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Land-rights group RDI gets $9 million from Omidyar Network
Posted by Kristi Heim
The Rural Development Institute said today it received the largest grant in its history -- $9 million over three years -- from the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment group started by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam.
Omidyar has taken an active role in the Seattle-based non-profit over the past couple of years, investing $4.3 million in 2008 to help RDI and local governments provide land to women in rural India.
RDI said today that Omidyar Network Managing Partner Matt Bannick will join RDI's board of directors.
That RDI's pioneering work is getting noticed and supported on such a scale is significant. While microcredit has grabbed the spotlight and billions of dollars in investments, micro-ownership in the form of land has received relatively little notice.
Small loans have helped entrepreneurs make money from their tiny shops and businesses, but building wealth is difficult without access to property rights, especially for women.
RURAL DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE
Over the past three decades, RDI has been changing the equation by working with governments to give poor rural people secure ownership of small plots of land.
Omidyar shook up the field of microcredit when he began investing and backing its transformation to a commercial, profit-making approach. His views have clashed with those of Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning banker from Bangladesh who developed the concept of microcredit.
Omidyar's increasing involvement in land rights may also signal dramatic shifts. In fact, Bannick made the comparison to microfinance himself. (Microfinance includes credit and other financial services.)
"RDI is at the forefront of a high-impact movement designed to create economic opportunity for the world's poorest people through land rights--just as microfinance has done through credit," Bannick said. "RDI is the cornerstone of our work in the sector because their approach has produced sustainable change for millions. Partnering with RDI, we plan to raise the awareness of property rights as a means to transform economies through individual opportunity."
Omidyar's involvement means RDI will be beefing up its local and overseas staff, which now is composed mainly of attorneys specializing in international land rights. RDI says it will be hiring "experts in advocacy, communications, and development for its headquarters and experienced local leaders for its field offices."
RDI will use the new grant to expand existing programs in India, China and sub-Saharan Africa, and launch new projects through its Global Center for Women's Land Rights.
The investment will help RDI increase its impact, said Tim Hanstad, RDI's president and CEO. "With this grant, RDI will begin implementing an ambitious three-year plan to bring secure land rights to 9 million families living in poverty," he said. "These rights can bring about transformative economic and social benefits that improve well-being and restore dignity."
RDI was founded by Roy Prosterman, Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Washington and himself a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who is still active in RDI's work. I wrote a profile of Prosterman here.
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