work of so many of our grantees and investees that are taking action to combat the twin crisis of a public health pandemic and an economy in freefall.
Omidyar Network Support to Investees and Grantees
We ask that whenever possible you put the health and wellbeing of yourselves, your teams, and those around you first and take whatever actions you feel are appropriate.
We want to assure all of our investees and grantees that we stand with you and are deeply committed to your success and stability. We know you are dealing with complex and difficult decisions about your programs, your staff, your finances, and your general operations. We are committed to helping you get through these times and recognize the impacts may have a different sequence for partners in different parts of the world. We also know many of you are exploring new tactics in both the short- and long-term response to the crisis. We are grateful that so many of our partners are working in solidarity with frontline communities and amplifying the voices of people who may be further marginalized due to the crisis.
This past week, we evaluated our systems and processes to ease some of the burden for our grantees. We want you to be able to focus on what’s most important — taking care of yourselves and your community. If you are a grantee, you should have heard from your program team in the past week. And if you haven’t already, please let them know what you need at this moment and in the coming months, as we want to be flexible so you can do your work and take care of your own people.
To enable you to do this, we offer to be:
- Your partner in adapting — we are here to support as you evaluate strategic shifts both operationally to work remotely and programmatically including the metrics, tactics, and timing of your work;
- Your partner in action — we are working to make our funding decision-making and operations more flexible so we can move funds quickly to core operational support as needed;
- Your partner in connections — we offer to contribute our network to help link you to people or resources that might be helpful. We are already working with our global foundation partners to understand how we can best respond and simplify new funding needs in response to the crisis. We recognize your work will be even more critical now and you will need the flexibility to respond and adapt accordingly.
We have also signed the Council on Foundation’s pledge which outlines other actions that funders like ourselves are taking.
Highlight: Our Grantees’ Responses to the Crisis
We are deeply proud that so many of our grantees immediately swung into crisis response mode. They are helping individuals, working families, and communities who are suffering, and advocating for a fair and just financial stimulus that will protect and rebuild people’s lives, small businesses, and our economy.
Through our Reimagining Capitalism team, we are proud to support the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Coronavirus Care Fund and their response on behalf of some of the most economically vulnerable people in the US economy. The fund is providing immediate financial support to domestic workers — caregivers, nannies, housekeepers — who are the heart of our economy and the heart of our families. They are the people whose work makes the work of others possible.
Coworker, an online platform to support worker organizing, is rising to meet demand with the deluge of coronavirus-related campaigns — including hazard pay for grocery store employees, and paid time off for workers at Amazon fulfillment centers. More than 100 campaigns have launched in a week on the platform, and 150,000 working people have joined these campaigns.
Economic Security Project (ESP) has long advocated direct cash transfers and expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and they are now in the midst of the legislative conversation as they beat the drum of Emergency Money to the People: a big, recurring, and immediate plan to give Americans money now — with the greatest benefit going to the bottom 80% of income earners. ESP and its advocacy arm are building support for the Bennet/Booker/Brown bill in the Senate and the Khanna/Ryan bill in the House, as well as for a flurry of other bills that give recurring, immediate, and large checks. ESP Co-Chair, Chris Hughes makes the case in an op-ed in TIME.
Heather Boushey of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth penned an important op-ed in the Los Angeles Times urging members of Congress to focus on policies that will have the greatest impact on working people. Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute wrote a paper encouraging policymakers to act quickly, and in multiple ways, to address the dire financial crisis, while also laying out a prescription to rebuild a more resilient economy. And Groundwork Collaborative is sending out a daily email to hundreds of thousands of activists, academics, media, policymakers, and funders with talking points about the economy and the response to COVID-19. Like many, Groundwork Collaborative is engaging with lobbyists and policymakers on the Hill to ensure financial stimulus packages are focused on people, not profit; Main Street, not Wall Street. Focused on the everyday Americans who work in restaurant kitchens, retail stores, baggage handling, and other areas of the service economy who are deeply impacted by COVID-19.
Many of our Beneficial Technology grantees are providing critical information about the virus. Consumer Reports created a COVID-19 portal, offering helpful information and guides. Meedan’s weekly newsletter is tracking various efforts to combat disinformation on COVID19. Others like Public Knowledge and Free Press are calling for policymakers to do more to keep Americans at home and online. Open Markets Institute called on Congress, the Trump Administration, and federal and state law enforcement agencies to impose an immediate ban on all mergers and acquisitions by large corporations because the requisite government agencies are semi-closed in the wake of the pandemic.
Omidyar Network’s Response
As noted above, we signed the Council on Foundations’ pledge to support our partners, people, and communities that have been profoundly impacted by COVID-19. If you are a funder, please consider joining us in this commitment. Like other funders, we are now considering how and where to adjust our programmatic activity to take into account the effects of this crisis on people, the economy, and technology — and therefore what it means to reimagine capitalism and promote beneficial technology now. Our future sensing team is also gearing up new analyses that we plan to share with partners and investees.
Joelle Gamble, a principal on the Reimaging Capitalism team, wrote an article for The Nation just as the coronavirus was starting to infiltrate our daily lives. She discussed how the virus would impact our economy and what we should do about it.
Our Beneficial Tech team posted a blog last week about tech companies, like Google and Facebook, that are considering using individual location data to track, understand, and curb the spread of COVID-19. We understand that controlling the pandemic will require extraordinary measures, but we caution that any tracking be matched with appropriate safeguards. Concern for public health must be paramount at a time like this, but we must also be careful to place bounds on policies so they don’t become a back door means of subverting our civil liberties once this crisis abates.
Internally at Omidyar Network, we are doing everything we can to deploy our resources quickly so they can be of greatest help to the organizations we already support, and those responding to the fast-evolving crisis. We are also in the process of establishing an advocacy fund to support work directly related to COVID-19 policy responses to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the response to the 2008 recession.
At the same time, we are doing all we can to maintain our own health, our safety and well-being. We are privileged to be the kind of organization that can work virtually, albeit now from home with kids, parents, and other considerations. More than half of our staff live in the Bay Area and are currently sheltering in place, and we are all doing our part to flatten the curve. All of our offices throughout the world — Bay Area, DC, London, Nairobi, and India — are closed at least until early April, likely longer, while all staff work from home, (but we promise to be responsive). We have cancelled all domestic and international travel for at least the same period of time. During this trying time, we are highly conscious of the need to treat each other with kindness and empathy — all the time — but especially now.
COVID-19 has made clear our deep interdependence. For a long time, we’ve been told that pursuing one’s rational self-interest is the best way to maximize benefit for all. These times show how much that simply is not true, nor can it be. We have long known that human beings are by nature cooperative; they are good and capable. We see the crisis already bringing out the best in many communities and people. We are one society, one community, and one family. Even through physical distance, we will strive to keep our social closeness, and indeed our connection remains strong.
We hope you stay safe and healthy and will provide further updates regularly.
Mike Kubzansky, CEO of Omidyar Network