Pam Wesley Omidyar ’85
is an active philanthropist, humanitarian and social justice advocate. She and husband Pierre, founder of eBay, are partners in leading global change for a better world. To fulfill their mission, they founded the Omidyar Group
, a collection of organizations with a shared goal of catalyzing social impact.
Their foundations include the Omidyar Network
, a philanthropic investment firm; Humanity United
, committed to developing solutions to intractable global challenges like modern-day slavery and mass atrocities; and Hopelab
, a healthfocused research and development organization.
Even before signing onto the Giving Pledge, Omidyar and her husband had committed to giving away the vast majority of their wealth during their lifetimes. Their social/humanitarian causes include poverty alleviation, human rights, health technology advancement, sustainability initiatives, and governance and citizenship engagement. Her dedication to improving lives and communities has earned her several awards, including the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy and being named one of the World’s 7 Most Powerful Philanthropists by Forbes.
Omidyar earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tufts University. She later studied molecular genetics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and worked as a management consultant in the biomedical industry.
1926 magazine editor Tiffany Tran talks to Omidyar about her global impact.
How did you arrive at LJCDS?
My family moved from Hawaii to California while I was in high school, and I attended LJCDS during my junior and senior years with generous financial assistance, an opportunity for which I’m deeply grateful.
Why did you choose to study biology?
I recall that upon graduation, we were asked to share our aspiration for the future. Mine was to cure cancer, as it was a great source of suffering for my family and so many others. At LJCDS, I worked in the school’s chemistry laboratory where I experienced what it was like to work in a scientific environment—and I loved it. So much so, that at Tufts University, I pursued a degree in biology.
Tell us how your studies inspired your vision for Hopelab.
I channeled the aspiration I had as a senior at LJCDS through my philanthropic work. In 1999, I founded Hopelab, and with the help of a talented and dedicated team, brought to life an idea to create a video game called Re-Mission, which helps empower young cancer patients to take control of their treatment and fight their disease. To this day, Hopelab is still exploring the role technology can play in addressing the unique experiences of teens and young adults with chronic illness.
Among all the causes that you support, why is education so near and dear to your heart?
There are many people around the world who do not have access to quality education. I believe that through education, a young person has the opportunity to create the life they want for themselves. It’s one of the reasons we’ve helped support the financial aid programs at LJCDS and Tufts University. Beyond funding scholarships, we invest in different facets of education, from early childhood education programs globally, to innovative school models and education technology.
Tell us about the work you’re doing that focuses on empathy.
Another passion of mine is the integration of social-emotional learning programs in the classroom, such as Roots of Empathy, an evidence-based program that increases children’s social/emotional skills and empathy. I believe that having access to quality education sets children on a path that can positively impact the lives of their families and communities, and ultimately leads to a flourishing world.
You’re actively engaged with the Polynesian Voyaging Society; tell us about their work.
While on sabbatical, I had the incredible opportunity to sail as a crewmember of Hōkūle‘a, a traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe. Upon Hōkūle‘a’s arrivals in Australia and South Africa, I was incredibly fortunate to witness exchanges of stories of collective pain, hope, and how to use indigenous wisdom to heal communities and our environment. In a world where we are so divided, to see people learning from one another was a powerful reminder of the importance of respect, deep listening and human-to-human connection.
You’ve been on sabbatical. What inspired you to do so?
No one teaches you how to be a philanthropist, and after nearly 20 years of diving in, I decided to take a sabbatical to reboot the overstructured, hyper-busy life I was leading. Thanks to the great leaders across our teams, I have been able to step away from the day-to-day work of our philanthropies for the last two years.
How did you spend your time on sabbatical?
I am spending more time on (and in) the ocean and reading more books that elevate the human spirit rather than define how it is being destroyed through violent conflicts and enslavement. Quilting has become a source of joy and contentment, especially when I am able to give my quilts and pillows away.
Pam Omidyar’s Bookshelf
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
By Robin Wall Kimmerer
Wayfinding Leadership: Groundbreaking Wisdom for Developing Leaders
By Dr. Chellie Spiller, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and John Panoho
Mālama Honua: Hōkūle‘a–A Voyage of Hope
By Jennifer Allen