Omidyar Network launches new portfolio to seed a just economic transition

Workers installing a solar panel in front of a factory and wind farm

By Gretchen Phillips and London Swift

In a span of less than 18 months, Congress passed four major pieces of legislation that invest more than $4 trillion in government funding to catalyze critical industries and set America on the path toward a more equitable, sustainable, and inclusive economy. At Omidyar Network, we believe this development represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to realign the social contract between business, workers, and communities. That’s why we’re committing $5 million over the next three years to seed a just economic transition.

Between March 2021 and August 2022, the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act were all signed into law. Individually, each law is a landmark achievement, but, collectively, they represent the most ambitious government effort in decades to shape economic policy and are highly aligned with Omidyar Network’s broader vision for a reimagined capitalism.

But the pathways to realize this potential are without precedent. There is no guarantee that the resources unleashed by this legislation will get to the communities and households who have been denied access to transformative investments in the past. There is no blueprint to build a sustainable economy that can support healthy, thriving communities in the face of increasing climate volatility and ongoing ripples from a global pandemic. And there is no guide book that can tell us how best to foster competitive industries­ — which also provide good jobs—amid major breakthroughs in generative AI technology.

The scale of investment, infrastructure, and capacity required to realize the potential of this moment goes beyond the resources of any one company, industry, government, civil society organization, or philanthropy. Many of our partners have underscored the critical role that philanthropic capital can play in shaping the outcomes of these public and private investments. But they equally underscored that we will need to work differently to get this right.

Omidyar Network’s Just Economic Transition portfolio draws on our learnings and long-standing relationships from across our Reimagining Capitalism focus area. Over the past year, we have been working with our philanthropic partners to mobilize new resources for the field and to identify opportunities to co-invest alongside the government, private sector, and local communities to help ensure that these investments pave the path toward a more equitable, sustainable, and inclusive economy.

We envision two primary areas of engagement for this portfolio:

First, we seek to build strong relationships that can sustain new coalitions working toward a just economic transition over the long term.

Omidyar Network has long worked with like-minded philanthropies in the economic justice space. But our engagement in supporting a just economic transition has already brought us into closer collaboration with many new allies focused on issue areas ranging from climate and sustainability to education and national security, as well as funders who are focused more specifically on regional, state, or community development. Across all these spaces, there is a collective recognition that funders must work more proactively to break down the siloes that too often impede our own progress towards systemic change.

But to be effective, these partnerships must also extend beyond the philanthropic sector. Given the important role that government funding can play in crowding in private investment, we also hope that Omidyar Network and our philanthropic partners can help to strengthen the mechanisms for companies, communities, and government at all levels to better collaborate.

What might this look like? It’s still early, but in the philanthropic sphere there has already been significant work to build relationships and align on strategy across the various multi-donor platforms in an effort to better support and resource the field. We’ve seen the launch of multiple new efforts, including BuildUS, Invest in our Future, and the Powering Climate and Infrastructure Careers initiative of the Families and Workers Fund. We hope that these vehicles will enable philanthropies to partner more directly with communities and help them to access federal investments, build long-term power, and achieve economic prosperity through the green transition.

Second, we aim to identify and mobilize new philanthropic resources for these efforts.

In our conversations with existing and prospective partners, we were warned over and over again about the dangers of philanthropy shifting resources en masse from established program areas to high-profile issues of the moment. We accordingly recognized that our work to support a just economic transition should be additive to our ongoing investments, which is why this portfolio is a commitment of new dollars, rather than a reallocation of our existing Reimagining Capitalism budget.

Appreciating the scale of resources required, as well as the need to work in partnership with others, we are proud to be a founding partner of BuildUS, a $50 million pooled fund created in partnership with seven other institutional philanthropies. BuildUS is investing to expand state and local access to federal investments, prioritize workers in the clean energy transition, scale innovative climate solutions, and address critical bottlenecks in implementation.

We are eager to build relationships with other philanthropies that may be interested in this work and to help break down the siloes that too often separate us. We recognize that this moment is a unique opportunity for philanthropy, the private sector, government, and local communities to come together to realize an economic transformation that will be seen and felt by all.

As the saying goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We believe that by bringing new dollars and deepening relationships we can ultimately realize a just economic transition — together.