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The Omidyar experience in Ukraine

It was around 2005, as I recall that Pierre Omidyar launched and along with fellow travellers in social enterprise I was keen to join in the conversation. With this and Skoll's Social Edge network the Ebay founders reeled us in.

At the time, we'd been operating in Ukraine alongside local Maidan activists, who'd allowed us editoral permission on their blogging platform.

When he wrote 'Really Betraying a Revolution' our founder Terry Hallman had been drawing attention to US neoliberal aspirations in Ukraine. It followed a Washington Post article 'Betraying a Revolution' by Anders Aslund of the Carnegie International Endowment for Peace.

"According to Mr. Aslund, who enjoys a respectable bully pulpit due to his job title, most of the ills in new Ukraine’s economy are directed related to Prime Minister Tymoshenko’s management.  He states, as an article of faith but without any corroborating evidence to demonstrate cause and effect versus mere correlation, that “economic growth is screeching to a halt as a result.”  Peppering his criticism are words like “populist”, “socialist”, and “state capitalism” – suggesting, again as articles of faith and nothing more, that these are necessarily bad things that can only contribute to economic problems.  Increasing pensions and salaries, to move workers and retirees a little further out of poverty-level income, were condemned as budget busters that Ukraine’s new government cannot afford – despite the fact that not doing so essentially guarantees perpetuation of graft and corruption.  Elimination of graft and corruption, and raising the overall standard of living for ALL Ukrainians rather than a few insanely greedy oligarch clans, was the main underlying and implied reason for the Orange Revolution – at least from hundreds of people, activists and otherwise, I talked with on the ground during and after the Revolution.  Further, as director for any sort of peace institute, Mr. Aslund is obliged to review the connection between poverty and peace.  Peace does not and cannot exist for people in poverty, unless they are harshly suppressed by government or other forces.  Poverty is a horrible existence and lifestyle, and is bound to breed violence, not peace."

Soon after, we were to uncover the story of 'Death Camps, For Children' which had revealed the appalling conditions in childcare facilities for the disabled. In full public view, we'd sketched out a strategy for placing all children in loving family homes. In October 2006, this was the primary focus of a 'Marshall Plan for Ukraine. All the time, we were sharing our progress on both Skoll and Omidyar networks. We had no illusuins about oligarchic philanthropy:

"Excuses won't work, particularly in light of a handful of oligarchs in Ukraine having been allowed to loot Ukraine's economy for tens of billions of dollars. I point specifically to Akhmetov, Pinchuk, Poroshenko, and Kuchma, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. These people can single-handedly finance 100% of all that will ever be needed to save Ukraine's orphans. None of them evidently bother to think past their bank accounts, and seem to have at least tacit blessings at this point from the new regime to keep their loot while no one wants to consider Ukraine's death camps, and the widespread poverty that produced them.."

Interestingly when Kyiv Post followed up on this theme several years later with their article 'Ukraine's Scrooges' , Pierre Omidyar was cited as a paragon of Western exceptionalism for his philanthropy.  

The Omidyar network was established on the promise that funding would be available for those projects which gained peer approval, using a feedback system somewhat like Ebay.  It would soon be dominated by major foundations but funding was not in  evidence, as far as I could see.

Understandably when the network closed to us in 2007, there was considerable disappointment that it had not lived up to what it promised.

In 2008, calling on USAID for support of the 'Marshall Plan' and an anti-corruption network, their response was brief. Their limited budget could not stretch to this group of "disabled and mentally retarded chidren" 

Whereas we had called on USAID to co-fund a social investment network, I learned last year that Omidyar and USAID had co-funded groups who led the violent uprising.

"In the larger sense, this is a problem of 21st century American inequality, of life in a billionaire-dominated era. It is a problem we all have to contend with—PandoDaily’s 18-plus investors include a gaggle of Silicon Valley billionaires like Marc Andreessen (who serves on the board of eBay, chaired by Pierre Omidyar) and Peter Thiel (whose politics I’ve investigated, and described as repugnant.)

But what is more immediately alarming is what makes Omidyar different. Unlike other billionaires, Omidyar has garnered nothing but uncritical, fawning press coverage, particularly from those he has hired. By acquiring a “dream team” of what remains of independent media — Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Wheeler, my former partner Matt Taibbi — not to mention press “critics” like Jay Rosen — he buys both silence and fawning press."

'The Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter' described our experience of speaking out about child abuse and corruption and being stifled by those with other agendas.

George Soros who had also funded Center UA, now sees the  need for a 'Marshall Plan' as does Carnegie's Anders Alslund, something tells me it won't be the bottom up strategy of social enterprise:we'd placed on Omidyar's table: 

'This is a long-term permanently sustainable program, the basis for "people-centered" economic development. Core focus is always on people and their needs, with neediest people having first priority – as contrasted with the eternal chase for financial profit and numbers where people, social benefit, and human well-being are often and routinely overlooked or ignored altogether. This is in keeping with the fundamental objectives of Marshall Plan: policy aimed at hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. This is a bottom-up approach, starting with Ukraine's poorest and most desperate citizens, rather than a "top-down" approach that might not ever benefit them. They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first -- not secondarily, along the way or by the way. '