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FTR #889 Intercept This! Compendium on Citizen Omidyar

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Intro­duc­tion: We have cov­ered Cit­i­zen Green­wald’s journalistic/financial angel Pierre Omid­yar in numer­ous pro­grams and posts. Since those entries were spread over a peri­od of time, some lis­ten­ers have voiced frus­tra­tion that it is dif­fi­cult and time con­sum­ing to go back and access all of that mate­r­i­al. For that rea­son, we offer a com­pendi­um of the unsa­vory real­i­ty of Pierre Omid­yar’s activ­i­ties.

Far from being the altru­ist he is said to be, Omid­yar is a doc­tri­naire cor­po­ratist, many of whose activ­i­ties have involved him with the pro­mo­tion into lead­er­ship posi­tions abroad of fas­cists of var­i­ous stripes. Omid­yar’s activ­i­ties serve to high­light the role of intel­li­gence mat­ters in transna­tion­al cor­po­rate and macro­eco­nom­ic envi­ron­ments.

Fus­ing his “phil­an­thropic” invest­ments with neo-lib­er­al cor­po­rate enti­ties and, in turn, help­ing to bankroll covert oper­a­tions that com­ple­ment his cor­po­ratist views, Omid­yar’s career is deeply involved with the transna­tion­al corporate/Underground Reich fac­tion of U.S. intel­li­gence.

Our analy­sis of Pierre Omid­yar begins with his much bal­ly­hooed, though bad­ly under-report­ed, for­ays into the phil­an­thropic field. His phil­an­thropic endeav­ors have cen­tered large­ly on high­ly dubi­ous micro-finance arrange­ments that have borne lethal­ly-trag­ic results in India and else­where in the Third World:

. . . . An exam­i­na­tion of the ideas behind the Omid­yar Net­work and of the invest­ments it has made sug­gests that its founder is any­thing but a “dif­fer­ent” sort of bil­lion­aire. Instead, what emerges is almost a car­i­ca­ture of neolib­eral ide­ol­ogy, com­plete with the trail of destruc­tion that ensues when that ide­ol­ogy is put into prac­tice. The gen­er­ous sup­port of the Omid­yar Net­work goes toward “fight­ing pover­ty” through micro-lend­ing, reduc­ing third-world illit­er­acy rates by pri­va­tiz­ing edu­ca­tion and pro­tect­ing human rights by expand­ing prop­erty titles (“pri­vate prop­erty rights”) into slums and vil­lages across the devel­op­ing world. . . . . . . .  In many regions, Omid­yar Net­work invest­ments have helped fund pro­grams that cre­ate wors­en­ing con­di­tions for the world’s under­class, widen­ing inequal­i­ties, enhanc­ing exploita­tion, push­ing mil­lions of peo­ple into crip­pling debt and sup­port­ing anti-pover­ty pro­grams that, in some cas­es, result­ed in mass-sui­cide by the rur­al poor. . . . . . . . In 2012, it emerged that while the SKS IPO [An Omid­yar vehicle–D.E.] was mak­ing mil­lions for its wealthy investors, hun­dreds of heav­ily indebt­ed res­i­dents of India’s Andhra Pradesh state were dri­ven to despair and sui­cide by the company’s cru­el and aggres­sive debt-col­lec­tion prac­tices. The rash of sui­cides soared right at the peak of a large micro-lend­ing bub­ble in Andhra Pradesh, in which many of the poor were tak­ing out mul­ti­ple micro-loans to cov­er pre­vi­ous loans that they could no longer pay.

It was sub­prime lend­ing fraud tak­en to the poor­est regions of the world, strip­ping them of what lit­tle they had to live on. It got to the point where the Chief Min­is­ter of Andrah Pradesh pub­licly appealed to the state’s youth and young women not to com­mit sui­cide, telling them, “Your lives are valu­able.” The AP con­ducted a stun­ning in-depth inves­ti­ga­tion of the SKS sui­cides, and their report­ing needs to be quot­ed at length to under­stand just how evil this pro­gram is.

The arti­cle begins: “First they were stripped of their uten­sils, fur­ni­ture, mobile phones, tele­vi­sions, ration cards and heir­loom gold jew­elry. Then, some of them drank pes­ti­cide. One woman threw her­self in a pond. Anoth­er jumped into a well with her chil­dren.  “Some­times, the debt col­lec­tors watched near­by.” What prompt­ed the AP inves­ti­ga­tion was the gulf between the report­ed rash of sui­cides linked to SKS debt col­lec­tors, and SKS’s pub­lic state­ments deny­ing it had knowl­edge of or any role in the preda­tory lend­ing abus­es. . . .

Pierre Omid­yar

Omid­yar’s eco­nom­ic guid­ance comes large­ly from Her­nan­do De Soto, the neo-lib­er­al, Aus­tri­an school the­o­reti­cian dubbed “The Friedrich Hayek of Latin Amer­i­ca.” De Soto was men­tored by Hayek. Among the salient items on his CV is a long tenure work­ing with Peru­vian dic­ta­tor Alber­to Fuji­mori.

. . . . Then you might want to ask your­self why Omid­yar is so smit­ten by the ideas of an econ­o­mist known as “The Friedrich Hayek of Latin Amer­ica.” His name is Her­nando de Soto and he’s been adored by every­one from Mil­ton Fried­man to Mar­garet Thatch­er to the Koch broth­ers. Omid­yar Net­work poured mil­lions of non­profit dol­lars into sub­si­diz­ing his ideas, help­ing put them into prac­tice in poor slums around the devel­op­ing world. . . . 

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Omid­yar has estab­lished a behind-the-scenes pres­ence in the gov­ern­ments of the coun­tries in which he oper­ates. In India, his “phil­an­thropic” net­works were accused of work­ing along­side the Ford Foun­da­tion to inde­pen­dent­ly estab­lish the staffs of Indi­a’s MPs.

. . . . Curi­ously, in the after­math of the SKS micro-lend­ing scan­dal, Omid­yar Net­work was dragged into anoth­er polit­i­cal scan­dal in India when it was revealed that Omid­yar and the Ford Foun­da­tion were plac­ing their own paid researchers onto the staffs of India’s MPs. The pro­gram, called Leg­isla­tive Assis­tants to MPs (LAMPs), was fund­ed with $1 mil­lion from Omid­yar Net­work and $855,000 from the Ford Foun­da­tion. It was shut down last year after India’s Min­istry of Home Affairs com­plained about for­eign lob­by­ing influ­enc­ing Indi­an MPs, and promised to inves­ti­gate how Omid­yar-fund­ed research for India’s par­lia­ment may have been “col­ored” by an agen­da. . . . 

Jayant Sin­ha, the direc­tor of Omid­yar’s phil­an­thropic efforts in India stepped down to help elect Hin­du nationalist/fascist Naren­dra Modi in India. Even­tu­al­ly, the over­lap­ping polit­i­cal and “phil­an­thropic” endeav­ors of Omid­yar helped install Modi in office. Mod­i’s BJP is a polit­i­cal cat’s paw for the RSS, a Hin­du nationalist/fascist orga­ni­za­tion, one of whose alum­ni (Nathurm Godse) assas­si­nat­ed Gand­hi, an act laud­ed over the years by RSS per­son­nel. Three fourths of Mod­i’s cab­i­net  were select­ed from the RSS.

. . . . This week, India’s new­ly-elect­ed ultra­na­tion­al­ist leader Naren­dra Modi unveiled his cab­i­net, three-quar­ters of whom come from a fas­cist para­mil­i­tary out­fit, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh) — includ­ing one min­is­ter accused by police last year of incit­ing dead­ly Hin­du-Mus­lim vio­lence that left over 50 dead. The RSS was found­ed in 1925 by open admir­ers of Mus­soli­ni and Hitler; in 1948, an RSS mem­ber assas­si­nat­ed paci­fist Mahat­ma Gand­hi.

In 1992, it was the RSS that orga­nized the destruc­tion of the Ayo­d­ha Mosque, leav­ing 2000 dead, most­ly Mus­lims; and in 2002, the RSS played a key role in the mass-mur­ders of minor­i­ty Mus­lims in Gujarat, accord­ing to Human Rights Watch, when the state of Gujarat was ruled by Naren­dra Modi — him­self a prod­uct of the RSS.

Ear­li­er this week, Pan­do report­ed that Modi’s elec­tion received help from unlike­ly sources in Sil­i­con Val­ley includ­ing Google, and to a much more seri­ous extent, Omid­yar Net­work, the phil­an­thropy fund of eBay bil­lion­aire and First Look pub­lish­er Pierre Omid­yar.

From 2009 through Feb­ru­ary of this year, Omid­yar Net­work India Advis­ers was head­ed by Jayant Sin­ha, a long­time Modi advis­er and new­ly-elect­ed MP in Modi’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP par­ty tick­et. The Omid­yar Net­work part­ner and man­ag­ing direc­tor played a dou­ble role, invest­ing funds in Indi­an non­prof­its and for-prof­its, some with dis­tinct­ly polit­i­cal agen­das; while pri­vate­ly, the Omid­yar man “worked in Modi’s team” in 2012–13, and served as direc­tor in the ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP party’s main think tank on secu­ri­ty and eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, the India Foun­da­tion. This week, Modi appoint­ed the head of the India Foun­da­tion, for­mer intel­li­gence chief Ajit Doval, as his Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor. . . .

Fur­ther cloud­ing the dis­tinc­tion between Omid­yar’s polit­i­cal and phil­an­thropic under­tak­ings is the vehi­cle used for much of his “phil­an­thropic” work in the Third World. The Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute was found­ed by Roy Proster­man and became a key vehi­cle for the Phoenix Pro­gram in Viet­nam.

. . . . India, like many devel­op­ing coun­tries around the world, has what Anglo-Amer­i­cans con­sid­er a weak legal struc­ture on prop­er­ty rights. In par­tic­u­lar, local indige­nous peo­ples lay ancient claims to lands they live on, and have resist­ed state attempts to forcibly evict them to make way for indus­try, min­ing, and oth­er pow­er­ful inter­ests. The Nax­al Maoist insur­gen­cies rag­ing in parts of India are fueled in part by dis­placed, land­less peo­ples. Since Modi’s elec­tion land­slide, glob­al investors have been hope­ful that India’s land will now be made eas­i­er to buy and sell.

Omid­yar Network’s long­time top man in India, Jayant Sinha—now an MP in Modi’s far-right rul­ing par­ty — told CNBC that Modi’s first job should be mak­ing land acqui­si­tion eas­i­er: We have to start with land acqui­si­tion. We have to make land acqui­si­tion a lot bet­ter in terms of both the peo­ple that are acquir­ing the land from the farmer’s and so on as well as for indus­try. So per­haps it’s lit­tle sur­prise that Omidyar’s first major India grant, in 2008, went to the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Institute’s (renamed “Lan­desa”) pro­gram “to help secure land rights for the rur­al poor” in India’s Andhra Pradesh state. By 2009, Omid­yar Net­work had com­mit­ted $9 mil­lion to the RDI land rights pro­gram, the largest grant in the outfit’s his­to­ry.

And what a his­to­ry: The Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute was found­ed in 1967 by Roy Proster­man, whose land reform pro­grams were a key ele­ment in the Viet­nam War coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy, the “Phoenix” assas­si­na­tion pro­gram. The Phoenix pro­gram became the tem­plate for mod­ern Amer­i­can coun­terin­sur­gency — vio­lent ter­ror, com­bined with soft-pow­er land “reforms” cooked up by Prosterman’s Insti­tute. Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, Proster­man teamed up with USAID to imple­ment his “land-to-the-tillers” reforms, grant­i­ng land to peas­ants as the car­rot, while at the same time CIA death squads assas­si­nat­ed tens of thou­sands of Viet­namese vil­lage lead­ers and ter­ror­ized restive regions into sub­mis­sion. The result, Proster­man lat­er boast­ed, was that Viet Cong recruit­ment dropped 80 per­cent.

A decade lat­er, Proster­man sold the same land reform pro­gram to El Salvador’s jun­ta, just as the jun­ta was ramp­ing up its dead­ly attacks on rur­al civil­ians that left 75,000 killed by US-backed gov­ern­ment forces. Proster­man also served as “land reform” advi­sor to Philip­pines dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos. And in the 1990s, Proster­man was con­tract­ed by Booz Allen to advise land reforms in Moldo­va, accord­ing to jour­nal­ist Tim Shorrock. . . . . .

A few years ago, Prosterman’s Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute changed its name to Lan­desa. But Prosterman’s Cold War out­fit hasn’t changed its close coop­er­a­tion with USAID, or its core strate­gic mis­sion, tying land own­er­ship to secu­ri­ty (and coun­terin­sur­gency) — neat­ly summed by Landesa’s India director’s arti­cle: “Con­nect­ing the Dots Between Secu­ri­ty and Land Rights in India.” Leav­ing aside the alleged ben­e­fits to India’s poor of giv­ing them land title to the com­mons — 400,000,000 Indi­ans live on less than $1.25 a day — for the more pow­er­ful inter­ests fund­ing land titling pro­grams, there are end­less advan­tages.

It helps cre­ate a mass tax base for gov­ern­ments that want to shift more tax­es onto the mass­es; it for­mal­izes and legal­izes trans­fer of prop­er­ty from the com­mons to the strongest and rich­est; it makes for­eign investors hap­py; it helps the gov­ern­ment and busi­ness­es track and keep data on its cit­i­zens; and, to quote Omid­yar Net­work man­ag­ing part­ner Matt Ban­nick — recent­ly appoint­ed by the Oba­ma White House to a spe­cial task force — Prosterman’s land reforms made Omid­yar “excit­ed about how micro-land own­er­ship can empow­er women and help them to pull them­selves out of pover­ty.” . . . .

Oleh Tihany­bok, leader of the OUN/B suc­ces­sor orga­ni­za­tion Svo­bo­da

Stephan Ban­dera, head of the OUN/B

Turn­ing to a dif­fer­ent part of the Earth Island, we see Omid­yar was deeply involved with AID and the NED to help engi­neer the Maid­an coup of 2014. One of his first polit­i­cal pro­teges was Oleh Rybachuk, who was work­ing to inte­grate Ukraine with NATO under Vik­tor Yuschenko. Rybachuk held a min­istry under Vik­tor Yuschenko, whose regime might be termed “Maid­an I.”

 

Omid­yar pro­tege Svit­lana Zalis­chuk is han­dling a func­tion sim­i­lar to the func­tions of Oleh Rybachuk under Yuschenko. Zalis­chuk was men­tored by Rybachuk, also an Omid­yar pro­tege! Work­ing to inte­grate Ukraine into NATO and oth­er West­ern struc­tures, she has been a dri­ving force behind the “lus­tra­tion laws,” wide­ly viewed as total­i­tar­i­an in nature. Omid­yar pro­tege Zalis­chuk was also instru­men­tal in coor­di­nat­ing dis­cus­sions between some of the Nazi asso­ci­a­tions in Ukraine and the more “mod­er­ate” par­ties.

. . . . Zal­ishchuk was giv­en a choice spot on the president’s par­ty list, at num­ber 18, ensur­ing her a seat in the new Rada. And she owes her rise to pow­er to anoth­er oli­garch besides Ukraine’s pres­i­dent — Pierre Omid­yar, whose fund­ing with USAID helped top­ple the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment. Zalishchuk’s pro-Maid­an rev­o­lu­tion out­fits were direct­ly fund­ed by Omid­yar.

Ear­lier this year, Pan­do exposed how eBay bil­lion­aire and Inter­cept pub­lisher Pierre Omid­yar co-fund­ed with USAID Zalishchuk’s web of non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions — New Cit­i­zenChes­noCen­ter UA. Accord­ing to the Finan­cial Times, New Cit­i­zen, which received hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars from Omid­yar, “played a big role in get­ting the [Maid­an] protest up and run­ning” in Novem­ber 2013.

Omid­yar Network’s web­site fea­tures Zalishchuk’s pho­to­graph on its page describ­ing its invest­ment in New Cit­i­zen. Zal­ishchuk was brought into the NGOs by her long­time men­tor, Oleh Rybachuk, a for­mer deputy prime min­ster who led the last failed effort to inte­grate Ukraine into the EU and NATO. . . .

. . . . The president’s par­ty tasked Zalushchik with pub­licly sell­ing the high­ly con­tro­ver­sial new “lus­tra­tion law” — essen­tially a legal­ized witch-hunt law first pro­posed by the neo-fas­cist Svo­boda Par­ty ear­lier this year, and sub­se­quently denounced by Ukraine’s pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral and by Human Rights Watch, which described a draft of the law as “arbi­trary and over­ly broad and fail(s) to respect human rights prin­ci­ples,” warn­ing it “may set the stage for unlaw­ful mass arbi­trary polit­i­cal exclu­sion.”

The lus­tra­tion law was passed under a wave of neo-Nazi vio­lence, in which mem­bers of par­lia­ment and oth­ers set to be tar­geted for purges were forcibly thrown into trash dumps.Zal­ishchuk, how­ever, praised the lus­tra­tion law, claim­ing that the legal­ized purges would “give Ukraine a chance at a new life.”Short­ly before the elec­tions, on Octo­ber 17, Zal­ishchuk used her Omid­yar-fund­ed out­fit, “Ches­no,”  to orga­nize a round­table with lead­ers of pro-EU and neo-fas­cist par­ties.

It was called “Par­lia­ment for Reform” and it brought togeth­er lead­ers from eight par­ties,includ­ing Zalishchuk’s “Poroshenko Bloc” (she served as both NGO orga­nizer and as pro-Poroshenko par­ty can­di­date), the prime minister’s “People’s Par­ty” and lead­ers from two unabashed­ly neo-Nazi par­ties: Svo­boda, and the Rad­i­cal Par­ty of Oleh Lyashko . . . .

His most recent endeav­ors find Omid­yar part­ner­ing with the NED to launch a fact-check­ing ser­vice. “Fact check­ing” is deemed a fun­da­men­tal effort of “infor­ma­tion war­fare”  against Rus­sia. Omid­yar’s part­ner­ing with  U.S. intel­li­gence cutout like NED appears to be a fun­da­men­tal ele­ment of that “infor­ma­tion war­fare.”

The Guardian report­ed on Tues­day that the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy has just been banned from Rus­sia, under strict new laws reg­u­lat­ing NGOs act­ing as for­eign agents.In that sto­ry, the Guardian cit­ed the fact that Inter­cept pub­lisher Pierre Omid­yar co-fund­ed Ukraine rev­o­lu­tion groups with USAID and the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy (NED).If the Omid­yar con­nec­tion sounds famil­iar, that’s because it was Pan­do that first broke the sto­ry in Feb­ru­ary 2014 (the Guardian linked to our orig­i­nal scoop in its cov­er­age.)

In the 18 months since we broke the sto­ry, Ukraine has col­lapsed into war and despair, with up to 10,000 peo­ple killed and one and a half mil­lion inter­nal­ly-dis­placed refugees — and top US brass talk open­ly of a new Cold War with nuclear-armed Rus­sia, while US mil­i­tary advi­sors train and arm Ukraini­ans to wage war on Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratists. Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk, one of the lead­ers of the Omid­yar-fund­ed NGO that helped orga­nize last year’s rev­o­lu­tion in Kiev, is now in pow­er as an MP in Ukraine’s par­lia­ment, a mem­ber of the new, pro-NATO president’s par­ty bloc.

She’s gone from plucky Omid­yar-fund­ed adver­sar­ial activist, to head­ing a par­lia­men­tary sub­com­mit­tee tasked with inte­grat­ing Ukraine into NATO. I can’t think of anoth­er media tycoon who co-fund­ed a pro-US regime change with Amer­i­can intel­li­gence cutouts like USAID and the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy.

That Putin tar­geted the NED does not mean it’s either hero­ic or evil—the NED’s sto­ry speaks for itself: The brain­child of Reagan’s CIA direc­tor Bill Casey, the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy was set up as an intel­li­gence cutout to sup­port US geopo­lit­i­cal pow­er and under­mine unfriend­ly regimes. One of the NED co-founders, Allen Wein­stein, explained its pur­pose to the Wash­ing­ton Post:

“A lot of what we do today was done covert­ly 25 years ago by the CIA.” . . .

. . . .This week, Omid­yar Net­work announced yet anoth­er part­ner­ship with the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy and the Poyn­ter Insti­tute to cre­ate an inter­na­tional online fact-check­ing hub. Giv­en the pow­er that a monop­oly on “objec­tive” fact-check­ing offers, the tie-up with the NED takes the Omid­yar alliance with the US empire and media to new­er, creepi­er lev­els.

 In yet anoth­er Omid­yar-as-pri­vate-arm invest­ment, Omid­yar invest­ed in the slick new Ukrain­ian media, Hromadske.tv, which was set up on the eve of the Maid­an rev­o­lu­tion with ini­tial seed fund­ing com­ing from the US Embassy in Kiev. Omidyar’s involve­ment in Ukraine media and “fact-check­ing” is all the more seri­ous giv­en that now Wash­ing­ton and NATO talk about “coun­ter­ing” Russia’s over­hyped “infor­ma­tion war” on the West and on Ukraine—this “infor­ma­tion war” which I cov­ered a bit in my piece on Peter Pomer­ant­sev, is con­sid­ered a top and urgent geostrate­gic pri­or­ity for NATO and the West. . . . .

(It is impos­si­ble with­in the scope of this post to cov­er our volu­mi­nous cov­er­age of the Ukraine cri­sis. Pre­vi­ous pro­grams on the sub­ject are: FTR #‘s 777778779780781782783784794, 800803804, 808811817

818824826829832833837849850853857860872875876877Listeners/readers are encour­aged to exam­ine these pro­grams and/or their descrip­tions in detail, in order to flesh out their under­stand­ing.)

Pro­gram High­lights Include:

1.Our analy­sis of Pierre Omid­yar begins with his much ball­hooed, though bad­ly under-report­ed, for­ays into the phil­an­thropic field. His phil­an­thropic endeav­ors have cen­tered large­ly on high­ly dubi­ous micro-finance arrange­ments that have borne lethal­ly-trag­ic results in India and else­where in the Third World.

“The Extra­or­di­nary Pierre Omid­yar” by Mark Ames and Yasha Levine; NSFW­Corp; 11/15/2013.

The world knows very lit­tle about the polit­i­cal moti­va­tions of Pierre Omid­yar, the eBay bil­lion­aire who is found­ing (and fund­ing) a quar­ter-bil­lion-dol­lar jour­nal­ism ven­ture with Glenn Green­wald, Lau­ra Poitras and Jere­my Scahill. What we do know is this: Pierre Omid­yar is a very spe­cial kind of tech­nol­ogy bil­lion­aire.

We know this because America’s sharpest jour­nal­ism crit­ics have told us. In a piece head­lined “The Extra­or­di­nary Promise of the New Green­wald-Omid­yar Ven­ture”, The Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review gushed over the announce­ment of Omidyar’s project. And just in case their point wasn’t clear, they added the amaz­ing sub­head, “Adver­sar­ial muck­rak­ers + civic-mind­ed bil­lion­aire = a whole new world.” Ah yes, the fabled “civic-mind­ed billionaire”—you’ll find him two doors down from the tooth fairy. But seri­ously folks, CJR real­ly, real­ly wants you to know that Omid­yar is a breed apart: noth­ing like the Ran­dian Sil­i­con Val­ley lib­er­tar­ian we’ve become used to see­ing.

“...bil­lion­aires don’t tend to like the kind of author­i­ty-ques­tion­ing jour­nal­ism that upsets the sta­tus quo. Bil­lion­aires tend to have a fin­ger in every pie: pow­er­ful friends they don’t want annoyed and busi­ness inter­ests they don’t want looked at. “By hir­ing Green­wald & Co., Omid­yar is mak­ing a clear state­ment that he’s the bil­lion­aire exception....It’s like Izzy Stone run­ning into a civic-mind­ed plas­tics bil­lion­aire deter­mined to take I.F. Stone’s Week­ly large back in the day.” Lat­er, the CJR “UPDATED” the piece with this miss­ing bit of “oops”: “(UPDATE: I should dis­close that the Omid­yar Net­work helps fund CJR, some­thing I didn’t know until short­ly after I pub­lished this post.)”

No big­gie. Hon­est mis­take. And any­way, plen­ty of oth­ers rushed to agree with CJR’s assess­ment. Media crit­ic Jack Shafer at Reuters describedOmidyar’s pol­i­tics and ide­ol­ogy as “close to being a clean slate,” repeat­edly prais­ing the jour­nal­ism venture’s and Omidyar’s “ide­al­ism.” The “New­Co” ven­ture with Green­wald “harkens back to the tech­no-ide­al­ism of the 1980s and 1990s, when the first impulse of com­puter sci­en­tists, pro­gram­mers, and oth­er techies was to change the world, not make more mon­ey,” Shafer wrote, end­ing his piece: “As wel­come as Omidyar’s mon­ey is, his com­mit­ment to the inves­tiga­tive form and an open soci­ety is what I’m grate­ful for this after­noon. You can nev­er uphold the cor­rect ver­dict too often.”

What all of these orgas­mic accounts of Omidyar’s “ide­al­ism” have in com­mon is a total absence of skep­ti­cism. America’s smartest media minds sim­ply assume that Omid­yar is an “excep­tional” bil­lion­aire, a “civic-mind­ed bil­lion­aire” dri­ven by “ide­al­ism” rather than by prof­its. The evi­dence for this view is Pierre Omidyar’s mas­sive non­profit ven­ture, Omid­yar Net­work, which has dis­trib­uted hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to caus­es all across the world. And yet what no one seems able to spec­ify is exact­ly what ide­ol­ogy Omid­yar Net­work pro­motes. What does Omidyar’s “ide­al­ism” mean in prac­tice, and is it real­ly so dif­fer­ent from the non-ide­al­ism of oth­er, pre­sum­ably bad, bil­lion­aires? It’s almost as if jour­nal­ists can’t answer those ques­tions because they haven’t both­ered ask­ing them. So let’s go ahead and do that now.

Since its found­ing in 2004, Omid­yar Net­work has com­mit­ted near­ly $300 mil­lion to a range of non­profit and for-prof­it “char­ity” out­fits. An exam­i­na­tion of the ideas behind the Omid­yar Net­work and of the invest­ments it has made sug­gests that its founder is any­thing but a “dif­fer­ent” sort of bil­lion­aire. Instead, what emerges is almost a car­i­ca­ture of neolib­eral ide­ol­ogy, com­plete with the trail of destruc­tion that ensues when that ide­ol­ogy is put into prac­tice. The gen­er­ous sup­port of the Omid­yar Net­work goes toward “fight­ing pover­ty” through micro-lend­ing, reduc­ing third-world illit­er­acy rates by pri­va­tiz­ing edu­ca­tion and pro­tect­ing human rights by expand­ing prop­erty titles (“pri­vate prop­erty rights”) into slums and vil­lages across the devel­op­ing world.

In short, Omid­yar Network’s phil­an­thropy reveals Omid­yar as a free-mar­ket zealot with an almost mys­ti­cal faith in the pow­er of “mar­kets” to trans­form the world, end pover­ty, and improve lives—one micro-indi­vid­ual at a time. All the neolib­eral guru cant about solv­ing the world’s pover­ty prob­lems by unlock­ing the hid­den “micro-entre­pre­neur­ial” spir­it of every starv­ing Third Worlder is put into prac­tice by Omid­yar Network’s invest­ments.

Char­ity with­out prof­it motive is con­sid­ered sus­pect at best, sub­ject to the laws of unin­tended con­se­quences; good can only come from mar­kets unleashed, and that trans­lates into an ide­ol­ogy inher­ently hos­tile to gov­ern­ment, democ­racy, pub­lic pol­i­tics, redis­tri­b­u­tion of land and wealth, and any­thing smack­ing of social wel­fare or social jus­tice. In lit­er­a­ture pub­lished by Omid­yar Net­work, the assump­tion is that tech­nol­ogy is an end in itself, that it nat­u­rally cre­ates ben­e­fi­cial progress, and that the world’s prob­lems can be solved most effec­tively with for-prof­it busi­ness solu­tions. The most char­i­ta­ble thing one can say about Omidyar’s non­profit net­work is that it reflects all the worst clichés of con­tem­po­rary neolib­eral faith. In real­ity, it’s much worse than that.

In many regions, Omid­yar Net­work invest­ments have helped fund pro­grams that cre­ate wors­en­ing con­di­tions for the world’s under­class, widen­ing inequal­i­ties, enhanc­ing exploita­tion, push­ing mil­lions of peo­ple into crip­pling debt and sup­port­ing anti-pover­ty pro­grams that, in some cas­es, result­ed in mass-sui­cide by the rur­al poor.

*

Pierre Omid­yar was one of the biggest ear­ly back­ers of the for-prof­it micro-lend­ing indus­try. Through Omid­yar Net­work, as well as per­sonal gifts and invest­ments, he has fun­nelled around $200 mil­lion into var­i­ous micro-lend­ing com­pa­nies and projects over the past decade, with the goal of estab­lish­ing an invest­ment-grade micro­fi­nance sec­tor that would be plugged into Wall Street and glob­al finance. The neolib­eral the­ory promised to unleash bil­lions of new micro-entre­pre­neurs; the stark real­ity is that it sad­dled untold num­bers with crush­ing debt and despair.

One of his first major invest­ments into micro-lend­ing came in 2005, when Pierre Omid­yar and his wife Pam gave Tufts Uni­ver­sity, their alma mater, $100 mil­lion to cre­ate the “Omid­yar-Tufts Micro­fi­nance Fund,” a man­aged for-prof­it fund ded­i­cated to jump-start­ing the growth of the micro-finance indus­try. At the time, Tufts announced that Omidyar’s gift was the “largest pri­vate allo­ca­tion of cap­i­tal to micro­fi­nance by an indi­vid­ual or fam­i­ly.” With the Tufts fund, Omid­yar want­ed to go beyond mere char­i­ta­ble dona­tions to spe­cific micro-lend­ing orga­ni­za­tions that tar­geted the devel­op­ing world’s poor­est.

At the same time, he want­ed to cre­ate a whole new envi­ron­ment in which for-prof­it micro-lend­ing com­pa­nies could be self-sus­tain­ing and gen­er­ate big enough prof­its to attract seri­ous glob­al investors. This idea was at the core of Omidyar’s vision of phil­an­thropy: he believed that micro­fi­nance would erad­i­cate pover­ty faster and bet­ter if it was run on a for-prof­it basis, and not like a char­i­ty.

“If you want to reach glob­al scale — and we’re talk­ing about hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple who need this — you can’t do it with phil­an­thropy cap­i­tal. There’s not enough char­ity cap­i­tal out there. By con­nect­ing with an insti­tu­tional investor like a uni­ver­sity, we would like to increase the lev­el of pro­fes­sional investor involve­ment in this sec­tor to try to stim­u­late more com­mer­cially viable invest­ment prod­ucts,” Pierre Omid­yar said in an inter­view at the time. “We ought to be look­ing at busi­ness as a force for good.”

The idea behind micro-loans is very sim­ple and seduc­tive. It goes some­thing like this: the only thing that pre­vents the hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple liv­ing in extreme pover­ty from achiev­ing finan­cial suc­cess is their lack of access to cred­it. Give them access to micro-loans—referred to in Sil­i­con Val­ley as “seed capital”—and these would-be suc­cess­ful busi­ness-peas­ants and illit­er­ate shan­ty­town entre­pre­neurs would pluck them­selves out of the muck by their own home­made san­dal straps.

Just think of it: hun­dreds of mil­lions of peas­ants work­ing as micro-indi­vid­u­als, tak­ing out micro-loans, mak­ing micro-ratio­nal invest­ments into their micro-busi­ness­es, duti­fully pay­ing their micro-loan pay­ments on time and work­ing in con­cert to har­ness the dereg­u­lated pow­er of the mar­kets to col­lec­tively lift soci­ety out of pover­ty. It’s a grand neolib­eral vision.

To that end, Omid­yar has direct­ed about a third of the Omid­yar Net­work invest­ment fund—or about $100 million—to sup­port the micro-lend­ing indus­try. The foun­da­tion calls this ini­tia­tive “finan­cial inclu­sion.” Shock­ingly, micro-loans aren’t all that they’ve cracked up to be. After years of obser­va­tion and mul­ti­plestud­ies, it turns out that the peo­ple ben­e­fit­ing most from micro-loans are the big glob­al finan­cial play­ers: hedge funds, banks and the usu­al Wall Street huck­sters. Mean­while, the major­ity of the world’s micro-debtors are either no bet­ter off or have been sucked into a morass of crip­pling debt and even deep­er pover­ty, which offers no escape but death. Take SKS Micro­fi­nance, an Omid­yar-backed Indi­an micro-lender whose preda­tory lend­ing prac­tices and aggres­sive col­lec­tion tac­tics have caused a rash of sui­cides across India. Omid­yar fund­ed SKS through Uni­tus, a micro­fi­nance pri­vate equi­ty fund bankrolled by the Omid­yar Net­work to the tune of at least $11.7 mil­lion. ON boost­ed SKS in its pro­mo­tional mate­ri­als as a micro-lender that’s “serv­ing the rur­al poor in India” and that exem­pli­fies a com­pany that’s pro­vid­ing “peo­ple with the means to address their needs and improve their lives.”

In 2010, SKS made head­lines and stirred up bit­ter con­tro­versy about the role that prof­its should play in anti-pover­ty ini­tia­tives when the com­pany went pub­lic with an IPO that gen­er­ated about $358 mil­lion, giv­ing SKS a mar­ket val­u­a­tion of more than $1.6 bil­lion. The IPO made mil­lions for its wealthy investors, includ­ing the Omid­yar-backed Uni­tus fund, which earned a cool $5 mil­lion prof­it from the SKS IPO, accord­ing to the Puget Sound Busi­ness Jour­nal.

Some were both­ered, but oth­ers saw it as proof that the pow­er of the mar­kets could be har­nessed to suc­ceed where tra­di­tional char­ity pro­grams sup­pos­edly hadn’t. The New York Times report­ed: “An Indi­an com­pany with rich Amer­i­can back­ers is about to raise up to $350 mil­lion in a stock offer­ing close­ly watched by phil­an­thropists around the world, show­ing that big prof­its can be made from small help­ing-hand loans to poor cowherds and bas­ket weavers.”

Con­tro­versy or not, SKS embod­ied Omidyar’s vision of phil­an­thropy: it was a for-prof­it cor­po­ra­tion that fought pover­ty while gen­er­at­ing lucra­tive returns for its investors. Here would be proof-pos­i­tive that the prof­it motive makes every­one a win­ner. And then real­ity set in. In 2012, it emerged that while the SKS IPO was mak­ing mil­lions for its wealthy investors, hun­dreds of heav­ily indebt­ed res­i­dents of India’s Andhra Pradesh state were dri­ven to despair and sui­cide by the company’s cru­el and aggres­sive debt-col­lec­tion prac­tices.

The rash of sui­cides soared right at the peak of a large micro-lend­ing bub­ble in Andhra Pradesh, in which many of the poor were tak­ing out mul­ti­ple micro-loans to cov­er pre­vi­ous loans that they could no longer pay. It was sub­prime lend­ing fraud tak­en to the poor­est regions of the world, strip­ping them of what lit­tle they had to live on. It got to the point where the Chief Min­is­ter of Andrah Pradesh pub­licly appealed to the state’s youth and young women not to com­mit sui­cide, telling them, “Your lives are valu­able.”

The AP con­ducted a stun­ning in-depth inves­ti­ga­tion of the SKS sui­cides, and their report­ing needs to be quot­ed at length to under­stand just how evil this pro­gram is. The arti­cle begins: “First they were stripped of their uten­sils, fur­ni­ture, mobile phones, tele­vi­sions, ration cards and heir­loom gold jew­elry. Then, some of them drank pes­ti­cide. One woman threw her­self in a pond. Anoth­er jumped into a well with her chil­dren.  “Some­times, the debt col­lec­tors watched near­by.” What prompt­ed the AP inves­ti­ga­tion was the gulf between the report­ed rash of sui­cides linked to SKS debt col­lec­tors, and SKS’s pub­lic state­ments deny­ing it had knowl­edge of or any role in the preda­tory lend­ing abus­es.

How­ever, the AP got a hold of inter­nal SKS doc­u­ments that con­tra­dicted their pub­lic denials: “More than 200 poor, debt-rid­den res­i­dents of Andhra Pradesh killed them­selves in late 2010, accord­ing to media reports com­piled by the gov­ern­ment of the south Indi­an state. The state blamed micro­fi­nance com­pa­nies — which give small loans intend­ed to lift up the very poor — for fuel­ing a fren­zy of overindebt­ed­ness and then pres­sur­ing bor­row­ers so relent­lessly that some took their own lives.  “The com­pa­nies, includ­ing mar­ket leader SKS Micro­fi­nance, denied it.

“How­ever, inter­nal doc­u­ments obtained by The Asso­ci­ated Press, as well as inter­views with more than a dozen cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees, inde­pen­dent researchers and video­taped tes­ti­mony from the fam­i­lies of the dead, show top SKS offi­cials had infor­ma­tion impli­cat­ing com­pany employ­ees in some of the sui­cides.” The AP inves­ti­ga­tion and inter­nal reports showed just how bru­tal the SKS micro­fi­nanc­ing pro­gram was, how women were par­tic­u­larly tar­geted because of their height­ened sense of shame and com­mu­nity responsibility—here is the bru­tal real­ity of finan­cial cap­i­tal­ism com­pared to the utopi­an blath­er mouthed at Davos con­fer­ences, or in the slick pam­phlets issued by the Omid­yar Net­work:

“Both reports said SKS employ­ees had ver­bally harassed over-indebt­ed bor­row­ers, forced them to pawn valu­able items, incit­ed oth­er bor­row­ers to humil­i­ate them and orches­trated sit-ins out­side their homes to pub­licly shame them. In some cas­es, the SKS staff phys­i­cally harassed default­ers, accord­ing to the report com­mis­sioned by the com­pany. Only in death would the debts be for­given.

 “The videos and reports tell stark sto­ries:  “One woman drank pes­ti­cide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to pros­ti­tute her daugh­ters to pay off her debt. She had been giv­en 150,000 rupees ($3,000) in loans but only made 600 rupees ($12) a week.  “Anoth­er SKS debt col­lec­tor told a delin­quent bor­rower to drown her­self in a pond if she want­ed her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four chil­dren. “One agent blocked a woman from bring­ing her young son, weak with diar­rhea, to the hos­pi­tal, demand­ing pay­ment first.

Oth­er bor­row­ers, who could not get any new loans until she paid, told her that if she want­ed to die, they would bring her pes­ti­cide. An SKS staff mem­ber was there when she drank the poi­son. She sur­vived.  “An 18-year-old girl, pres­sured until she hand­ed over 150 rupees ($3)—meant for a school exam­i­na­tion fee—also drank pes­ti­cide. She left a sui­cide note: ‘Work hard and earn mon­ey. Do not take loans.’”

As a result of the bad press this scan­dal caused, the Omid­yar Net­work delet­ed its Uni­tus invest­ment from its website—nor does Omid­yar boast of its invest­ments in SKS Micro­fi­nance any longer. Mean­while, Uni­tus mys­te­ri­ously dis­solved itself and laid off all of its employ­ees right around the time of the IPO, under a cloud of sus­pi­cion that Uni­tus insid­ers made huge per­sonal prof­its from the ven­ture, prof­its that in the­ory were sup­posed to be rein­vested into expand­ing micro-lend­ing for the poor.

Thus spoke the prof­it motive.

Curi­ously, in the after­math of the SKS micro-lend­ing scan­dal, Omid­yar Net­work was dragged into anoth­er polit­i­cal scan­dal in India when it was revealed that Omid­yar and the Ford Foun­da­tion were plac­ing their own paid researchers onto the staffs of India’s MPs. The pro­gram, called Leg­isla­tive Assis­tants to MPs (LAMPs), was fund­ed with $1 mil­lion from Omid­yar Net­work and $855,000 from the Ford Foun­da­tion. It was shut down last year after India’s Min­istry of Home Affairs com­plained about for­eign lob­by­ing influ­enc­ing Indi­an MPs, and promised to inves­ti­gate how Omid­yar-fund­ed research for India’s par­lia­ment may have been “col­ored” by an agen­da.

But SKS is not the only micro­fi­nanc­ing invest­ment gone bad. The biggest and most rep­utable micro-lenders, includ­ing those fund­ed by the Omid­yar Net­work, have come under seri­ous and sus­tained crit­i­cism for preda­tory inter­est rates and their aggres­sive debt-col­lec­tion tech­niques. Take BRAC, anoth­er big ben­e­fi­ciary of Omidyar’s efforts to boost “finan­cial inclu­sion.”

Start­ed in the ear­ly 1970s as a war relief orga­ni­za­tion, BRAC has grown into the largest non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion in the world. It employs over 100,000 peo­ple in coun­tries across the globe. While BRAC is known most­ly for its micro-lend­ing oper­a­tion activ­i­ties, the out­fit is a diver­si­fied non­profit busi­ness oper­a­tion. It is involved in edu­ca­tion, health­care and even devel­ops its own hybrid seed vari­eties. Much of BRAC’s oper­a­tions are financed by its micro-lend­ing activ­i­ties. Omid­yar Net­work prais­es BRAC for its work to “empow­er the poor to improve their own lives,” and has giv­en at least $8 mil­lion to help BRAC set up micro-lend­ing bank­ing infra­struc­ture in Liberia and Sier­ra Leone. But BRAC seems to wor­ry more about its own bot­tom line than it does about the well-being of its impov­er­ished bor­row­ers, the major­ity of whom are women and who pay an aver­age annu­al inter­est rate of 40 per­cent.

This twist­ed sense of pri­or­ity could be seen after one of the worst cyclones in the his­tory of Bangladesh left thou­sands dead in 2007, destroy­ing entire vil­lages and towns in its path. In the cyclone’s wake, the Omid­yar-fund­ed BRAC micro-lend­ing debt col­lec­tors showed up at the dis­as­ter zone along with oth­er micro-lenders, and went to work aggres­sively shak­ing down bor­row­ers, forc­ing some vic­tims (most­ly women) to go so far as to sell their relief/aid mate­ri­als, or to take out sec­ondary loans to pay off the first loans.

Accord­ing to a study about micro-lenders in the after­math of Cyclone Sidr: “Sidr vic­tims who lost almost every­thing in the cyclone, expe­ri­enced pres­sure and harass­ment from non­governmental organ­i­sa­tions (NGOs) for repay­ment of micro­cre­dit instal­ments. Such intense pres­sure led some of the Sidr ­affect­ed bor­row­ers to sell out the relief mate­ri­als they received from dif­fer­ent sources. Such pres­sure for loan recov­ery came from large organ­i­sa­tions such as BRAC, ASA and even the Nobel Prize win­ning organ­i­sa­tion Grameen Bank.

 “Even the most severe­ly affect­ed peo­ple are expect­ed to pay back in a week­ly basis, with the pre­vail­ing inter­est rate. No sys­tem of ‘break’ or ‘hol­i­day’ peri­od is avail­able in the banks’ cur­rent char­ter. No excep­tions are made dur­ing a time of nat­ural calami­ty. The harsh rules prac­tised by the micro­cre­dit lender organ­i­sa­tions led the dis­as­ter affect­ed peo­ple even sell­ing their relief assis­tance. Some even had to sell their left­over belong­ings to pay back their week­ly instal­ments.”

These tac­tics may be harsh, but they pay off for micro-lenders. And it’s a lucra­tive oper­a­tion: BRAC pri­mar­ily tar­gets women, offers loans with preda­tory inter­est rates and uses tra­di­tional val­ues and close vil­lage rela­tion­ships to shame and pres­sure bor­row­ers into sell­ing and doing what­ever they can to make their week­ly pay­ments. It works. Loan recov­ery rates for the indus­try aver­age between 95 and 98 per­cent. For BRAC, that rate was a com­fy 99.3 per­cent.

So do preda­tory micro-loans real­ly help lift the world’s poor­est peo­ple out of pover­ty? Neolib­eral ide­ol­ogy says they do — and the Omid­yar Net­work rep­re­sents one of the purest dis­til­la­tions of that ide­ol­ogy put into prac­tice in the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble parts of the world.

As Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor Ha-Joon Chang argued, say­ing of micro-lend­ing: “[It] con­sti­tutes a pow­er­ful insti­tu­tional and polit­i­cal bar­rier to sus­tain­able eco­nomic and social devel­op­ment, and so also to pover­ty reduc­tion. Final­ly, we sug­gest that con­tin­ued sup­port for micro­fi­nance in inter­na­tional devel­op­ment pol­icy cir­cles can­not be divorced from its supreme ser­vice­abil­ity to the neoliberal/globalization agen­da.”

Omid­yar Net­work has fol­lowed the same dis­as­trous neolib­eral script in oth­er areas of invest­ment, par­tic­u­larly its invest­ments into pri­va­tiz­ing pub­lic schools in the US and in poor regions of Africa. One of the ear­li­est Omid­yar invest­ments went to an online pri­vate char­ity web­site for needy pub­lic schools here in the US.

As David Siro­ta wrote, huge bil­lion­aire foun­da­tions and cor­po­ra­tions have been hold­ing chil­dren hostage by starv­ing pub­lic-school fund­ing and replac­ing it with “char­ity” mon­ey from the likes of the Wal-Mart Foun­da­tion, Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion and Broad Foun­da­tion. We can add the Omid­yar Net­work to this list as well. Omidyar’s foun­da­tion invest­ed in the same idea, but with a web 2.0 crowd-source twist: DonorsChoose.org allows indi­vid­u­als to pledge amounts as small as $10, and allows school teach­ers to get online ask­ing for small sums to help their class­rooms.

The end result, of course, is that it nor­mal­izes the con­tin­ued stran­gling of pub­lic schools and the sense that only pri­vate fund­ing can save edu­ca­tion. Omid­yar poured mil­lions into DonorsChoose and orga­nized dona­tions from oth­er Sil­i­con Val­ley donors. At first, most pub­lic school teach­ers didn’t see the angle; many used the resource to raise funds for their own class­rooms. It wasn’t until DonorsChoose announced its part­ner­ship with the anti-pub­lic-edu­ca­tion film “Wait­ing For Super­man” that teach­ers real­ized they’d been duped. The movie pro­moted the myth that edu­ca­tion could only be saved by the likes of Tea Par­ty-backed school “reform” advo­cate Michelle Rhee.

Teach­ers orga­nized a boy­cott of DonorsChoose after the Omid­yar-fund­ed group announced it was essen­tially brib­ing its mem­bers with a $15 gift cer­tifi­cate to any­one who bought tick­ets for “Wait­ing for Super­man.” Two years lat­er, DonorsChoose part­nered and pro­moted yet anoth­er right-wing teacher-bash­ing pro­pa­ganda film, “Won’t Back Down.” Over­seas, the Omid­yar Net­work is embark­ing on a school pri­va­ti­za­tion pro­gram that will make DonorsChoose look like Moth­er Theresa’s hand­i­work. Omid­yar pro­vided seed cap­i­tal for a new Africa-based for-prof­it pri­vate school enter­prise for the poor called Bridge Inter­na­tional.

In 2009, ON gave Bridge a total of $1.8 mil­lion; Matt Ban­nick, the top fig­ure (man­ag­ing part­ner) in the Omid­yar Net­work, sits on Bridge International’s board of direc­tors. Bridge International’s first schools are being built in Kenya, and are slat­ed to expand across the sub-Sahara, hop­ing to rope mil­lions of poor African kids into its schools. Bridge’s strate­gic part­ner is the for-prof­it edu­ca­tion giant, Pear­son.

Diane Rav­itch, for­mer US Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion and crit­ic of school “reform” efforts, has warned about Pearson’s near-monop­o­lis­tic pow­er influ­enc­ing the pri­va­ti­za­tion of Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion (see Ravitch’s arti­cle“The Pear­son­iza­tion of the Amer­i­can Mind.”)

The idea behind Bridge Inter­na­tional is to pro­vide a fran­chised “school in a box” mod­el under which each school teach­es the exact same cur­ricu­lum at the exact same time to every stu­dent. Teach­ers are giv­en min­i­mal training—they’re mere­ly required to teach accord­ing to the script giv­en to them and read out to their stu­dents, scripts deliv­ered through Nook tablets. Stu­dents pay $5 a month—a lot for each stu­dent in areas as poor as sub-Saha­ran Africa. Cur­rently one new Bridge Inter­na­tional school is open­ing every 2.5 days around Kenya, over­tak­ing pub­lic education—with plans to expand fur­ther.

It sounds like a good idea, but the prob­lem is that Bridge’s busi­ness mod­el has a very nar­row set of sup­port­ers, name­ly: free-mar­ket think-tanks, the glob­al for-prof­it edu­ca­tion indus­try and pro­po­nents of a neolib­eral utopia who want to defund pub­lic edu­ca­tion and replace it with pri­vate school­ing. Bridge is only a few years old, but crit­i­cism of its edu­ca­tional mod­el is already pil­ing up—even from cen­trist pro-busi­ness think­tanks like the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion.

Even at $4 or $5 a month, Bridge’s “low cost” edu­ca­tion is too expen­sive for many in the devel­op­ing world, forc­ing chil­dren to go to work and mak­ing fam­i­lies choose between buy­ing food and pay­ing for edu­ca­tion. Nat­u­rally, food wins out. And that sim­ply means that many chil­dren can’t afford to go school, which only increas­es and rein­forces strat­i­fi­ca­tion and inequal­i­ty. The fight against illit­er­acy requires free, qual­ity edu­ca­tion that’s avail­able to all chil­dren.

What it doesn’t need is a bunch of neolib­eral tech­no-dis­rup­tors who want to turn edu­ca­tion into a for-prof­it indus­try that pro­vides school­ing only to those who can afford it. And any­way, the very notion that you can squeeze enough prof­it from mil­lions of the poor­est chil­dren in the world to attract mega ven­ture cap­i­tal, while pro­vid­ing qual­ity edu­ca­tion is absurd. That prof­it mon­ey is extract­ed from the very peo­ple Bridge is sup­pos­edly try­ing to help. Still think that Pierre Omid­yar is a “dif­fer­ent” type of bil­lion­aire? Still con­vinced he’s a one-of-a-kind “civic-mind­ed” ide­al­ist?

Then you might want to ask your­self why Omid­yar is so smit­ten by the ideas of an econ­o­mist known as “The Friedrich Hayek of Latin Amer­ica.” His name is Her­nando de Soto and he’s been adored by every­one from Mil­ton Fried­man to Mar­garet Thatch­er to the Koch broth­ers.

Omid­yar Net­work poured mil­lions of non­profit dol­lars into sub­si­diz­ing his ideas, help­ing put them into prac­tice in poor slums around the devel­op­ing world. In Feb­ru­ary 2011, the Omid­yar Net­work announced a hefty $4.96 mil­liongrant to a Peru-based free-mar­ket think tank, the Insti­tute for Lib­erty & Democ­racy (ILD). Per­haps no sin­gle invest­ment by Omid­yar more clear­ly reveals his ortho­dox neolib­eral vision for the world—and what con­sti­tutes “civic-mindedness”—than his sup­port for the ILD and its founder and pres­i­dent, Her­nando De Soto, whom the ON has tapped to par­tic­i­pate in oth­er Omid­yar-spon­sored events.

De Soto is a celebri­ty in the world of neoliberal/libertarian gurus. He and his Insti­tute for Lib­erty & Democ­racy are cred­ited with pop­u­lar­iz­ing a free-mar­ket ver­sion of Third World land reform and turn­ing it into pol­icy in city slums all across the devel­op­ing world. Where­as “land reform” in coun­tries like Peru—dominated by a tiny hand­ful of landown­ing families—used to mean land redis­tri­b­u­tion, Her­nando De Soto came up with a counter-idea more amenable to the Haves: give prop­erty title to the country’s poor mass­es, so that they’d have a secure and legal title to their shanties, shacks, and what­ever land they might claim to live on or own. De Soto’s pitch essen­tially comes down to this: Give the poor mass­es a legal “stake” in what­ever mea­ger prop­erty they live in, and that will “unleash” their inner entre­pre­neur­ial spir­it and all the nation­al “hid­den cap­i­tal” lying dor­mant beneath their shan­ty floors.

De Soto claimed that if the poor liv­ing in Lima’s vast shan­ty­towns were giv­en legal title own­er­ship over their shacks, they could then use that legal title as col­lat­eral to take out micro­fi­nance loans, which would then be used to launch their micro-entre­pre­neur­ial careers. New­ly-cre­at­ed prop­erty hold­ers would also have a “stake” in the rul­ing polit­i­cal and eco­nomic sys­tem. It’s the sort of cant that makes per­fect sense to the Davos set (where De Soto is a star) but that has absolute­ly zero rel­e­vance to prob­lems of entrenched pover­ty around the world. Since the Omid­yar Net­work names “prop­erty rights” as one of the five areas of focus, it’s no sur­prise that Omid­yar mon­ey would even­tu­ally find its way into Her­nando De Soto’s free-mar­ket ideas mill.

In 2011, Omid­yar not only gave De Soto $5 mil­lion to advance his ideas—he also tapped De Soto to serve as a judge in an Omid­yar-spon­sored com­pe­ti­tion for projects focused on improv­ing prop­erty rights for the poor. The more you know about Her­nando De Soto, the hard­er it is to see Omidyar’s finan­cial back­ing as “ide­al­is­tic” or “civic-mind­ed.”

For one thing, De Soto is the favorite of the very same bil­lion­aire broth­ers who play vil­lains to Omidyar’s sup­posed hero—yes, the reviled Koch broth­ers. In 2004, the lib­er­tar­ian Cato Insti­tute (neé “The Charles Koch Foun­da­tion”) award­ed Her­nando De Soto its bian­nual “Mil­ton Fried­man Prize”—which comes with a hefty $500,000 check—for “empow­er­ing the poor” and “advanc­ing the cause of lib­erty.” De Soto was cho­sen by a prize jury con­sist­ing of such notable human­i­tar­i­ans as for­mer Pinochet labor min­is­ter Jose Piñera, Vladimir Putin’s eco­nomic advi­sor Andrei Illar­i­onov, Wash­ing­ton Post neo­con­ser­v­a­tive colum­nist Anne Apple­baum, FedEx CEO Fred Smith, and Mil­ton Friedman’s wife Rosie. Mil­ton was in the audi­ence dur­ing the awards cer­e­mony; he hearti­ly approved.

Indeed, Her­nando De Soto is de fac­to roy­alty in the world of neolib­er­al-lib­er­tar­i­an gurus—he’s been called “The Friedrich von Hayek of Latin Amer­ica,” not least because Hayek launched De Soto’s career as a guru more than three decades ago. So who is Her­nando De Soto, where do his ideas come from, and why might Pierre Omid­yar think him deserv­ing of five mil­lion dol­lars — ten times the amount the Koch Broth­ers award­ed him?

De Soto was born into an elite “white Euro­pean” fam­ily in Peru, who fled into exile in the West fol­low­ing Peru’s 1948 coup—his father was the sec­re­tary to the deposed pres­i­dent. Her­nando spent most of the next 30 years in Switzer­land, get­ting his edu­ca­tion at elite schools, work­ing his way up var­i­ous inter­na­tional insti­tu­tions based in Gene­va, serv­ing as the pres­i­dent of a Gene­va-based cop­per car­tel out­fit, the Inter­na­tional Coun­cil of Cop­per Export­ing Coun­tries, and work­ing as an offi­cial in GATT (Gen­eral Agree­ment on Trade and Tar­iffs).

De Soto didn’t return to live in Peru until the end of the 1970s, to over­see a new gold plac­er min­ing com­pany he’d formed with a group of for­eign investors. The min­ing company’s prof­its suf­fered due to Peru’s weak prop­erty laws and almost non-exis­tent cul­tural appre­ci­a­tion of prop­erty title, espe­cially among the country’s poor masses—De Soto’s investors pulled out of the min­ing ven­ture after vis­it­ing the company’s gold mines and see­ing hun­dreds of peas­ants pan­ning on the company’s con­ces­sions. That expe­ri­ence inspired De Soto to change Peru­vians’ polit­i­cal assump­tions regard­ing prop­erty rights.

Rather than start off by try­ing to con­vince them that for­eign min­ing firms should have exclu­sive rights to gold from tra­di­tion­ally com­mu­nal Peru­vian lands, De Soto came up with a clever end-around idea: giv­ing prop­erty title to the mass­es of Peru’s poor liv­ing in the vast shanties and shacks in the slums of Lima and cities beyond. It was a long-term strat­egy to alter cul­tural expec­ta­tions about prop­erty and own­er­ship, there­by improv­ing the invest­ment cli­mate for min­ing com­pa­nies and oth­er investors. The point was to align the mass­es’ assump­tions about prop­erty own­er­ship with those of the banana republic’s hand­ful of rich landown­ing fam­i­lies.

In 1979, De Soto orga­nized a con­fer­ence in Peru’s cap­i­tal Lima, fea­tur­ing Mil­ton Fried­man and Friedrich von Hayek as speak­ers and guests. At the time, both Fried­man and Hayek were serv­ing as key advi­sors to Gen­eral Augus­to Pinochet’s “shock ther­apy” pro­gram in near­by Chile, an eco­nomic exper­i­ment that com­bined lib­er­tar­ian mar­ket poli­cies with con­cen­tra­tion camp ter­ror. Two years after De Soto’s suc­cess­ful con­fer­ence in Lima, in 1981, Hayek helped De Soto set up his own free-mar­ket think tank in Lima, the “Insti­tute for Lib­erty and Democ­racy” (ILD).

The ILD became the first of a large inter­na­tional net­work of right-wing neolib­eral think tanks con­nected to the Moth­er Ships—Cato Insti­tute, Her­itage Foun­da­tion, and Britain’s Insti­tute for Eco­nomic AffairsMar­garet Thatcher’s go-to think tank. By 1983, De Soto’s Insti­tute was also receiv­ing heavy fund­ing from Reagan’s Cold War front group, the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy, which pro­moted free-mar­ket think tanks and pro­grams around the world, and by the end of Rea­gan decade, De Soto pro­duced his first man­i­festo, “The Oth­er Path”—a play on the name of Peru’s Maoist guer­rilla group, Shin­ing Path, then fight­ing a bloody war for pow­er.

But where­as the Shin­ing Path’s polit­i­cal pro­gram called for nation­al­iz­ing and redis­trib­ut­ing prop­erty, most of which was in the hands of a few rich fam­i­lies, De Soto’s “Oth­er Path” called for main­tain­ing prop­erty dis­tri­b­u­tion as it was, and legal­iz­ing its cur­rent struc­ture by democ­ra­tiz­ing prop­erty titles, the pieces of paper with the stamps. Every­one would become a micro-oli­garch and micro-landown­er under this scheme... With help and fund­ing from US and inter­na­tional insti­tu­tions, De Soto quick­ly became a pow­er­ful polit­i­cal force behind the scenes.

In 1990, De Soto insin­u­ated him­self into the inner cir­cle of new­ly-elect­ed pres­i­dent Alber­to Fuji­mori, who quick­ly turned into a bru­tal dic­ta­tor, and is cur­rently serv­ing a 25-year prison sen­tence for crimes against human­ity, mur­der, kid­nap­ping, and ille­gal wire­tap­ping. Under De Soto’s influ­ence, Fujimori’s pol­i­tics sud­denly changed; almost overnight, the pop­ulist Keyn­sian can­di­date became the free-mar­ket author­i­tar­ian “Chinochet” he gov­erned as. As Fujimori’s top advi­sor, Her­nando De Soto was the archi­tect of so-called “Fujishock” ther­apy applied to Peru’s econ­omy. Offi­cially, De Soto served as Fujimori’s drug czar from 1990–1992, an unusu­al role for an econ­o­mist giv­en the fact that Peru’s army was fight­ing a bru­tal war with Peru’s pow­er­ful cocaine drug lords.

At the time Peru was the world’s largest cocaine pro­ducer; as drug czar, Her­nando De Soto there­fore posi­tioned him­self as the point-man between Peru’s mil­i­tary and secu­rity ser­vices, America’s DEA and drug czar under the first Pres­i­dent Bush, and Peru’s pres­i­dent Alber­to Fuji­mori. It’s the sort of posi­tion that you’d want to have if you want­ed “deep state” pow­er rather than mere min­is­te­r­ial pow­er. Dur­ing those first two years when De Soto served under Fuji­mori, human rights abus­es were ram­pant.

Fuji­mori death squads—with names like the “Grupo Colina”—targeted labor unions and gov­ern­ment crit­ics and their fam­i­lies. Two of the worst mas­sacres com­mit­ted under Fujimori’s reign, and for which he was lat­er jailed, took place while De Soto served as his advi­sor and drug czar. The harsh free-mar­ket shock-ther­a­py pro­gram that De Soto con­vinced Fuji­mori to imple­ment result­ed in mass mis­ery for Peru. Dur­ing the two years De Soto served as Fujimori’s advi­sor, real wages plunged 40%, the pover­ty rate rose to over 54% of the pop­u­la­tion, and the per­cent­age of the work­force that was either unem­ployed or under­em­ployed soared to 87.3%.

But while the coun­try suf­fered, De Soto’s Insti­tute for Lib­erty and Democracy—the out­fit that Omid­yar gave $5 mil­lion to in 2011—thrived: its staff grew to over 100 as funds poured in. A World Bank staffer who worked with the ILD described it as, “a kind of school for the coun­try. Most of the impor­tant min­is­ters, lawyers, jour­nal­ists, and econ­o­mists in Peru are ILD alum­ni.”

In 1992, Fuji­mori orches­trated a con­sti­tu­tional coup, dis­band­ing Peru’s Con­gress and its courts, and impos­ing emer­gency rule-by-decree. It was anoth­er vari­a­tion of the same Pinochet blue­print. Just before Fujimori’s coup, De Soto indem­ni­fied him­self by offi­cially resign­ing from the cab­i­net. How­ever in the weeks and months after the coup, De Soto pro­vided cru­cial PR cov­er, down­play­ing the coup to the for­eign press.

For instance, De Soto told the Los Ange­les Times that the pub­lic should tem­per their judg­ment of Fujimori’s coup: “You’ve got to see this as the tri­al and error of a pres­i­dent who’s try­ing to find his way.” In the New York Times, De Soto spun the coup as willed by the peo­ple, the ulti­mate demo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics: “Peo­ple are fed up, fed up...[Fujimori] has attacked two hat­ed insti­tu­tions at just the right time. There is an enor­mous need to believe in him.” Years lat­er, Fujimori’s noto­ri­ous spy chief Vladimiro Mon­tesinos tes­ti­fied to Peru’s Con­gress that De Soto helped mas­ter­mind the 1992 coup.

De Soto denied involve­ment; but in 2011, two years after Fuji­mori was jailed for crimes against human­ity, De Soto joined the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign for Keiko Fuji­mori, the jailed dictator’s daugh­ter and leader of Fujimori’s right-wing par­ty. Keiko Fuji­mori ran on a plat­form promis­ing to free her father from prison if she won; De Soto spent much of the cam­paign red-bait­ing her oppo­nent as a Com­mu­nist.

That led Peru’s Nobel Prize-win­ning author Mario Var­gas Llosa to denounce De Soto as a “fuji­mon­te­senista” with “few demo­c­ra­tic cre­den­tials.” So in the same year that De Soto was try­ing to put the daugh­ter of Peru’s Pinochet in pow­er and to spring the dic­ta­tor from prison, Omid­yar Net­work award­ed him $5 mil­lion. It was dur­ing Fujimori’s dic­ta­to­r­ial emer­gency rule, from 1992–94, that De Soto rolled out a prop­er­ty-title pilot pro­gram in Lima, in which 200,000 house­holds were giv­en for­mal title.

In 1996, Fuji­mori imple­mented De Soto’s prop­er­ty-titling pro­gram on a nation­al scale, with help from the World Bank and a new gov­ern­ment prop­erty agency staffed by peo­ple from De Soto’s Insti­tute for Lib­erty and Democ­racy. By 2000, the mag­i­cal promise of an explo­sion in bank cred­its to all the new micro-prop­er­ty own­ers nev­er mate­ri­al­ized; in fact, there was no notice­able dif­fer­ence in bank lend­ing to the poor what­so­ever, whether they had prop­erty title or not.

The World Bank and the project’s neolib­eral sup­port­ers led by Her­nando De Soto were not hap­py with data show­ing no uptick in lend­ing, which threat­ened to unrav­el the entire hap­py the­ory behind prop­erty titling as the answer to Third World pover­ty. De Soto was in the process of ped­dling the same prop­er­ty-titling pro­gram to coun­tries around the world; data was need­ed to jus­tify the pro­gram.

So the World Bank fund­ed a new study in Peru in the ear­ly 2000s, and dis­cov­ered some­thing star­tling: In homes that had for­mal prop­erty titles, the par­ents in those homes spent up to 40% more time out­side of their homes than they did before they were giv­en title. De Soto took that sta­tis­tic and argued that it was a good thing because it proved giv­ing prop­erty title to home­own­ers made them feel secure enough to leave their shanties and shacks. The assump­tion was that in the dark days before shan­ty dwellers had legal titles, they were too scared to leave their shacks lest some oth­er sav­age steal it from them while they were out shop­ping. No one ever con­clu­sively explained why shan­ty par­ents were spend­ing so much more time out­side of their homes, but the impor­tant thing was that it made every­one for­get the utter fail­ure of the prop­erty title program’s core promise—that prop­erty titles would ignite micro-lend­ing thanks to the col­lat­eral of the micro-entrepreneur’s micro-shack as col­lat­eral.

Thanks to De Soto’s sales­man­ship and the back­ing of the world’s neolib­eral nomen­klatura — Bill Clin­ton called De Soto “the world’s great­est liv­ing econ­o­mist” and he was praised by every­one from Mil­ton Fried­man to Vladimir Putin to Mar­garet Thatch­er. The dis­ap­point­ing results in Peru were ignored, and De Soto’s pro­gram was extend­ed to devel­op­ing coun­tries around the world includ­ing Egypt, Cam­bo­dia, the Philip­pines, Indone­sia and else­where.

And in near­ly every case, De Soto’s Insti­tute for Lib­erty and Democ­racy has tak­en the lead in advis­ing gov­ern­ments and sell­ing the dream of turn­ing titled slum-dwellers into micro-entre­pre­neurs. The real change brought by De Soto’s prop­er­ty-titling pro­gram has ranged from nil to night­mar­ish.

In Cam­bo­dia, where the World Bank imple­mented De Soto’s land-titling pro­gram in 2001, poor and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in the cap­i­tal Phnom Penh have suf­fered at the hands of land devel­op­ers and spec­u­la­tors who’ve used arson, police cor­rup­tion and vio­lence to forcibly evict rough­ly 10% of the city’s pop­u­la­tion from their homes in more valu­able dis­tricts, relo­cat­ing them to the city out­skirts. An arti­cle in Slate titled “The De Soto Delu­sion” described what hap­pened in Cam­bo­dia when the land-titling pro­gram was first imple­ment­ed: “In the nine months or so lead­ing up to the project kick­off, a dev­as­tat­ing series of slum fires and forced evic­tions purged 23,000 squat­ters from tracts of unti­tled land in the heart of Phnom Penh. These squat­ters were then plopped onto dusty relo­ca­tion sites sev­eral miles out­side of the city, where there were no jobs and where the price of com­mut­ing to and from cen­tral Phnom Penh (about $2 per day) sur­passed what­ever dai­ly wage they had been earn­ing in town before the fires. Mean­while, the burned-out inner city land passed imme­di­ately to some of the wealth­i­est prop­erty devel­op­ers in the coun­try.”

De Soto and his Insti­tute for Lib­erty and Democ­racy have advised prop­er­ty-title pro­grams else­where too—Haiti, Domini­can Repub­lic, Pana­ma, Russia—again with results rang­ing from nil to bad. Even where it doesn’t lead to mass evic­tions and vio­lence, it has the effect of shift­ing a greater tax bur­den onto the poor, who end up pay­ing more in prop­erty tax­es, and of forc­ing them to pony up for cost­ly fil­ing fees to gain title, fees that they often can­not afford.

Prop­erty title in and of itself—without a whole range of reforms in gov­er­nance, cor­rup­tion, edu­ca­tion, income, wealth dis­tri­b­u­tion and so on—is clear­ly no panacea. But it does pro­vide an alter­na­tive to pro­grams that give mon­ey to the poor and redis­trib­ute wealth, and that alone is a good thing, if you’re the type smit­ten by Her­nando De Soto—as Omid­yar clear­ly is. Stud­ies of prop­er­ty-titling pro­grams in the slums of Brazil and Mani­la revealed that it cre­ated a new bit­terly com­pet­i­tive cul­ture and bifur­ca­tion, in which a small hand­ful of titled slum dwellers quick­ly learn to ben­e­fit by turn­ing into micro-slum­lords rent­ing out dwellings to less­er slum dwellers, who sub­se­quently find them­selves forced to pay month­ly fees for their shan­ty rooms—creating an under­class with­in the under­class.

De Soto has described these slums as “acres of diamonds”—wealth wait­ing to be unlocked by prop­erty titling—and his acolytes even coined a new acronym for slums: “Strate­gic Low-income Urban Man­age­ment Sys­tems.” All of which begs the obvi­ous ques­tion: If De Soto’s prop­er­ty-title pro­gram is such a proven fail­ure in case after case, why is it so pop­u­lar among the world’s polit­i­cal and busi­ness elites? The answer is rather obvi­ous: It offers a sim­ple, low-cost, tech­no­cratic mar­ket solu­tion to the prob­lem of glob­al poverty—a com­plex and cost­ly prob­lem that can only be alle­vi­ated by ded­i­cat­ing huge amounts of resources and a very dif­fer­ent pol­i­tics from the one that tells us that mar­kets are god, mar­kets can solve every­thing.

Even before Omid­yar com­mit­ted $5 mil­lion to the dark plu­to­cratic “ide­al­ism” De Soto rep­re­sents, he was Tweet­ing his admi­ra­tion for De Soto: “Bril­liant din­ner with Her­nando de Soto. Prop­erty rights under­lie and enable every­thing.” Indeed, prop­erty rights under­lie and enable every­thing Omid­yar wants to hear—but dis­tract and divert from what the tar­gets of those pro­grams might actu­ally need or be ask­ing for. Which brings us back to the won­der­ful words writ­ten about Pierre Omid­yar last month: Where is the proof that he’s a “civic-mind­ed” bil­lion­aire, a “dif­fer­ent” bil­lion­aire, an “ide­al­is­tic” bil­lion­aire who’s in it for ideals and not for prof­it?

How is Omid­yar any dif­fer­ent from any oth­er billionaire—when he is fund­ing the same pro­grams and push­ing the same vision for the world backed by the Kochs, Soros, Gates, and every oth­er neolib­eral bil­lion­aire? When you scratch the sur­face of his invest­ments and get a sense of what sort of ide­al world he’d like to make, it becomes clear that Omid­yar is no dif­fer­ent from his peers.

And the rea­son that mat­ters, of course, is because Pierre Omidyar’s dystopi­an vision is merg­ing with Glenn Greenwald’s and Lau­ra Poitras’ monop­oly on the crown jew­els of the Nation­al Secu­rity Agency — the world’s secrets, our secrets — and using the val­ue of those secrets as the cap­i­tal for what’s being billed as an entire­ly new, ide­al­is­tic media project, an ide­al­ism that the CJR and oth­ers promise will not shy away from tak­ing on pow­er. The ques­tion, how­ever, is what defines pow­er to a neolib­eral mind? We’re going to take a wild guess here and say: The State. So brace your­self, you’re about to get some­thing you’ve nev­er seen before: bil­lion­aire-backed jour­nal­ism tak­ing on the pow­er of the state.

How rad­i­cal is that? To quote “60 Min­utes” pro­ducer Low­ell Bergman: “What has been adju­di­cated and estab­lished in the wake of Viet­nam and the Civ­il Rights move­ment is the abil­ity of the press to basi­cally write or broad­cast almost any­thing about the government.There’s very few restric­tions in that way. It’s not true when we’re talk­ing about pri­vate pow­er, espe­cially major For­tune 500 cor­po­ra­tions, or peo­ple worth more than, say, a bil­lion dol­lars.” In oth­er words: look out Gov­ern­ment, you’re about to be pum­meled by a cru­sad­ing, right­eous bil­lion­aire! And cor­po­rate Amer­ica? Ah, don’t wor­ry. Your dirty secrets—freshly trans­ferred from the nasty non-prof­it hands of the Guardian to the aggres­sively for-prof­it hands of Pierre Omidyar—are safe with us.

2a. Mod­i’s elec­tion was aid­ed by the head of Pierre Omid­yar’s “char­i­ta­ble” orga­ni­za­tion Omid­yar Net­works. In FTR #763, we not­ed that Omid­yar is the finan­cial angel back­ing Nazi fel­low-trav­el­er Glenn Green­wald’s new jour­nal­is­tic ven­ture. Omid­yar has also backed some grind­ing­ly oppres­sive, cru­el projects in the Third World. His Indi­an micro-finance ven­tures were par­tic­u­lar­ly hor­ri­ble. Omid­yar also helped to finance the covert oper­a­tion that brought the OUN/B suc­ces­sors to pow­er in Ukraine.

“REVEALED: The Head of Omid­yar Net­works in India Had a Secret Sec­ond Job… Help­ing Elect Naren­dra Modi” by Mark Ames; Pan­do Dai­ly; 5/26/2014.

Last week­end, India’s elec­tions swept into pow­er a hard­line Hin­du suprema­cist named Naren­dra Modi. And with that White House spokesman Jay Car­ney said the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion “look[s] for­ward to work­ing close­ly” with a man who has been on a US State Dept “visa black­list” since 2005 for his role in the grue­some mass-killings and per­se­cu­tion of minor­i­ty Mus­lims (and minor­i­ty Chris­tians). Modi leads India’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP par­ty, which won a land­slide major­i­ty of seats (though only 31% of the votes), mean­ing Modi will have the lux­u­ry of lead­ing India’s first one-par­ty gov­ern­ment in 30 years.

This is mak­ing a lot of peo­ple ner­vous: The last time the BJP par­ty was in pow­er, in 1998, they launched series of nuclear bomb test explo­sions, spark­ing a nuclear cri­sis with Pak­istan and fears of all-out nuclear war. And that was when the BJP was led by a “mod­er­ate” ultra­na­tion­al­ist — and tied down with med­dling coali­tion part­ners.

Modi is dif­fer­ent. Not only will he rule alone, he’s promised to run India the way he ran the west­ern state of Gujarat since 2001, which Book­er Prize-win­ning author Arand­huti Roy described as “the petri dish in which Hin­du fas­cism has been foment­ing an elab­o­rate polit­i­cal exper­i­ment.”

Under Modi’s watch, an orgy of anti-Mus­lim vio­lence led to up to 2000 killed and 250,000 inter­nal­ly dis­placed, and a lin­ger­ing cli­mate of fear, ghet­toiza­tion, and extra­ju­di­cial exe­cu­tions by Gujarat death squads oper­at­ing under Modi’s watch. . . . . . . Omid­yar Net­work, as Pan­do read­ers know, is the phil­an­thropy arm of eBay bil­lion­aire Pierre Omid­yar.

Since 2009, Omid­yar Net­work has made more invest­ments in India than in any oth­er coun­try in its port­fo­lio. These invest­ments were large­ly thanks to Jayant Sin­ha, a for­mer McK­in­sey part­ner and Har­vard MBA, who was hired in Octo­ber 2009 to estab­lish and run Omid­yar Net­work India Advi­sors. Dur­ing Sinha’s tenure, Omid­yar Net­work steered a large por­tion of its invest­ments into India, so that by 2013, India invest­ments made up 18% of Omid­yar Network’s com­mit­ted funds of well over $600 mil­lion, and 36% of the total num­ber of com­pa­nies in its port­fo­lio.

In Feb­ru­ary of this year, Sin­ha stepped down from Omid­yar Net­work in order to advise Modi’s elec­tion cam­paign, and to run for a BJP par­lia­men­tary seat of his own. Sinha’s father, Yash­want Sin­ha, served as finance min­is­ter in the last BJP gov­ern­ment from 1998 (when his gov­ern­ment set off the nukes) through 2002. This year, Sinha’s father gave up his seat in par­lia­ment to allow Jayant Sin­ha to take his place.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Sinha’s father pub­licly backed Modi’s refusal to apol­o­gize over the dead­ly riots under his watch: “Modi is right…why should he apol­o­gize?” His ex-Omid­yar staffer son, Jayant, boast­ed a few weeks ago that his father’s BJP gov­ern­ment ignored inter­na­tion­al out­rage in 1998 when det­o­nat­ing its nukes, known as “Pokhran” . . . .

2b. In the long FTR series on L’Af­faire Snow­den,  we not­ed that all of the play­ers were out­right fas­cists and/or expo­nents of cor­po­ratist eco­nom­ic the­o­ry. That includes Pierre Omid­yar, Nazi fel­low-trav­el­er Glenn Green­wald’s finan­cial angel and backer of First Look media.

Tout­ing the lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics of the GOP and oth­er cor­po­ratist ele­ments around the world, Omid­yar has also helped to finance the rise of fas­cist ele­ments abroad, includ­ing assist­ing in the ascent of the OUN/B suc­ces­sor forces in the Ukraine, as well as Naren­dra Modi, heir to the RSS Hin­du fas­cists that spawned his BJP.

Omid­yar’s “phil­an­thropy” is cast in the lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics to which he is wed. Build­ing on the lethal record of his SKS micro­fi­nance project in Andhra Pradesh state in India, Omid­yar Net­works has uti­lized the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute, the child of Roy Proster­man, a coun­terin­sur­gency vet­er­an of the Phoenix Pro­gram in Viet­nam and sim­i­lar projects in places like El Sal­vador. Omid­yar and his then-CEO Meg Whit­man (of EBAy) also were  under inves­ti­ga­tion:

“. . . .  in return for giv­ing Gold­man Sachs the lucra­tive eBay IPO, the “vam­pire squid” bank set up pri­vate secret accounts for Omid­yar and CEO Meg Whit­man let­ting them spin dozens of tech IPOs before they went to mar­ket — rip­ping off both retail investors and start­up investors. Omid­yar set­tled a share­hold­er fraud law­suit in 2005 with­out admit­ting wrong­do­ing, iron­ic for a vision­ary who believes so deeply in account­abil­i­ty.”

Omid­yar and oth­er EBay exec­u­tives are cur­rent­ly being inves­ti­gat­ed for anoth­er alleged scam: “Omid­yar was sub­poe­naed by a fed­er­al grand jury crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into his and oth­er eBay exec­u­tives’ alleged roles in steal­ing Craigslist’s “secret sauce” for eBay’s prof­it.”

What a swell guy Omid­yar is. Read the arti­cle below for details on his (and oth­er cor­po­ratists’) vision for the mutat­ing of micro-finance into a prof­it-mak­ing vehi­cle, often at the lethal expense of the poor who are sup­posed to ben­e­fit from those pro­grams.

“EBay Shrugged: Pierre Omid­yar Believes there Should Be No Phil­an­thropy With­out Prof­it” by Mark Ames; Pan­do Dai­ly; 5/31/2014.

This week, India’s new­ly-elect­ed ultra­na­tion­al­ist leader Naren­dra Modi unveiled his cab­i­net, three-quar­ters of whom come from a fas­cist para­mil­i­tary out­fit, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh) — includ­ing one min­is­ter accused by police last year of incit­ing dead­ly Hin­du-Mus­lim vio­lence that left over 50 dead. The RSS was found­ed in 1925 by open admir­ers of Mus­soli­ni and Hitler; in 1948, an RSS mem­ber assas­si­nat­ed paci­fist Mahat­ma Gand­hi.

In 1992, it was the RSS that orga­nized the destruc­tion of the Ayo­d­ha Mosque, leav­ing 2000 dead, most­ly Mus­lims; and in 2002, the RSS played a key role in the mass-mur­ders of minor­i­ty Mus­lims in Gujarat, accord­ing to Human Rights Watch, when the state of Gujarat was ruled by Naren­dra Modi — him­self a prod­uct of the RSS.

Ear­li­er this week, Pan­do report­ed that Modi’s elec­tion received help from unlike­ly sources in Sil­i­con Val­ley includ­ing Google, and to a much more seri­ous extent, Omid­yar Net­work, the phil­an­thropy fund of eBay bil­lion­aire and First Look pub­lish­er Pierre Omid­yar. From 2009 through Feb­ru­ary of this year, Omid­yar Net­work India Advis­ers was head­ed by Jayant Sin­ha, a long­time Modi advis­er and new­ly-elect­ed MP in Modi’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP par­ty tick­et.

 The Omid­yar Net­work part­ner and man­ag­ing direc­tor played a dou­ble role, invest­ing funds in Indi­an non­prof­its and for-prof­its, some with dis­tinct­ly polit­i­cal agen­das; while pri­vate­ly, the Omid­yar man “worked in Modi’s team” in 2012–13, and served as direc­tor in the ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP party’s main think tank on secu­ri­ty and eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, the India Foun­da­tion. This week, Modi appoint­ed the head of the India Foun­da­tion, for­mer intel­li­gence chief Ajit Doval, as his Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor.

Modi was the “hi-tech pop­ulist” can­di­date: Lon­don techies man­aged Modi’s 3‑D holo­gram cam­paign, beam­ing 10-feet-tall Modi holo­grams to ral­lies across India. And India’s techies played a key role both in cam­paign­ing for Modi and vot­ing for Modi. Despite the sun­ny pro­gres­sive Sil­i­con Val­ley gloss we’ve been fed these past few decades, Modi’s appeal shows that the tech indus­try is as prone to far-right author­i­tar­i­an pol­i­tics as any oth­er indus­try. And that is what makes the Omid­yar Net­work sto­ry so reveal­ing: Per­haps no oth­er fig­ure embod­ies the dis­con­nect between his pro­gres­sive anti-state image, and his fac­tu­al col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Amer­i­can nation­al secu­ri­ty state and the glob­al neolib­er­al agen­da, than Pierre Omid­yar.

The role of Omid­yar Net­work in so many major events of the past week — help­ing elect India’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist leader Naren­dra Modico-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change NGOs with USAID, result­ing in a dead­ly civ­il war and Monday’s elec­tion of Ukrain­ian bil­lion­aire oli­garch Petro Poroshenko; and now, this week’s first-ever sit-down TV inter­view with Edward Snow­den, through an arrange­ment between NBC News and Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media — shows how these con­tra­dic­tions are com­ing to the fore, and shap­ing our world.

Omidyar’s cen­tral role in the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state’s glob­al agen­da may still come as a shock to out­siders and fans of First Look media’s ros­ter of once-inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists. But to White House for­eign pol­i­cy hawks, Pierre Omid­yar rep­re­sents the new face of an old impe­r­i­al tra­di­tion. . . . . . . . . By tak­ing a clos­er look at Omid­yar Network’s invest­ments in India, we gain insight into where the com­mon inter­ests between Big Tech, the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state, and neolib­er­al­ism align — and Omidyar’s strate­gic think­ing align­ing eBay/PayPal with Omid­yar Net­work and First Look media.

Let’s start with Omid­yar Network’s invest­ments in the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute, found­ed by one of the god­fa­thers of Amer­i­can coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy: Roy Proster­man. “Prop­er­ty Rights”: Omid­yar and “Phoenix Pro­gram” guru Roy Proster­man Omid­yar Net­work iden­ti­fies “prop­er­ty rights” (or “prop­er­ty titling”) as one of its five areas of focus. One of Omidyar’s per­son­al heroes and largest grant recip­i­ents is neolib­er­al econ­o­mist Her­nan­do de Soto, the for­mer right-hand man to jailed dic­ta­tor Alber­to Fuji­mori. De Soto is the world’s lead­ing ped­dler of “prop­er­ty titling” as the answer to glob­al pover­ty: rather than giv­ing aid, De Soto says we should give the world’s poor pri­vate prop­er­ty titles, which slum dwellers can pre­sum­ably col­lat­er­al­ize into microloans for their slum-based star­tups.

The results have often been cat­a­stroph­ic — but that hasn’t stopped De Soto from being admired by the world’s rul­ing elite, rang­ing from Bill Clin­ton, to the Koch broth­ers — to Pierre Omid­yar, who gave $5 mil­lion to De Soto’s neolib­er­al think tank . . . . . . . India, like many devel­op­ing coun­tries around the world, has what Anglo-Amer­i­cans con­sid­er a weak legal struc­ture on prop­er­ty rights. In par­tic­u­lar, local indige­nous peo­ples lay ancient claims to lands they live on, and have resist­ed state attempts to forcibly evict them to make way for indus­try, min­ing, and oth­er pow­er­ful inter­ests. The Nax­al Maoist insur­gen­cies rag­ing in parts of India are fueled in part by dis­placed, land­less peo­ples. Since Modi’s elec­tion land­slide, glob­al investors have been hope­ful that India’s land will now be made eas­i­er to buy and sell.

Omid­yar Network’s long­time top man in India, Jayant Sinha—now an MP in Modi’s far-right rul­ing par­ty — told CNBC that Modi’s first job should be mak­ing land acqui­si­tion eas­i­er: We have to start with land acqui­si­tion. We have to make land acqui­si­tion a lot bet­ter in terms of both the peo­ple that are acquir­ing the land from the farmer’s and so on as well as for indus­try.

So per­haps it’s lit­tle sur­prise that Omidyar’s first major India grant, in 2008, went to the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Institute’s (renamed “Lan­desa”) pro­gram “to help secure land rights for the rur­al poor” in India’s Andhra Pradesh state. By 2009, Omid­yar Net­work had com­mit­ted $9 mil­lion to the RDI land rights pro­gram, the largest grant in the outfit’s his­to­ry.

And what a his­to­ry: The Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute was found­ed in 1967 by Roy Proster­man, whose land reform pro­grams were a key ele­ment in the Viet­nam War coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy, the “Phoenix” assas­si­na­tion pro­gram. The Phoenix pro­gram became the tem­plate for mod­ern Amer­i­can coun­terin­sur­gency — vio­lent ter­ror, com­bined with soft-pow­er land “reforms” cooked up by Prosterman’s Insti­tute.

Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, Proster­man teamed up with USAID to imple­ment his “land-to-the-tillers” reforms, grant­i­ng land to peas­ants as the car­rot, while at the same time CIA death squads assas­si­nat­ed tens of thou­sands of Viet­namese vil­lage lead­ers and ter­ror­ized restive regions into sub­mis­sion. The result, Proster­man lat­er boast­ed, was that Viet Cong recruit­ment dropped 80 per­cent.

A decade lat­er, Proster­man sold the same land reform pro­gram to El Salvador’s jun­ta, just as the jun­ta was ramp­ing up its dead­ly attacks on rur­al civil­ians that left 75,000 killed by US-backed gov­ern­ment forces. Proster­man also served as “land reform” advi­sor to Philip­pines dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos. And in the 1990s, Proster­man was con­tract­ed by Booz Allen to advise land reforms in Moldo­va, accord­ing to jour­nal­ist Tim Shorrock. . . . .

. . . . A few years ago, Prosterman’s Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute changed its name to Lan­desa. But Prosterman’s Cold War out­fit hasn’t changed its close coop­er­a­tion with USAID, or its core strate­gic mis­sion, tying land own­er­ship to secu­ri­ty (and coun­terin­sur­gency) — neat­ly summed by Landesa’s India director’s arti­cle: “Con­nect­ing the Dots Between Secu­ri­ty and Land Rights in India.” Leav­ing aside the alleged ben­e­fits to India’s poor of giv­ing them land title to the com­mons — 400,000,000 Indi­ans live on less than $1.25 a day — for the more pow­er­ful inter­ests fund­ing land titling pro­grams, there are end­less advan­tages.

It helps cre­ate a mass tax base for gov­ern­ments that want to shift more tax­es onto the mass­es; it for­mal­izes and legal­izes trans­fer of prop­er­ty from the com­mons to the strongest and rich­est; it makes for­eign investors hap­py; it helps the gov­ern­ment and busi­ness­es track and keep data on its cit­i­zens; and, to quote Omid­yar Net­work man­ag­ing part­ner Matt Ban­nick — recent­ly appoint­ed by the Oba­ma White House to a spe­cial task force — Prosterman’s land reforms made Omid­yar “excit­ed about how micro-land own­er­ship can empow­er women and help them to pull them­selves out of pover­ty.”

That’s because micro-land own­er­ship helps cre­ate the real focus of Omid­yar Net­work invest­ments in India: Micro­fi­nance. “Finan­cial Inclu­sion”: Omid­yar, Micro­fi­nance & Sui­cide-By-Pes­ti­cide Omid­yar Network’s ugli­est dis­as­ter — besides co-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change groups with USAID — was its role in fund­ing SKS Micro­fi­nance, whose preda­to­ry lend­ing and debt col­lect­ing prac­tices led to a rash of grue­some sui­cides in rur­al Andhra Pradesh.

First, a quick word on the the­o­ry and prac­tice of microlend­ing. In the­o­ry, the orig­i­nal micro­fi­nance con­cept — a non­prof­it extend­ing micro-loans to the poor, under favor­able terms, below mar­ket rates — could be ben­e­fi­cial, and under the right cir­cum­stances, it often was. But to the neolib­er­als, the orig­i­nal micro­fi­nance con­cept smacked of do-good­er state social­ism — so micro­fi­nance floun­dered in the mar­gins of the devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ty until 1992.

That year, USAID com­mer­cial­ized a Boli­vian micro­fi­nance non­prof­it called Pro­dem, cre­at­ing a new for-prof­it micro-lender, Ban­coSol in its place. Ban­coSol bal­looned overnight — both in loans and in prof­its, mak­ing mil­lion­aires of the for­mer non­prof­it direc­tors before Ban­coSol near­ly col­lapsed at the end of the decade.

USAID liked the for-prof­it neolib­er­al mod­el for micro­fi­nance, and it per­suad­ed the World Bank and oth­er glob­al finan­cial insti­tu­tions to load in and sing its prais­es. That brought micro­fi­nance to the atten­tion of Wall Street funds, even­tu­al­ly push­ing out “old” “unsus­tain­able” non­prof­it micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions, and seduc­ing the likes of Nobel Peace Prize win­ner and micro­fi­nance indus­try guru Muham­mad Yunus into the for-prof­it sec­tor as well.

As we now know, it end­ed in dis­as­ter — par­tic­u­lar­ly in India’s Andhra Pradesh state, where Omid­yar-fund­ed land title pro­grams had been busy cre­at­ing legions of rur­al poor “micro-land own­ers” now ready to load up on Omid­yar-fund­ed micro­fi­nance loans. The result would be scores of women dri­ven to gris­ly sui­cides, forced pros­ti­tu­tion, and despair.

It’s hard to over­state just how cen­tral the for-prof­it micro­fi­nance mod­el is to Pierre Omidyar’s “vision.” In a 2006 New York­er arti­cle detail­ing Omidyar’s near-reli­gious zeal for com­mer­cial­iz­ing micro­fi­nance, we learn that the eBay bil­lion­aire not only reject­ed the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s appeals to soft­en his mono­ma­ni­ac focus on prof­it­ing off the world’s poor — we also learn that Omid­yar was com­mit­ted to wip­ing out what­ev­er remained of char­i­ta­ble non-prof­it microlend­ing, so as not to “dis­tort the mar­ket.”

Omid­yar reject­ed on prin­ci­ple entreaties from his fel­low bil­lion­aires to invest in a non­prof­it micro­fi­nance fund. Because on prin­ci­ple, Omid­yar refused to believe that good could come from any­thing but the self-inter­est­ed prof­it motive. Here’s the New York­er: [Omid­yar] often cites Adam Smith’s doc­trine that unre­strained mar­ket forces and self-inter­est dri­ve the most efficient—and social­ly beneficial—use of resources. Omid­yar sees Smith’s prin­ci­ples at work in eBay; he believes that eBay’s com­mer­cial suc­cess was linked to a pro­found social good.

Omidyar’s faith in the eBay mod­el is so great that he is con­vinced that it can be applied to solv­ing humanity’s prob­lems, includ­ing pover­ty — and that is why Omid­yar sin­gled out for-prof­it micro­fi­nance as his life’s mis­sion. After reject­ing Yunus as an “old thinker” wed­ded to old do-good­erism non-prof­it think­ing, Omid­yar announced a $100 mil­lion dona­tion to Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty, the largest in school his­to­ry, with the stip­u­la­tion that the Omid­yar-Tufts Micro­fi­nance Fund went “specif­i­cal­ly” into “invest­ments that would pro­mote microfinance’s com­mer­cial­iza­tion.”

To man­age the fund, Omid­yar hired a Senior Cred­it Offi­cer from USAID — the agency that orig­i­nal­ly com­mer­cial­ized micro­fi­nance in 1992 — who chan­neled Joseph Schum­peter to the New York­er: “One of the things we need and we will get is a cycle of cre­ative destruc­tion,” said Try­fan Evans, the direc­tor of invest­ments at the Omid­yar-Tufts fund, who pre­vi­ous­ly worked at U.S.A.I.D. “If you’re inef­fi­cient, you will get over­tak­en by com­peti­tors.” What is rather shock­ing in hind­sight is how fanat­i­cal Omidyar’s faith is in the free mar­ket, to the point that he’s will­ing to risk exploit­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble poor on earth to prove that Adam Smith is right.

The dan­gers of for-prof­it micro­fi­nance lend­ing to India’s poor were no secret: the New York­er arti­cle ref­er­ences a string of micro­fi­nance relat­ed sui­cides in Andhra Pradesh back in 2006, before Omidyar’s mil­lions poured oil on that fire. . . . . . . . And so Omid­yar test­ed his the­o­ry: plow­ing mil­lions into India’s SKS Micro­fi­nance via  invest­ments into murky micro­fi­nance out­fit Uni­tus. In 2010, SKS Micro­fi­nance list­ed a $350 mil­lion IPO that net­ted insid­ers and ear­ly investors like Uni­tus obscene prof­its. The murky, inter­lock­ing non­prof­it/­for-prof­it struc­tures ensured that only those on the inside knew whether Omid­yar made mon­ey on his invest­ment.

The only sure thing was that the explo­sion of micro­fi­nance lend­ing in the state of Andrah Pradesh, led by SKS Micro­fi­nance, wound up sad­dling the world’s poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble vil­lage women with debts they could not pay, caus­ing a wave of sui­cides. An AP inves­ti­ga­tion direct­ly impli­cat­ed Omid­yar-fund­ed SKS Micro­fi­nance agents in sev­er­al sui­cides: One woman drank pes­ti­cide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to pros­ti­tute her daugh­ters to pay off her debt.

She had been giv­en 150,000 rupees ($3,000) in loans but only made 600 rupees ($12) a week. Anoth­er SKS debt col­lec­tor told a delin­quent bor­row­er to drown her­self in a pond if she want­ed her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four chil­dren. One agent blocked a woman from bring­ing her young son, weak with diar­rhea, to the hos­pi­tal, demand­ing pay­ment first.

Oth­er bor­row­ers, who could not get any new loans until she paid, told her that if she want­ed to die, they would bring her pes­ti­cide. An SKS staff mem­ber was there when she drank the poi­son. She sur­vived. An 18-year-old girl, pres­sured until she hand­ed over 150 rupees ($3) – meant for a school exam­i­na­tion fee – also drank pes­ti­cide.

She left a sui­cide note: “Work hard and earn mon­ey. Do not take loans.” In all these cas­es, the report com­mis­sioned by SKS con­clud­ed that the company’s staff was either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly respon­si­ble. After the report, Omid­yar Net­work scrubbed SKS Micro­fi­nance from its web­site.

An old cached web­page shows Omid­yar hail­ing SKS Micro­fi­nance for “serv­ing the rur­al poor in India” and claim­ing that the murky Uni­tus pri­vate equi­ty fund’s IPO “exit strat­e­gy” will “attract more cap­i­tal to the mar­ket.” Instead, Uni­tus dis­solved its micro­fi­nance NGO, a wave of res­ig­na­tions and murky mil­lions moved hands, SKS Micro­fi­nance became a pari­ah, and Andhra Pradesh passed laws reg­u­lat­ing micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions.

A tiny hand­ful of insid­ers and investors pock­et­ed obscene mil­lions, over 200 killed them­selves, and entire Indi­an rur­al com­mu­ni­ties were dev­as­tat­ed. Self-inter­est and prof­it motive did not cre­ate the great­est social good that Omid­yar believed in; and yet, Omid­yar Net­work con­tin­ues to expand its port­fo­lio of micro­fi­nance — or “finan­cial inclu­sion” — invest­ments.

eBay Shrugged  “Omid­yar stopped talk­ing about micro­fi­nance as a way to end world pover­ty, and instead described its mis­sion in a way con­gru­ent with the eBay expe­ri­ence.” —New York­er The key to under­stand­ing the enig­mat­ic eBay bil­lion­aire and his many con­tra­dic­tions — an active par­tic­i­pant in Washington’s glob­al empire on a scale unri­valed in pub­lish­ing, while also founder of a quar­ter-bil­lion dol­lar “adver­sar­i­al jour­nal­ism” start­up and pri­va­tiz­er of the Snow­den NSA files, the largest cache of leaked nation­al secu­ri­ty secrets in US his­to­ry — is under­stand­ing Omidyar’s eBay-cen­tric vision.

Omid­yar is a vision man, as his star employ­ee Jere­my Scahill con­stant­ly reminds us. And his vision was shaped, for under­stand­able rea­sons, by his expe­ri­ence mak­ing ten bil­lion dol­lars overnight off of eBay, which Omid­yar believes is proof of a larg­er philo­soph­i­cal and moral struc­ture at work, rather than a com­bi­na­tion of smarts, luck, priv­i­lege… and oth­er less savory fac­tors. In 2000, Omid­yar con­fid­ed to his New York Times biog­ra­ph­er, Adam Cohen, that he found­ed eBay to cre­ate a “per­fect mar­ket” after feel­ing cheat­ed by the way tech IPOs in the ear­ly 1990s let insid­ers “spin” IPOs for a quick prof­its before dump­ing them onto the mar­ket to reg­u­lar investors — like the pre-eBay Omid­yar. Cohen writes: When 3DO announced plans to go pub­lic in May 1993, Omid­yar placed an order for stock through his Charles Schwab bro­ker­age account…. 3DO went pub­lic at $15 a share, but when Omid­yar checked his account, he learned that the stock had soared 50 per­cent before his order had been filled…. it struck him that this was not how a free mar­ket was sup­posed to operate—favored buy­ers pay­ing one price, and ordi­nary peo­ple get­ting the same stock moments lat­er at a size­able markup.

Omidyar’s solu­tion was an online auc­tion. Cohen, a mem­ber of the New York Times edi­to­r­i­al board, found Omidyar’s sto­ry con­vinc­ing.

There was only one prob­lem: At the very time Omid­yar spun this yarn to Cohen, Omid­yar was under inves­ti­ga­tion in the largest IPO stock spin­ning scan­dal in his­to­ry. Accord­ing to a House inves­ti­ga­tion, in return for giv­ing Gold­man Sachs the lucra­tive eBay IPO, the “vam­pire squid” bank set up pri­vate secret accounts for Omid­yar and CEO Meg Whit­man let­ting them spin dozens of tech IPOs before they went to mar­ket — rip­ping off both retail investors and start­up investors.

 Omid­yar set­tled a share­hold­er fraud law­suit in 2005 with­out admit­ting wrong­do­ing, iron­ic for a vision­ary who believes so deeply in account­abil­i­ty. More recent­ly, Omid­yar was sub­poe­naed by a fed­er­al grand jury crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into his and oth­er eBay exec­u­tives’ alleged roles in steal­ing Craigslist’s “secret sauce” for eBay’s prof­it. . . .

3. Omid­yar’s “overt covert oper­a­tion” par­tic­i­pa­tion in India has paid off, with his suc­cess­ful can­di­date of choice Naren­dra Modi open­ing up that huge coun­ty to e‑commerce. That fig­ures to ben­e­fit Omid­yar enor­mous­ly.

“Just as We Pre­dicted, India’s New Leader Is about to Make Pierre Omid­yar a Lot Rich­er” by Mark Ames; Pan­do Dai­ly; 6/4/2014.

Well that was fast. Two weeks ago, we report­ed that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s top man in India had secret­ly helped elect con­tro­ver­sial ultra­na­tion­al­ist Naren­dra Modi, impli­cated by Human Rights Watch and oth­ers in the grue­some mass killings and cleans­ing of minor­ity Mus­lims. As we also revealed, short­ly after Omidyar’s man pub­licly joined the Modi cam­paign in Feb­ru­ary, Modi sud­denly began warm­ing up to the idea of let­ting glob­al e‑commerce com­pa­nies into the world’s third largest econ­omy. Omidyar’s eBay, which draws the major­ityof its rev­enues from over­seas oper­a­tions, has been champ­ing at the bit to get into India. Now, just weeks after Modi’s elec­tion, it seems their prayers have been answered. Today, Reuters is report­ing that Modi is plan­ning to open India up to glob­al e‑commerce firms like eBay next month, and that Modi’s indus­try min­is­ter has been draw­ing up the new guide­lines with input from top eBay offi­cials, along with their e‑commerce coun­ter­parts from Google, Ama­zon, Wal-Mart and oth­ers.

Call­ing the move to allow for­eign e‑commerce into India “one of the first tan­gi­ble signs of eco­nomic reform by the busi­ness-friend­ly gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi,” Reuters reports that the sec­tor is expect­ed to quadru­ple its share of the over­all econ­omy by 2020. India’s e‑commerce indus­try is grow­ing at 40–50% annu­ally. Those num­bers, and Modi’s accom­mo­dat­ing behav­ior, is mak­ing Pierre Omidyar’s under­lings sali­vate:

“Deepa Thomas, spokes­woman for eBay in India, said it was excit­ed about the oppor­tu­nity and believed in the need for a care­fully cal­i­brated approach to open­ing up the sec­tor. “The indus­try min­istry that drafts FDI rules recent­ly met offi­cials from com­pa­nies includ­ing Ama­zon, Google, eBay Inc, Wal-Mart and Indi­an e‑tailer Flip­kart to finalise the invest­ment guide­lines, the peo­ple said. “Glob­al online retail­ers like Ama­zon and eBay are cur­rently banned from sell­ing prod­ucts they have sourced them­selves, and must rely on third-par­ty sup­pli­ers. Their plat­forms, which they own ful­ly, are mar­ket­places for these out­side sup­pli­ers. “The gov­ern­ment is like­ly to end this ban, paving the way for glob­al retail­ers to bring their for­mi­da­ble sup­ply chain, and cheap­er goods, into India, poten­tially boost­ing con­sump­tion and ben­e­fit­ing small man­u­fac­tur­ers and traders.”

As we report­ed, the long­time man­ag­ing direc­tor and part­ner for Omid­yar Net­work India Advi­sors, Jayant Sin­ha, began work­ing to help elect Modi since at least 2012, while pub­licly dol­ing out tens of mil­lionsof Omidyar’s mon­ey to for-prof­its and to non-prof­its, at least one of which was involved in an anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign cam­paign that under­mined the cen­ter-left rul­ing gov­ern­ment, and ben­e­fited Modi’s far-right BJP par­ty.

Omidyar’s top India man also con­cur­rently served as a direc­tor in a pow­er­ful BJP think tank, the India Foun­da­tion, chaired by Modi’s hard­line Nation­al Secu­rity Advi­sor, Ajit Doval— accord­ing to the Hin­dus­tan Times. After step­ping down from Omid­yar Net­work in Feb­ru­ary of this year, Sin­ha worked full-time for Modi, the India Foun­da­tion, and for his own suc­cess­ful run as a BJP can­di­date for par­lia­ment. Anoth­er NGO that Omid­yar invest­ed in, the Insti­tute for Pol­icy Research Stud­ies (IPRS), was accused of ille­gally try­ing to lob­by India’s par­lia­men­tar­i­ans to vote for open­ing up India’s e‑commerce mar­ket in late 2012. The IPRS non­profit ran a pro­gram in which their staffers pro­vided India MP staffers with “non­par­ti­san” research. In 2012, India’s intel­li­gence bureau accused the IPRS of ““com­pro­mis­ing nation­al secu­rity”” and described it as “shroud­ed in mys­tery.”

Omid­yar Net­work had pledged $1 mil­lion to the IPRS, and the Ford Foun­da­tion pledged half a mil­lion more — but the Indi­an gov­ern­ment reject­ed the IPRS’s appli­ca­tion to reg­is­ter as a for­eign-fund­ed NGO, deem­ing it a threat to India’s par­lia­men­tary integri­ty, and its nation­al secu­rity. Google’s cor­po­rate phil­an­thropic arm, Google.org, had pre­vi­ously giv­en $880,000to the same NGO pro­gram, under Sheryl Sandberg’s watch. The co-founder of this con­tro­ver­sial nev­er-reg­is­tered NGO, CV Mud­hakar, is now, you might not be shocked to learn, Omid­yar Net­work India’s direc­tor of invest­ments in “gov­ern­ment trans­parency.” . . . .

4. In FTR #795, we not­ed that Naren­dra Modi was polit­i­cal­ly evolved from the Hin­du nationalist/fascist milieu of the RSS. (An “alum­nus” of that polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment mur­dered Gand­hi.) In addi­tion, we have seen that Mod­i’s elec­tion was heav­i­ly but­tressed by Ebay’s Pierre Omid­yar, who has under­writ­ten Glenn Green­wald’s recent jour­nal­is­tic ven­tures and par­tial­ly bankrolled the 2014 Ukraine coup that brought the heirs of the OUN/B to pow­er. Modi is imple­ment­ing the lais­sez-faire agen­da favored by Omid­yar, a cyn­i­cal “cor­po­ratist” agen­da that is poised to restore child labor in India.

The lais­sez-faire/­cor­po­ratist agen­da cham­pi­oned by Omid­yar and Mor­si is at one with the “aus­ter­i­ty” doc­trine pro­mul­gat­ed by the GOP, Ger­many, the IMF and the Under­ground Reich. “Get to work, kids! And be sure to bring your wages home to your [unem­ployed] mom and dad.”

“The Modi Gov­ern­ment Is Send­ing Mil­lions of Kids Back into Exploita­tive Labour” by Rashme Seh­gal; Quartz; 5/4/2015.

An amend­ment to the Child Labour Pro­hi­bi­tion Act pro­posed by the Naren­dra Modi-led gov­ern­ment is about to undo years of hard-won progress in the area of child labour—and con­demn mil­lions of kids to exploita­tive employ­ment. The amend­ment will allow chil­dren below the age of 14 to work in “fam­ily enter­prises”—a euphemism for indus­tries such as car­pet-weav­ing, bee­di–rolling, gem-pol­ish­ing, lock-mak­ing and match­box-mak­ing. The new norms will also apply to the enter­tain­ment indus­try and sports.

The amend­ment flies in the face of the Right to Edu­ca­tion Act (RTE), 2009, which guar­an­tees edu­ca­tion to every child. After the RTE came in, child labour dropped from 12.6 mil­lion in 2001 to 4.3 mil­lion in 2014. The amend­ment will undo much of that progress. It will also be a seri­ous set­back to all the work done by activists, such as Swa­mi Agnivesh and Nobel lau­re­ate Kailash Sat­yarthi, to res­cue chil­dren from bond­ed labour and exploita­tion. Mirza­pur-based Shamshad Khan, pres­i­dent of the Cen­tre for Rur­al Edu­ca­tion and Devel­op­ment Action, calls the move “ret­ro­gres­sive.”

“All our cam­paigns to end bond­ed child labour, start­ing from the eight­ies, will go up in smoke,” Khan said. “Schools will be emp­tied out, and poor chil­dren in states like Bihar, Jhark­hand and Uttar Pradesh will be back to work­ing in sheds and makeshift fac­to­ries that will all go by the nomen­cla­ture of ‘fam­ily enter­prises.’ The worst-hit will be the chil­dren of Dal­its, Mus­lims, trib­al fam­i­lies and those belong­ing to mar­gin­alised com­mu­ni­ties.”

The amend­ment can also be used to deny edu­ca­tion to the girl child, who will be sucked into all forms of house­work. Accord­ing to gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics, male lit­er­acy lev­els in 2014 stood at about 82%, while female lit­er­acy lev­els were as low as 64%. The school drop-out rate for girls is almost dou­ble the rate for boys.

An uncon­sti­tu­tional change Ban­daru Dat­ta­treya, India’s min­is­ter of labour and employ­ment, announced in ear­ly April that the gov­ern­ment planned to intro­duce amend­ments to the Child Labour Pro­hi­bi­tion Act in the cur­rent ses­sion of Par­lia­ment. His min­istry, while seek­ing the amend­ments, said the Act will not apply to chil­dren help­ing fam­i­lies in home-based work, and espe­cially fam­i­lies work­ing in agri­cul­ture and ani­mal-rear­ing.

 The objec­tive of these amend­ments, accord­ing to min­istry offi­cials, is to help chil­dren nur­ture a spir­it of entre­pre­neur­ship. They will par­tic­u­larly help chil­dren of fam­i­lies cur­rently liv­ing at sub­sis­tence lev­els, the min­istry claims. Child rights activists say the move will ben­e­fit fac­tory own­ers in India’s cow belt. Their prof­its will esca­late four­fold as chil­dren could be made to work longer hours and paid less than adults.

... Enakshi Gan­guly Thukral of HAQ Cen­tre for Child Rights believes this is an attempt by the Modi gov­ern­ment to ensure a size­able chunk of the pop­u­la­tion remains in the infor­mal sec­tor, deprived of min­i­mum wages and social secu­ri­ty. “The gov­ern­ment is not in a posi­tion to pro­vide jobs for mil­lions of young peo­ple,” said Thukral. “Such a ret­ro­grade step will help ensure mil­lions of kids remain illit­er­ate and, there­fore, unem­ploy­able.”

Bad old days again

Major cut­backs in the 2015 bud­get in the areas of health, women and chil­dren, and edu­ca­tion will fur­ther com­pound this prob­lem. Thukral said labour offi­cials are already guilty of under-report­ing child labour. “But once child labour is per­mit­ted under one guise or the oth­er, then even a min­i­mum [lev­el] of account­abil­ity will cease to exist,” she said. Labour offi­cials at the dis­trict lev­el are empow­ered to file cas­es against employ­ers hir­ing chil­dren but few employ­ers are ever con­victed.

Sta­tis­tics from the labour min­istry for 2004–2014 show that there have been 1,168 con­vic­tions for chil­dren employed in haz­ardous indus­tries with about Rs83 lakh col­lected in fines. This mon­ey has been des­ig­nated for the reha­bil­i­ta­tion and wel­fare of child labour. How­ever, in this peri­od, only Rs5 lakh was dis­bursed from this fund. Khan recalls the peri­od before the RTE Act, when dalals (touts) open­ly knocked on the doors of rich seths (mer­chants or busi­ness­men) to sell traf­ficked chil­dren.

“In the eight­ies, kids were being paid a dai­ly wage of as lit­tle as Rs4 per day,” he said. “We kept up pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment, insist­ing that all out-of-school kids be cat­e­gorised as child labour. This open traf­fick­ing of kids declined sharply with the RTE Act. If the BJP (Bharatiya Jana­ta Par­ty) suc­ceeds in intro­duc­ing such a dan­ger­ous amend­ment, we will be back to those old days.” . . . .

5. In FTR #866, we exam­ined Sil­i­con Val­ley’s extrav­a­gant, almost erot­ic cel­e­bra­tion of Indi­an Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, whose polit­i­cal career and BJP Par­ty are inex­tri­ca­bly linked with the RSS, a Hin­du nationalist/fascist par­ty. Under­scor­ing the hypocrisy of the “lib­er­tar­i­ans” who fawned over Modi and the moral, philo­soph­i­cal bank­rupt­cy of their ori­en­ta­tion, we note what Modi is actu­al­ly dong in India.

In Mod­i’s India, any­one tak­ing issue with the Hin­du nationalist/fascist dog­ma of the RSS, BJP and Modi him­self faces poten­tial lethal cen­sor­ship. We note that, just as polit­i­cal dis­si­dents and civ­il lib­er­tar­i­ans are being mur­dered in India by the polit­i­cal forces empow­ered in par­ty by EBay’s Pierre Omid­yar, Ukraine is being beset by polit­i­cal mur­der as well. (Omid­yar helped finance the Maid­an coup in Ukraine, as well as the polit­i­cal ascent of Modi and his BJP.)

“India’s Attack on Free Speech” by Sonia Faleiro; The New York Times; 10/02/2015.

In today’s India, sec­u­lar lib­er­als face a chal­lenge: how to stay alive. In August, 77-year-old schol­ar M. M. Kalbur­gi, an out­spo­ken crit­ic of Hin­du idol wor­ship, was gunned down on his own doorstep. In Feb­ru­ary, the com­mu­nist leader Govind Pansare was killed near Mum­bai.

And in 2013, the activist Naren­dra Dab­holkar was mur­dered for cam­paign­ing against reli­gious super­sti­tions. These killings should be seen as the canary in the coal mine: Sec­u­lar voic­es are being cen­sored and oth­ers will fol­low. While there have always been episod­ic attacks on free speech in India, this time feels dif­fer­ent.

The harass­ment is front-page news, but the gov­ern­ment refus­es to acknowl­edge it. Indeed, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s silence is being inter­pret­ed by many peo­ple as tac­it approval, giv­en that the attacks have gained momen­tum since he took office in 2014 and are linked to Hin­dut­va groups whose far-right ide­ol­o­gy he shares. Ear­li­er this month, a leader of the Sri Ram Sene, a Hin­du extrem­ist group with a his­to­ry of vio­lence includ­ing raid­ing pubs and beat­ing women they find inside, ratch­eted up the ten­sions. He warned that writ­ers who insult­ed Hin­du gods were in dan­ger of hav­ing their tongues sliced off. For those who don’t sup­port the ulti­mate goal of these extrem­ists — a Hin­du nation — Mr. Modi’s silence is omi­nous.

This is a turn­ing point for India, a coun­try that has tak­en pride in being a lib­er­al democ­ra­cy and that often adopts a high-mind­ed tone when neigh­bors fall short of the same stan­dards. When the lib­er­al Pak­istani politi­cian Salman Taseer was assas­si­nat­ed in 2011, the Indi­an jour­nal­ist M. J. Akbar, now the nation­al spokesman for the Bharatiya Jana­ta Par­ty, or B.J.P., chid­ed, “If Salman Taseer had been an Indi­an Mus­lim, he would still have been alive.”

In the run-up to the 2014 gen­er­al elec­tions in Bangladesh, India expressed con­cern over the future of the country’s demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions. We should be wor­ry­ing instead about what’s hap­pen­ing in India, and rec­og­nize that it could go the way of the very neigh­bors it crit­i­cizes. As Nikhil Wagle, a promi­nent lib­er­al jour­nal­ist based in Mum­bai, told me, “With­out sec­u­lar­ism, India is a Hin­du Pak­istan.”

The mur­ders in India share strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties with the killings of four Bangladeshi blog­gers this year. But while there was a glob­al out­cry over what hap­pened in Bangladesh, India is hid­ing behind its pati­na of legit­i­ma­cy grant­ed by being the world’s largest democ­ra­cy. Like the mur­dered blog­gers, the Indi­an vic­tims held lib­er­al views but were not famous or pow­er­ful.

Mr. Kalbur­gi had pub­licly expressed skep­ti­cism toward idol wor­ship in Hin­duism, but he didn’t pose a threat to any­one. While the author­i­ties are pur­su­ing the cul­prits on a case-by-case basis, the over­ar­ch­ing attack on free speech has not been addressed. The threats and killings have cre­at­ed an atmos­phere of self-cen­sor­ship and fear. Some of the killers are still on the loose, and while in one hand they wield a gun, in the oth­er they wave a list. On Sept. 20, Mr. Wagle, the jour­nal­ist, learned from a source that inter­cept­ed phone calls had revealed that mem­bers of yet anoth­er right-wing Hin­du group, Sanatan Sanstha, had marked him as their next vic­tim.

The extrem­ists who cel­e­brat­ed the August mur­der of Mr. Kalbur­gi were more direct: They used Twit­ter to warn K. S. Bhag­wan, a retired uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor who is crit­i­cal of the Hin­du caste sys­tem, that he would be next. The goal of trans­form­ing India from a sec­u­lar state to a Hin­du nation, which seems to be behind the mur­ders, is abet­ted not just by the silence of politi­cians, but also by the Hin­du nation­al­ist poli­cies of the rul­ing B.J.P. Over the past few months, the gov­ern­ment has purged sec­u­lar voic­es from high-pro­file insti­tu­tions includ­ing the Nation­al Book Trust and the inde­pen­dent board of Nalan­da Uni­ver­si­ty. The gov­ern­ment is not replac­ing mediocre indi­vid­u­als: The chan­cel­lor of Nalan­da was the Nobel lau­re­ate Amartya Sen.

It is replac­ing lumi­nar­ies with peo­ple whose great­est qual­i­fi­ca­tion is faith in Hin­dut­va ide­ol­o­gy. The new appointees are reject­ing sci­en­tif­ic thought in favor of reli­gious ideas that have no place in sec­u­lar insti­tu­tions. One of the government’s chief tar­gets is the lega­cy of India’s first prime min­is­ter, Jawa­har­lal Nehru, who laid the foun­da­tion for a sec­u­lar nation.

Last month, hav­ing nudged out the direc­tor of the Nehru Muse­um and Library in New Del­hi, the gov­ern­ment announced plans to rename the muse­um and change its focus to high­light the achieve­ments of Mr. Modi. This is akin to repur­pos­ing the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment as an Oba­ma muse­um.

In addi­tion to eras­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of long-dead lib­er­als, B.J.P. lead­ers are busy pro­mot­ing vio­lent Hin­du nation­al­ists. Sak­shi Maharaj, a B.J.P. mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, described Nathu­ram Godse, the man who assas­si­nat­ed Mahat­ma Gand­hi, as a “patri­ot.” Although Mr. Maharaj lat­er retract­ed his state­ment, his opin­ion is shared by many of his par­ty col­leagues. Gandhi’s assas­sin was a for­mer mem­ber of the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh, an armed Hin­du group, with which Mr. Modi has been asso­ci­at­ed since he was 8 years old.

The B.J.P.’s efforts to reshape insti­tu­tions that embody sec­u­lar val­ues — val­ues they dis­miss as “West­ern” — was cer­tain­ly antic­i­pat­ed. It came as no sur­prise when the cul­ture and tourism min­is­ter, Mahesh Shar­ma, recent­ly promised to “cleanse every area of pub­lic dis­course that had been west­ern­ized.” Mr. Shar­ma is well aware of the con­no­ta­tions of the word he used.

It’s also not sur­pris­ing that Hin­du fun­da­men­tal­ists would feel empow­ered in the shad­ow of a Hin­du nation­al­ist gov­ern­ment. Still, few expect­ed that free­dom of speech would become a con­testable com­mod­i­ty and that some who exer­cised it would lose their lives. The real­iza­tion has made for deci­sions that were once unthink­able. Last Decem­ber, the acclaimed author Peru­mal Muru­gan informed the police that he’d received threats from Hin­du groups angered by a nov­el he wrote in 2010. Extrem­ists staged burn­ings of his book and demand­ed a pub­lic apol­o­gy from him. The police sug­gest­ed he go into exile. Real­iz­ing he was on his own, in Jan­u­ary Mr. Muru­gan announced the with­draw­al of his entire lit­er­ary canon. On Face­book, he swore to give up writ­ing, in essence apol­o­giz­ing for his life’s work out of fear for his family’s safe­ty. It’s hard to accept what is hap­pen­ing in India. It is eas­i­er to ignore or dis­miss the attacks and the threats as a lib­er­al per­se­cu­tion com­plex or a phase that will last only as long as the B.J.P. is in pow­er. But the coun­try is under­go­ing a tec­ton­ic shift that will have long-term reper­cus­sions.

The attacks in India should not be seen as a prob­lem lim­it­ed to sec­u­lar writ­ers or lib­er­al thinkers. They should be rec­og­nized as an attack on the heart of what con­sti­tutes a democ­ra­cy — and that con­cerns every­one who val­ues the idea of India as it was con­ceived and as it is beloved, rather than an India imag­ined through the eyes of reli­gious zealots. Indi­ans must protest these attacks and demand account­abil­i­ty from peo­ple in pow­er. We must call for all voic­es to be pro­tect­ed, before we lose our own.

6. Fur­ther evi­dence of the nature of Mod­i’s gov­er­nance:

“India Pol­i­tics Are Back­drop In Mob Attack” by David Barstow and Suhasi­ni Raj; The New York Times; 10/05/2015; p. A4.

The vig­i­lantes from Save the Cow sprang into action the moment they heard a rumor that a cow’s slaugh­tered remains had been found near an elec­tri­cal trans­former loom­ing over the heart of this vil­lage. They quick­ly raised the alarm through text mes­sages and phone calls. A local Hin­du priest was asked to alert vil­lagers from his tem­ple loud­speak­er. Soon, about 1,000 men had gath­ered by the trans­former. There was no sign that a cow, a holy sym­bol for Hin­dus, had been slaugh­tered. Nonethe­less, the men pro­ceed­ed through zigzag­ging alleys to the home of the sus­pect­ed cow killer, Mohammed Ikhlaq, one of the few Mus­lims liv­ing in this vil­lage about 30 miles east of New Del­hi.

Mr. Ikhlaq and his wife, Ikra­man, were on their sec­ond-floor patio, doz­ing after din­ner and prayers. Sud­den­ly their home was swarm­ing with men. Mrs. Ikhlaq heard some­one shout, “Kill them.” She, her hus­band and their son Dan­ish, 20, retreat­ed inside, behind a thick wood­en door. The mob shat­tered the door. “What’s the mat­ter?” Mrs. Ikhlaq cried out. An incred­u­lous voice replied from the dark, “After slaugh­ter­ing a cow, you are ask­ing us what’s the mat­ter?”

Men began to paw at Mrs. Ikhlaq, so she bit hard into a sweaty hand, broke free and fled down­stairs, “too scared to even breathe,” she said in an inter­view. Upstairs, the mob blud­geoned her hus­band with her sewing machine and smashed her son’s head with a brick. Then they dragged Mr. Ikhlaq down 14 cement steps and out to the main road by the trans­former, where he was left for all to see.

Mr. Ikhlaq was declared dead ear­ly Tues­day morn­ing, hours after the attack; his son remains in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. But in inter­views last week, more than a half-dozen mem­bers of Save the Cow expressed lit­tle remorse for what hap­pened at the Ikhlaqs’ home. Instead, they blamed Mr. Ikhlaq for incit­ing the mob’s fury by slaugh­ter­ing and eat­ing a cow — an alle­ga­tion dis­missed by the Ikhlaq fam­i­ly and the police, who have filed mur­der charges against 10 men. . . . .

. . . . Many lead­ers of Save the Cow here are also promi­nent local orga­niz­ers in Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Hin­du nation­al­ist Bharatiya Jana­ta Par­ty, or B.J.P., which is vying to oust the social­ist par­ty that leads Uttar Pradesh, a vast north­ern state with more than 200 mil­lion res­i­dents, includ­ing the 20,000 in this vil­lage. Mr. Tomar, 24, for exam­ple, is the gen­er­al sec­re­tary of the local B.J.P. youth wing. Mr. Nagar, 33, is the state sec­re­tary of the B.J.P. youth wing. By week’s end, they and many oth­er B.J.P. lead­ers were blam­ing the gov­ern­ing par­ty in Uttar Pradesh for the attack in Bisa­da. . . .

. . . . Save the Cow and B.J.P. lead­ers here have also round­ly con­demned the deci­sion by the police to bring mur­der charges. In their view, the death of Mr. Ikhlaq was at most the unin­tend­ed byprod­uct of a chaot­ic, high­ly charged sit­u­a­tion of his own mak­ing. “He slipped and his head hit the road and he died,” Mr. Tomar said, adding: “These things hap­pen. It’s a mob.”

Mr. Modi’s cul­ture min­is­ter, Mahesh Shar­ma, who rep­re­sents this area in the Indi­an Par­lia­ment, went so far as to tell The Indi­an Express that Mr. Ikhlaq’s death “should be con­sid­ered as an acci­dent.”

7. Pierre Omid­yar–Glenn Greenwald’s finan­cial angel–helped finance the Ukrain­ian coup, along with AID. The lat­ter is a fre­quent cov­er for U.S. intel­li­gence activ­i­ties.

We note that Oleh Rybachuk, the recip­i­ent of Omidyar’s funds, was the right-hand man for Vik­tor Yuschenko in the Orange Rev­o­lu­tion.

 “Pierre Omid­yar Co-fund­ed Ukraine Rev­o­lu­tion Groups with US gov­ern­ment, Doc­u­ments Show” by Mark Ames;Pan­do Dai­ly; 2/28/2014.

. . . . Pan­do has con­firmed that the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment – in the form of the US Agency for Inter­na­tional Devel­op­ment (USAID) – played a major role in fund­ing oppo­si­tion groups pri­or to the rev­o­lu­tion. More­over, a large per­cent­age of the rest of the fund­ing to those same groups came from a US bil­lion­aire who has pre­vi­ously worked close­ly with US gov­ern­ment agen­cies to fur­ther his own busi­ness inter­ests. This was by no means a US-backed “coup,” but clear evi­dence shows that US invest­ment was a force mul­ti­plier for many of the groups involved in over­throw­ing Yanukovych. But that’s not the shock­ing part. What’s shock­ing is the name of the bil­lion­aire who co-invest­ed with the US gov­ern­ment (or as Wheel­er put it: the “dark force” act­ing on behalf of “Pax Amer­i­cana”). Step out of the shad­ows….

Wheeler’s boss, Pierre Omid­yar. Yes, in the annals of inde­pen­dent media, this might be the strangest twist ever: Accord­ing to finan­cial dis­clo­sures and reports seen by Pan­do, the founder and pub­lisher of Glenn Greenwald’s gov­ern­ment-bash­ing blog,“The Inter­cept,” co-invest­ed with the US gov­ern­ment to help fund regime change in Ukraine. When the rev­o­lu­tion came to Ukraine, neo-fas­cists played a front-cen­ter role in over­throw­ing the country’s pres­i­dent. But the real polit­i­cal pow­er rests with Ukraine’s pro-west­ern neolib­er­als.

Polit­i­cal fig­ures like Oleh Rybachuk, long a favorite of the State Depart­mentDC neo­consEU, and NATO—and the right-hand man to Orange Rev­o­lu­tion leader Vik­tor Yushchenko. Last Decem­ber, the Finan­cial Times wrote that Rybachuk’s “New Cit­i­zen” NGO cam­paign “played a big role in get­ting the protest up and run­ning.”

New Cit­i­zen, along with the rest of Rybachuk’s inter­lock­ing net­work of west­ern-backed NGOs and cam­paigns— “Cen­ter UA” (also spelled “Cen­tre UA”), “Ches­no,” and “Stop Cen­sor­ship” to name a few — grew their pow­er by tar­get­ing pro-Yanukovych politi­cians with a well-coor­di­nat­ed anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign that built its strength in Ukraine’s regions, before mass­ing in Kiev last autumn. The efforts of the NGOs were so suc­cess­ful that the Ukraine gov­ern­ment was accused of employ­ing dirty tricks to shut them down.

In ear­ly Feb­ru­ary, the groups were the sub­ject of a mas­sive mon­ey laun­der­ing inves­ti­ga­tion by the eco­nom­ics divi­sion of Ukraine’s Inte­rior Min­istry in what many denounced as a polit­i­cally moti­vated move. For­tu­nately the groups had the strength – which is to say, mon­ey – to sur­vive those attacks and con­tinue push­ing for regime change in Ukraine. The source of that mon­ey? Accord­ing to the Kyiv Post, Pier­rie Omidyar’s Omid­yar Net­work (part of the Omid­yar Group which owns First Look Media and the Inter­cept) pro­vided 36% of “Cen­ter UA”’s $500,000 bud­get in 2012— near­ly $200,000. USAID pro­vided 54% of “Cen­ter UA”’s bud­get for 2012. Oth­er fun­ders includ­ed the US gov­ern­ment-backed Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy. . . . . . . . In 1992, after the col­lapse of the Sovi­et Union, Rybachuk moved to the new­ly-formed Ukraine Cen­tral Bank, head­ing the for­eign rela­tions depart­ment under Cen­tral Bank chief and future Orange Rev­o­lu­tion leader Vik­tor Yushchenko. In his cen­tral bank post, Rybachuk estab­lished close friend­ly ties with west­ern gov­ern­ment and finan­cial aid insti­tu­tions, as well as pro­to-Omid­yar fig­ures like George Soros, who fund­ed many of the NGOs involved in “col­or rev­o­lu­tions” includ­ing small dona­tions to the same Ukraine NGOs that Omid­yar backed. (Like Omid­yar Net­work does today, Soros’ char­ity arms—Open Soci­ety and Renais­sance Foundation—publicly preached trans­parency and good gov­ern­ment in places like Rus­sia dur­ing the Yeltsin years, while Soros’ finan­cial arm spec­u­lated on Russ­ian debt and par­tic­i­pated in scan­dal-plagued auc­tions of state assets.)

 In ear­ly 2005, Orange Rev­o­lu­tion leader Yushchenko became Ukraine’s pres­i­dent, and he appoint­ed Rybachuk deputy prime min­is­ter in charge of inte­grat­ing Ukraine into the EU, NATO, and oth­er west­ern insti­tu­tions. Rybachuk also pushed for the mass-pri­va­ti­za­tion of Ukraine’s remain­ing state hold­ings. Over the next sev­eral years, Rybachuk was shift­ed around Pres­i­dent Yushchenko’s embat­tled admin­is­tra­tion, torn by inter­nal divi­sions. In 2010, Yushchenko lost the pres­i­dency to recent­ly-over­thrown Vik­tor Yanukovych, and a year lat­er, Rybachuk was on Omidyar’s and USAID’s pay­roll, prepar­ing for the next Orange Rev­o­lu­tion.

As Rybachuk told the Finan­cial Times two years ago: “We want to do [the Orange Rev­o­lu­tion] again and we think we will.”

Some of Omidyar’s funds were specif­i­cally ear­marked for cov­er­ing the costs of set­ting up Rybachuk’s “clean up par­lia­ment” NGOs in Ukraine’s region­al cen­ters. Short­ly after the Euro­maidan demon­stra­tions erupt­ed last Novem­ber, Ukraine’s Inte­rior Min­istry opened up a mon­ey laun­der­ing inves­ti­ga­tion into Rybachuk’s NGOs, drag­ging Omidyar’s name into the high-stakes polit­i­cal strug­gle. Accord­ing to a Kyiv Post arti­cle on Feb­ru­ary 10 titled, “Rybachuk: Democ­ra­cy-pro­mot­ing non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion faces ‘ridicu­lous’ inves­ti­ga­tion”: “Police are inves­ti­gat­ing Cen­ter UA, a pub­lic-sec­tor watch­dog fund­ed by West­ern donors, on sus­pi­cion of mon­ey laun­der­ing, the group said. The group’s leader, Oleh Rybachuk, said it appears that author­i­ties, with the probe, are try­ing to warn oth­er non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions that seek to pro­mote democ­racy, trans­parency, free speech and human rights in Ukraine.

“Accord­ing to Cen­ter UA, the Kyiv eco­nomic crimes unit of the Inte­rior Min­istry start­ed the inves­ti­ga­tion on Dec. 11. Recent­ly, how­ever, inves­ti­ga­tors stepped up their efforts, ques­tion­ing some 200 wit­nesses. “… Cen­ter UA received more than $500,000 in 2012, accord­ing to its annu­al report for that year, 54 per­cent of which came from Pact Inc., a project fund­ed by the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tional Devel­op­ment. Near­ly 36 per­cent came from Omid­yar Net­work, a foun­da­tion estab­lished by eBay founder Pierre Omid­yar and his wife.

Oth­er donors include the Inter­na­tional Renais­sance Foun­da­tion, whose key fun­der is bil­lion­aire George Soros, and Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy, fund­ed large­ly by the U.S. Con­gress.”

8. It turns out one of the key fig­ures in the Poroshenko admin­is­tra­tion, who was also heav­ily backed by Pierre Omidyar’s pro-Maid­an out­fits, was the per­son in charge of push­ing the lus­tra­tion laws. Of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance is the fact that Svit­lana Zalis­chuk, the recip­i­ent of Omid­yar’s fund­ing, was a key play­er in coor­di­nat­ing the activ­i­ties of the so-called “respectable,” “mod­er­ate” pro-EU polit­i­cal cadre with the overt­ly fas­cist par­ties such as Svo­bo­da and the Rad­i­cal Par­ty.

“Omid­yar-Fund­ed Can­di­date Takes Seat in New Ukraine Par­lia­ment” by Mark AmesPan­do Dai­ly; 10/30/2014.

Ukraine just held its first post-rev­o­lu­tion par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, and amid all of the oli­garchs, EU enthu­si­asts, neo-Nazisnepo­tism babies, and death squad com­man­ders, there is one new­ly-elect­ed parliamentarian’s name that stands out for her con­nec­tion to Sil­i­con Val­ley: Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk, from the bil­lion­aire president’s Poroshenko Bloc par­ty. Zal­ishchuk was giv­en a choice spot on the president’s par­ty list, at num­ber 18, ensur­ing her a seat in the new Rada. And she owes her rise to pow­er to anoth­er oli­garch besides Ukraine’s pres­i­dent — Pierre Omid­yar, whose fund­ing with USAID helped top­ple the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment. Zalishchuk’s pro-Maid­an rev­o­lu­tion out­fits were direct­ly fund­ed by Omid­yar. Ear­lier this year, Pan­do exposed how eBay bil­lion­aire and Inter­cept pub­lisher Pierre Omid­yar co-fund­ed with USAID Zalishchuk’s web of non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions — New Cit­i­zenChes­noCen­ter UA.

 Accord­ing to the Finan­cial Times, New Cit­i­zen, which received hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars from Omid­yar, “played a big role in get­ting the [Maid­an] protest up and run­ning” in Novem­ber 2013. Omid­yar Network’s web­site fea­tures Zalishchuk’s pho­to­graph on its page describ­ing its invest­ment in New Cit­i­zen. Zal­ishchuk was brought into the NGOs by her long­time men­tor, Oleh Rybachuk, a for­mer deputy prime min­ster who led the last failed effort to inte­grate Ukraine into the EU and NATO. Zalishchuk’s pho­tos also grace the Poroshenko Bloc’s web­site and twit­ter feed, as she emerged as one of the pres­i­den­tial party’s lead­ing spokesper­sons.

The Poroshenko Bloc is named after Ukraine’s pro-West­ern pres­i­dent, Petro Poroshenko, a bil­lion­aire with a lock on Ukraine’s con­fec­tionary indus­try, as well as own­ing a nation­al TV sta­tion and oth­er prized assets. He came to pow­er this year thanks to the rev­o­lu­tion orig­i­nally orga­nized by Zalishchuk’s Omid­yar-fund­ed NGOs, and has reward­ed her with a seat in the Rada. The president’s par­ty tasked Zalushchik with pub­licly sell­ing the high­ly con­tro­ver­sial new “lus­tra­tion law” — essen­tially a legal­ized witch-hunt law first pro­posed by the neo-fas­cist Svo­boda Par­ty ear­lier this year, and sub­se­quently denounced by Ukraine’s pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral and by Human Rights Watch, which described a draft of the law as “arbi­trary and over­ly broad and fail(s) to respect human rights prin­ci­ples,” warn­ing it “may set the stage for unlaw­ful mass arbi­trary polit­i­cal exclu­sion.”

The lus­tra­tion law was passed under a wave of neo-Nazi vio­lence, in which mem­bers of par­lia­ment and oth­ers set to be tar­geted for purges were forcibly thrown into trash dumps. Zal­ishchuk, how­ever, praised the lus­tra­tion law, claim­ing that the legal­ized purges would “give Ukraine a chance at a new life.” Short­ly before the elec­tions, on Octo­ber 17, Zal­ishchuk used her Omid­yar-fund­ed out­fit, “Ches­no,” to orga­nize a round­table with lead­ers of pro-EU and neo-fas­cist par­ties. It was called “Par­lia­ment for Reform”and it brought togeth­er lead­ers from eight par­ties,includ­ing Zalishchuk’s “Poroshenko Bloc” (she served as both NGO orga­nizer and as pro-Poroshenko par­ty can­di­date), the prime minister’s “People’s Par­ty” and lead­ers from two unabashed­ly neo-Nazi par­ties: Svo­boda, and the Rad­i­cal Par­ty of Oleh Lyashko, who was denounced by Amnesty Inter­na­tional for post­ing YouTube videos of him­self inter­ro­gat­ing naked and hood­ed pro-Russ­ian sep­a­ratist pris­on­ers. Lyashko’s cam­paign posters fea­tured him impal­ing a car­i­ca­tured Jew­ish oli­garch on a Ukrain­ian tri­dent.

Mean­while, Zalishchuk’s boss, Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, has led a bloody war against pro-Russ­ian sep­a­ratists in the east of the coun­try that left at least 3700 dead in a half year of fight­ing. Human Rights Watch recent­ly accused Poroshenko’s forces of “indis­crim­i­nate” use of clus­ter bombs in heav­ily pop­u­lated areas, that “may amount to war crimes.” Poroshenko’s forces include neo-Nazi death squads like the noto­ri­ous Azov bat­tal­ion.

Last month, Poroshenko fur­ther cement­ed his ties to the extreme right by hail­ing Ukraine’s wartime Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors, the vio­lently anti-Semit­ic UPA, as “heroes.” The fas­cist UPA par­tic­i­pated in the Holo­caust, and were respon­si­ble for killing tens of thou­sands of Jews and eth­nic Poles in their bid to cre­ate an eth­ni­cally pure Ukraine. Many UPA mem­bers filled the ranks of the Nazi SS “Gali­cia” Divi­sion.

The neo-Nazi Right Sek­tor, which spear­headed the vio­lent lat­er stages of the Maid­an rev­o­lu­tion, sees itself as the UPA’s con­tem­po­rary suc­ces­sors; Right Sektor’s leader, Dmit­ry Yarosh, believes that any “eth­nic minor­ity that pre­vents us from being mas­ters in our own land” is an “ene­my.” Yarosh was just elect­ed to the new par­lia­ment. This week, Omid­yar Network’s “invest­ment lead” for Ukraine, Stephen King, accept­ed an award for Omid­yar Network’s role in a major new USAID-backed project, Glob­al Impact Invest­ing Net­work. . . .

9. Mark Ames has a new update on the ever evolv­ing nature of Pierre Omidyar’s new media empire: First is now invest­ing in a new inter­na­tional “fact check­ing” ser­vice with the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy, which is inex­tri­ca­bly linked with U.S. intel­li­gence and fre­quent­ly func­tions as a front for covert oper­a­tions. He also invest­ed in a Ukrain­ian news ser­vice set up on the eve of the Maid­an rev­o­lu­tion.

And it looks like there could be many more invest­ments in media orga­ni­za­tions yet to come because it now looks like the whole mod­el for First Look Media has changed: instead of set­ting up a con­stel­la­tion of sep­a­rate inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­is­tic out­lets, First Look is just going to start invest­ing in exist­ing media enter­prises. Note that one of the founders of NED was the late Allen Wein­stein, who served as George W. Bush’s head of the Nation­al Archives.

“What Pierre Did Next” by Mark Ames; Pan­do Dai­ly; 7/31/2015.

The Guardian report­ed on Tues­day that the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy has just been banned from Rus­sia, under strict new laws reg­u­lat­ing NGOs act­ing as for­eign agents. In that sto­ry, the Guardian cit­ed the fact that Inter­cept pub­lisher Pierre Omid­yar co-fund­ed Ukraine rev­o­lu­tion groups with USAID and the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy (NED). If the Omid­yar con­nec­tion sounds famil­iar, that’s because it was Pan­do that first broke the sto­ry in Feb­ru­ary 2014 (the Guardian linked to our orig­i­nal scoop in its cov­er­age.)

In the 18 months since we broke the sto­ry, Ukraine has col­lapsed into war and despair, with up to 10,000 peo­ple killed and one and a half mil­lion inter­nal­ly-dis­placed refugees — and top US brass talk open­ly of a new Cold War with nuclear-armed Rus­sia, while US mil­i­tary advi­sors train and arm Ukraini­ans to wage war on Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratists. Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk, one of the lead­ers of the Omid­yar-fund­ed NGO that helped orga­nize last year’s rev­o­lu­tion in Kiev, is now in pow­er as an MP in Ukraine’s par­lia­ment, a mem­ber of the new, pro-NATO president’s par­ty bloc.

She’s gone from plucky Omid­yar-fund­ed adver­sar­ial activist, to head­ing a par­lia­men­tary sub­com­mit­tee tasked with inte­grat­ing Ukraine into NATO. I can’t think of anoth­er media tycoon who co-fund­ed a pro-US regime change with Amer­i­can intel­li­gence cutouts like USAID and the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy.

That Putin tar­geted the NED does not mean it’s either hero­ic or evil—the NED’s sto­ry speaks for itself: The brain­child of Reagan’s CIA direc­tor Bill Casey, the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy was set up as an intel­li­gence cutout to sup­port US geopo­lit­i­cal pow­er and under­mine unfriend­ly regimes. One of the NED co-founders, Allen Wein­stein, explained its pur­pose to the Wash­ing­ton Post:

“A lot of what we do today was done covert­ly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

Through­out its 30-year his­tory it’s been mired in very typ­i­cal CIA con­tro­ver­sies: In the 80s, the NED was caught fund­ing an out­lawed extreme-right French para­mil­i­tary gang dur­ing Social­ist pres­i­dent Mitterand’s rule; fund­ing a mil­i­tary leader’s vic­to­ri­ous elec­tion in Pana­ma against a more mod­er­ate civil­ian can­di­date; and financ­ing rightwing oppo­nents of Cos­ta Rica’s demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-elect­ed Nobel Peace Prize-win­ning pres­i­dent, whose sin was oppos­ing Reagan’s dead­ly, dirty war in Nicaragua.

More recent­ly, the NED was caught fund­ing groups that orga­nized the 2002 coup against Venezuela’s demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-elect­ed pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez; plant­ing a “free-lance jour­nal­ist”    in the AP and New York Times to report on Haiti while the NED was simul­ta­ne­ously fund­ing rightwing groups to under­mine Haiti’s rul­ing par­ty; and co-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change groups with Pierre Omid­yar.

This week, Omid­yar Net­work announced yet anoth­er part­ner­ship with the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy and the Poyn­ter Insti­tute to cre­ate an inter­na­tional online fact-check­ing hub. Giv­en the pow­er that a monop­oly on “objec­tive” fact-check­ing offers, the tie-up with the NED takes the Omid­yar alliance with the US empire and media to new­er, creepi­er lev­els.

 In yet anoth­er Omid­yar-as-pri­vate-arm invest­ment, Omid­yar invest­ed in the slick new Ukrain­ian media, Hromadske.tv, which was set up on the eve of the Maid­an rev­o­lu­tion with ini­tial seed fund­ing com­ing from the US Embassy in Kiev. Omidyar’s involve­ment in Ukraine media and “fact-check­ing” is all the more seri­ous giv­en that now Wash­ing­ton and NATO talk about “coun­ter­ing” Russia’s over­hyped “infor­ma­tion war” on the West and on Ukraine—this “infor­ma­tion war” which I cov­ered a bit in my piece on Peter Pomer­ant­sev, is con­sid­ered a top and urgent geostrate­gic pri­or­ity for NATO and the West.

And now in the last week, the lat­est twist to the far­ci­cal “jour­nal­ism par­adise” shit­show: Omid­yar is report­edly in talks with the king of online tabloid-sleaze, Nick Den­ton, to invest in the latter’s per­ma-sued orga­ni­za­tion. As Pando’s Paul Carr wrote ear­lier this week, the ground seems to be being pre­pared for a full-on merg­er of the Inter­cept and Gawk­er, backed by Omidyar’s cash.

As of yes­ter­day, Nick Den­ton appoint­ed John Cook — for­merly edi­tor of the Inter­cept — to be the “tem­po­rary” exec­u­tive edi­tor of Gawk­er. When Cook depart­ed the Inter­cept, he wrote that “Work­ing with my Inter­cept col­leagues has been one of the most ful­fill­ing things I’ve done in my career, and my deci­sion to leave was a painful one to make.” At the same time, IBT report­ed that Chief Rev­enue Offi­cer, Michael Rosen, had resigned from First Look Media. Rosen’s depar­ture comes just a week after John Tem­ple, First Look’s “Pres­i­dent, Audi­ence and Prod­ucts,” stepped down from his job say­ing “There clear­ly is much excite­ment ahead for First Look, but I feel my con­tri­bu­tion is large­ly com­plete.”

Per­haps it’s a coin­ci­dence that both the guy who is in charge of build­ing an audi­ence for the Inter­cept and the guy tasked with mak­ing it prof­itable have left. Or per­haps not: IBT quotes a source explain­ing that “First Look would soon be mov­ing away from try­ing to cre­ate a con­stel­la­tion of mag­a­zines and begin to focus on empow­er­ing ‘con­tent cre­ators.’ That is, Omid­yar will be invest­ing cash in sites like Gawk­er, along­side his invest­ments in fact-check­ing sites and Ukraine rev­o­lu­tion­ary groups.

How will the Intercept’s audi­ence, which accept­ed Greenwald’s deci­sion to pri­va­tize the Snow­den secrets to Omid­yar, react if Omid­yar then sells jour­nal­ism par­adise to jour­nal­ism sleaze and the Snow­den secrets — our secrets, the public’s secrets — wind up as cap­i­tal assets in First Gawk­er Media? Snow­den revealed that NSA spooks were spy­ing on their lovers online habits — how will that be mon­e­tized in First Gawk­er Media? Where will Denton’s 20% sleaze dis­count be applied?

 

Discussion

2 comments for “FTR #889 Intercept This! Compendium on Citizen Omidyar”

  1. The school pri­va­ti­za­tion move­ment just scored a big win in Africa. Pierre Omid­yar too: Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­mies, part of the Omid­yar Net­work, won the con­tract to pri­vate­ly oper­ate Liberi­a’s entire pre-pri­ma­ry and pri­ma­ry edu­ca­tion sys­tem

    Mail & Globe Africa

    An Africa first! Liberia out­sources entire edu­ca­tion sys­tem to a pri­vate Amer­i­can firm. Why all should pay atten­tion

    It could pos­si­bly be the largest and most ambi­tious pri­vati­sa­tion attempt in Africa’s recent his­to­ry

    31 Mar 2016 17:02 Chris­tine Mungai

    IN Jan­u­ary, Liberia’s min­is­ter of edu­ca­tion made a far-reach­ing announce­ment, which nev­er­the­less has large­ly flown under the radar – until now, when a top UN offi­cial has come out strong­ly in oppo­si­tion to it.

    Liber­ian edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter George Wern­er announced that the entire pre-pri­ma­ry and pri­ma­ry edu­ca­tion sys­tem would be out­sourced to Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­mies to man­age. The deal will see the gov­ern­ment of Liberia pay over $65 mil­lion over a five-year peri­od; pub­lic fund­ing for edu­ca­tion will sup­port ser­vices sub­con­tract­ed to the pri­vate, for-prof­it, US-based com­pa­ny.

    Under the pub­lic-pri­vate arrange­ment, the com­pa­ny will design cur­ricu­lum mate­ri­als from April to Sep­tem­ber 2017, while phase two will have the com­pa­ny roll­out mass imple­men­ta­tion over 5 years, “with gov­ern­ment exit pos­si­ble each year depen­dent on pro­vid­ed per­for­mance from Sep­tem­ber 2017 onwards,” the report from Liberia’s Front­Page News­pa­per said.

    “Even­tu­al­ly the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion is aim­ing to con­tract out all pri­ma­ry and ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion schools to pri­vate providers who meet the required stan­dards over 5 year peri­od,” the arti­cle states.

    It would pos­si­bly be the largest, and most ambi­tious pri­vati­sa­tion attempt in Africa’s recent his­to­ry, and the move has elicit­ed mixed reac­tions, for good rea­son.

    The UN’s Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on the right to edu­ca­tion, Kishore Singh, last week described it as “unprece­dent­ed at the scale cur­rent­ly being pro­posed and vio­lates Liberia’s legal and moral oblig­a­tions.”

    The UN offi­cial and human rights expert not­ed that pro­vi­sion of pub­lic edu­ca­tion of good qual­i­ty is a core func­tion of the State.

    “Aban­don­ing this to the com­mer­cial ben­e­fit of a pri­vate com­pa­ny con­sti­tutes a gross vio­la­tion of the right to edu­ca­tion,” said Singh.

    Mail & Guardian Africa breaks down the issue, and its wide-reach­ing impli­ca­tions, and why Africa should sit up and pay atten­tion to this “edu­ca­tion inno­va­tion” com­pa­ny that has roots in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

    What is Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­mies?

    By their own descrip­tion, Bridge is the world’s largest edu­ca­tion inno­va­tion com­pa­ny, with 100,000 stu­dents in its 400+ net­worked schools so far, most­ly in Kenya and Ugan­da; it plans to edu­cate 10 mil­lion chil­dren across a dozen coun­tries in Africa and Asia by 2025, specif­i­cal­ly tar­get­ing low-income fam­i­lies.

    What is the Bridge mod­el of deliv­ery?

    Bridge’s mod­el is “school in a box” – a high­ly struc­tured, tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven mod­el that relies on teach­ers read­ing stan­dard­ised lessons from hand-held tablet com­put­ers. Bridge hires edu­ca­tion experts to script the lessons, but the teacher’s role is to deliv­er that con­tent to the class. This allows Bridge to hold down costs  because it can hire teach­ers who don’t have col­lege degrees – a teacher is only required to go through a five-week train­ing pro­gramme on how to read and deliv­er the script.

    To keep tuition costs low – about $6 a term – Bridge depends on large class sizes. An ide­al class size is 40 to 50 pupils, but the class­es can get upward of 70 stu­dents. The phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture is mod­est too – often just sim­ple build­ing made of sheet met­al and tim­ber, which can be con­struct­ed in a few days.

    But the back-end – the tech­nol­o­gy run­ning it all – is sophis­ti­cat­ed indeed, rely­ing on Big Data, algo­rithms, and automa­tion of most school admin­is­tra­tive tasks. Bridge says that this mod­el gives poor fam­i­lies an option to get “qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion for their chil­dren for a mod­est fee”, in an envi­ron­ment where free gov­ern­ment schools are often over­crowd­ed, under­staffed and inef­fec­tive.

    The com­pa­ny says its stu­dents have bet­ter grades, gain­ing an addi­tion­al .34 stan­dard devi­a­tion on core read­ing skills and an addi­tion­al .51 stan­dard devi­a­tion on maths com­pared to their peers in neigh­bor­ing schools, “based on USAID-designed exams admin­is­tered by an inde­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion com­pa­ny – trans­lat­ing into over 250 addi­tion­al days of learn­ing.”

    What are the objec­tions to Bridge, and why do they mat­ter?

    1. Teach­ers are robots that just read scripts off hand-held tablets, and that’s not the best way for chil­dren to learn – it dis­cour­ages stu­dent inter­ac­tion both with the teacher and with each oth­er, sup­press­es crit­i­cal think­ing, and encour­ages rote learn­ing. Teacher unions in the region have come out hard against the com­pa­ny, argu­ing that it will dis­cour­age the employ­ment of qual­i­fied teach­ers.

    Bridge says that giv­en the alter­na­tives – which include gov­ern­ment schools staffed by unmo­ti­vat­ed teach­ers and oth­er non-for­mal schools offer­ing lit­tle in-house teacher train­ing – the pri­vate school chain offers an edu­ca­tion that’s more account­able, and sub­ject to rig­or­ous test­ing and review.

    In any case, under the tra­di­tion­al mod­el, what a child is able to learn is “always lim­it­ed by what the teacher knows, so you can nev­er have the child leap-frog pre­vi­ous prob­lems with­in that town, city or coun­try,” accord­ing to Bridge co-founder Shan­non May.

    ...

    3. Bridge’s claim that its stu­dents do bet­ter than their com­pa­ra­ble peers at gov­ern­ment schools seems to be from a study com­mis­sioned by the com­pa­ny itself, the joint civ­il soci­ety state­ment said that it was “not aware of any inde­pen­dent aca­d­e­m­ic study avail­able on Bridge Acad­e­mies.”

    ...

    5. Mass pri­vati­sa­tion of the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, as Liberia is attempt­ing, is an anath­e­ma and just wrong – no mat­ter the pos­i­tive out­comes in bet­ter grades. Pro­vi­sion of pub­lic edu­ca­tion of good qual­i­ty is a core func­tion of the State, and an essen­tial pub­lic ser­vice. Out­sourc­ing this to the com­mer­cial ben­e­fit of a pri­vate com­pa­ny is a gross vio­la­tion of the right to edu­ca­tion, and a country’s inter­na­tion­al oblig­a­tions, as the UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on edu­ca­tion described it.

    Best test­ing ground

    In any case, Liberia might be the best coun­try in Africa to “test” this mod­el. The edu­ca­tion sys­tem is still in sham­bles fol­low­ing a pro­longed and bru­tal­ly destruc­tive 14-year civ­il war, which also result­ed in the flight, or death, of a large chunk of trained work­force; phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture was destroyed. The Ebo­la out­break of 2014–2015 just set every­thing back again, and Liberia is sig­nif­i­cant­ly behind most oth­er coun­tries in the African region in near­ly all edu­ca­tion sta­tis­tics.

    In that case, an edu­ca­tion sys­tem, which is mod­elled on account­abil­i­ty, stan­dard­i­s­a­tion, ana­lyt­i­cal rigour, and pol­i­cy changes that can be backed with rich data sets – albeit pri­vate – is far bet­ter than what Liberia has at the moment.

    Still, it sets the teeth of many on edge. And the claim that Bridge gives par­ents a choice ceas­es to hold water in Liberia, where every pub­lic school may soon become a Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­my.

    ...

    “The UN’s Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on the right to edu­ca­tion, Kishore Singh, last week described it as “unprece­dent­ed at the scale cur­rent­ly being pro­posed and vio­lates Liberia’s legal and moral oblig­a­tions.””
    That was­n’t exact­ly a ring­ing endorse­ment. But it’s hap­pen­ing any­way, so get ready to watch the prof­it motive work its mag­ic:

    ...
    Bridge’s mod­el is “school in a box” – a high­ly struc­tured, tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven mod­el that relies on teach­ers read­ing stan­dard­ised lessons from hand-held tablet com­put­ers. Bridge hires edu­ca­tion experts to script the lessons, but the teacher’s role is to deliv­er that con­tent to the class. This allows Bridge to hold down costs  because it can hire teach­ers who don’t have col­lege degrees – a teacher is only required to go through a five-week train­ing pro­gramme on how to read and deliv­er the script.

    To keep tuition costs low – about $6 a term – Bridge depends on large class sizes. An ide­al class size is 40 to 50 pupils, but the class­es can get upward of 70 stu­dents. The phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture is mod­est too – often just sim­ple build­ing made of sheet met­al and tim­ber, which can be con­struct­ed in a few days.
    ...

    Remem­ber, it’s for the chil­dren.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 3, 2016, 6:20 pm
  2. Here’s an update on Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­mies — the Her­nan­do de Soto-inspired net­work of for-prof­it pri­vate schools for poor coun­tries backed by the Omid­yar Net­work, Bill and Melin­da Gates, and the Zucker­bergs that relies on poor­ly edu­cat­ed teach­ers teach­ing from pre­pared scripts: A coali­tion of 174 civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions is call­ing on inter­na­tion­al donors to stop sup­port­ing it because it’s pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive for the poor­est stu­dents, uses poor­ly paid teach­ers teach­ing from inflex­i­ble scripts, and intim­i­dates its crit­ics:

    The Guardian

    UK urged to stop fund­ing ‘inef­fec­tive and unsus­tain­able’ Bridge schools

    Civ­il soci­ety groups call on for­eign donors not to fund Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­mies, cit­ing high fees, low pay and poor teach­ing meth­ods

    Rebec­ca Rat­cliffe and Afua Hirsch

    Thurs­day 3 August 2017 07.00 EDT

    A coali­tion of 174 civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions has called on inter­na­tion­al donors, includ­ing the UK gov­ern­ment, to drop sup­port for a pri­vate school com­pa­ny oper­at­ing in Africa.

    Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­mies (BIA) pro­vides tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven edu­ca­tion in more than 500 pri­ma­ry and nurs­ery schools in Kenya, Nige­ria, Ugan­da, Liberia and India. Bill Gates and Mark Zucker­berg are among the high-pro­file phil­an­thropists from whom the Amer­i­can start­up has received fund­ing.

    In a state­ment, cam­paign groups said the firm charges pro­hib­i­tive­ly high fees and that teach­ers are poor­ly paid, receive lit­tle train­ing, and are giv­en inflex­i­ble, script­ed lessons to read from tablets. The organ­i­sa­tions also accused BIA of intim­i­dat­ing its crit­ics, a claim the com­pa­ny has denied.

    The state­ment, signed by organ­i­sa­tions from 50 dif­fer­ent coun­tries includ­ing Glob­al Jus­tice Now and Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al, cit­ed research sug­gest­ing that the poor­est stu­dents can­not afford to attend Bridge schools.

    “BIA’s mod­el is nei­ther effec­tive for the poor­est chil­dren nor sus­tain­able against the edu­ca­tion­al chal­lenges found in devel­op­ing coun­tries,” said the cam­paign­ers, who allud­ed to “mount­ing insti­tu­tion­al and inde­pen­dent evi­dence that rais­es seri­ous con­cerns about BIA” and warned of “sig­nif­i­cant legal and eth­i­cal risks asso­ci­at­ed with invest­ments” in the com­pa­ny.

    In Kenya, send­ing three chil­dren to a Bridge school is esti­mat­ed to rep­re­sent almost a third of the month­ly income of fam­i­lies liv­ing on $1.25 (94p) a day, accord­ing to a joint study by Kenya Nation­al Union of Teach­ers and Edu­ca­tion Inter­na­tion­al, a fed­er­a­tion rep­re­sent­ing 32 mil­lion teach­ers and sup­port staff. The researchers not­ed that teach­ers are required to work between 59 and 65 hours a week for a month­ly salary of $100.

    Uganda’s high court ordered the clo­sure of 63 Bridge schools last year, rul­ing that they pro­vid­ed unsan­i­tary learn­ing con­di­tions, used unqual­i­fied teach­ers and were not prop­er­ly licensed. No schools have been closed and Bridge is in dia­logue with the gov­ern­ment.

    In April, fol­low­ing an inquiry into UK aid spend­ing on edu­ca­tion, the chair­man of the UK parliament’s inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment com­mit­tee ques­tioned whether grant fund­ing should have been pro­vid­ed to Bridge. “The evi­dence received dur­ing this inquiry rais­es seri­ous ques­tions about Bridge’s rela­tion­ships with gov­ern­ments, trans­paren­cy and sus­tain­abil­i­ty,” Stephen Twigg wrote in a let­ter to the inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment sec­re­tary, Pri­ti Patel.

    Bridge’s mod­el, under which teach­ers are giv­en elec­tron­ic tablets con­tain­ing les­son plans, is seen by some as an answer to improv­ing access to edu­ca­tion in low-income coun­tries. In Liberia, BIA is the main part­ner in a gov­ern­ment pilot scheme, Part­ner­ship Schools for Liberia (PSL), that involves state-fund­ed pri­vate oper­a­tors run­ning state pri­ma­ry schools. Stu­dents at the schools are not charged fees.

    The scheme was set up to address the country’s dire edu­ca­tion out­comes. “For the sake of these kids, we had to do some­thing,” said Liberia’s deputy min­is­ter for edu­ca­tion, Romelle Hor­ton. “Qual­i­ty has to improve.”

    One-third of the country’s 15- to 24-year-olds are illit­er­ate and, in 2013, none of Liberia’s 25,000 school-leavers passed the uni­ver­si­ty entrance exam.

    Franklin C Jah, the vice-prin­ci­pal for instruc­tion at Martha Tub­man pub­lic school in Nim­ba coun­ty, one of the Liber­ian schools that has part­nered with BIA, said stan­dards have risen. “Last year, at this school, the stu­dents would just copy from the board,” he said. “The teach­ers would not even explain the notes. But now a com­put­er tells us what to do.”

    Ini­tial gov­ern­ment assess­ments sug­gest Bridge schools in Liberia are gen­er­al­ly out­per­form­ing their state coun­ter­parts. The per­cent­age of pupils scor­ing zero in read­ing com­pre­hen­sion in Bridge schools fell by 14% among year 1 pupils, while it increased 2% in gov­ern­ment schools. How­ev­er, pupil atten­dance was high­er in gov­ern­ment-run schools: 70%, com­pared with 60% in Bridge schools by the fourth school term.

    But Mary Mul­bah, pres­i­dent of the Nation­al Teach­ers’ Asso­ci­a­tion of Liberia, has crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment for push­ing ahead with plans to expand the scheme before receiv­ing results from a larg­er study. “We don’t agree that stu­dent test scores alone should be used to decide whether to dis­man­tle our pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tem,” she wrote in a pub­lic let­ter.

    Respond­ing to the crit­i­cism from civ­il soci­ety groups, BIA said it pro­vides high-qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion to mar­gin­alised and remote com­mu­ni­ties across Africa. The com­pa­ny point­ed out that it costs an aver­age of just under $7 (£5) a month to send a child to Bridge, and that 10% of stu­dents are on schol­ar­ships. BIA added that teach­ers work about 54 hours a week and are giv­en high-qual­i­ty train­ing before and dur­ing their careers, with salaries – between $95 and $116 a month in Kenya – high­er than in oth­er non-for­mal schools.

    “Our pupils are out­per­form­ing their peers in nation­al exams over con­sec­u­tive years. Our mod­el means that we’re able to attract new invest­ment towards solv­ing one of the world’s most press­ing prob­lems: hun­dreds of mil­lions of chil­dren who are not learn­ing,” the Bridge state­ment said.

    “Pub­lic schools and Bridge schools can and do oper­ate side by side to serve com­mu­ni­ties in coun­tries where there are major short­ages of nurs­eries and pri­ma­ry schools. We help gov­ern­ments quick­ly address the gap between how many schools they have and how many they need.”

    ...

    ———-

    “UK urged to stop fund­ing ‘inef­fec­tive and unsus­tain­able’ Bridge schools” by Rebec­ca Rat­cliffe and Afua Hirsch; The Guardian; 08/03/2017

    In Kenya, send­ing three chil­dren to a Bridge school is esti­mat­ed to rep­re­sent almost a third of the month­ly income of fam­i­lies liv­ing on $1.25 (94p) a day, accord­ing to a joint study by Kenya Nation­al Union of Teach­ers and Edu­ca­tion Inter­na­tion­al, a fed­er­a­tion rep­re­sent­ing 32 mil­lion teach­ers and sup­port staff. The researchers not­ed that teach­ers are required to work between 59 and 65 hours a week for a month­ly salary of $100.

    The bil­lion­aire-backed for-prof­it edu­ca­tion par­a­digm for the poor­est peo­ple in the world gob­bles up a third of house­hold incomes for the poor­est peo­ple by hir­ing under­paid, under­e­d­u­cat­ed peo­ple to become teach­ers who are “teach­ers” in name only since they sim­ply read from a script. Behold, the mir­a­cle of the for-prof­it mar­ket­place! Is there any­thing it can’t do?

    So does Bridge Inter­na­tion­al have a plan for address­ing the lack of afford­abil­i­ty and stilt­ed approach to teach­ing that turns instruc­tors into class­room automa­tons? Well, based on the fol­low­ing arti­cle that goes into greater detail on the var­i­ous prob­lems with the pro­gram, no there is no plan for address­ing the automa­ton-instruc­tor issue. But at the very end of the arti­cle it does hint at an approach Bridge Inter­na­tion­al is con­sid­er­ing for address­ing the afford­abil­i­ty issue: micro-loans to the poor­est fam­i­lies

    The New York Times

    Can a Tech Start-Up Suc­cess­ful­ly Edu­cate Chil­dren in the Devel­op­ing World?

    Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­mies — a chain of inex­pen­sive pri­vate schools — has ambi­tious plans to rev­o­lu­tion­ize edu­ca­tion for poor chil­dren. But can its for-prof­it mod­el work in some of the most impov­er­ished places on Earth?

    By PEG TYRE
    JUNE 27, 2017

    Last fall, when I vis­it­ed Kawang­ware, a dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed slum out­side Nairo­bi, Kenya, the morn­ing was bright, and a breeze pro­vid­ed a wel­come respite from the smell of the open sew­ers that run like sep­tic cap­il­lar­ies through the back streets and alleys. Extreme pover­ty makes life dif­fi­cult here, and H.I.V. and water­borne ill­ness are rife. Most homes are one-room cor­ru­gat­ed-met­al shacks that lack elec­tric­i­ty, run­ning water or indoor plumb­ing. It was an unlike­ly place to open a for-prof­it pri­vate school. But there, along a pit­ted road, stood an out­post of Bridge Inter­na­tion­al Acad­e­mies, an ambi­tious exper­i­ment in bring­ing mar­ket-based edu­ca­tion to com­mu­ni­ties like this around the world.

    Step­ping inside the green-paint­ed met­al fenc­ing, I ducked into one of two low, rec­tan­gu­lar school build­ings, which had been con­struct­ed from rough-hewed wood and sheets of bright green met­al. From the hall­way, one of Bridge’s founders, Shan­non May, urged me to look through the chick­en-wire win­dows. The dim, spare, well-swept class­rooms had uneven con­crete floors and no elec­tric lights. Inside, a third-grade teacher was read­ing from a com­put­er tablet, recit­ing a les­son script that had been trans­mit­ted from the Bridge head­quar­ters in cen­tral Nairo­bi, a 45-minute dri­ve away. The instruc­tor qui­et­ly spoke the les­son as he wrote on the chalk­board, explain­ing the math sym­bols that indi­cate ‘‘greater than’’ or ‘‘less than.’’ Twen­ty-three third-grade stu­dents, all dressed in bright green Bridge uni­forms, were doing their best to fol­low along. Because Bridge schools are stan­dard­ized, May point­ed out that the teach­ers were work­ing from the same syn­chro­nized les­son guide that was being deliv­ered in hun­dreds of Bridge’s schools in Kenya, allow­ing the com­pa­ny to ensure that stu­dents every­where were receiv­ing a uni­form cur­ricu­lum.

    Bridge oper­ates 405 schools in Kenya, edu­cat­ing chil­dren from preschool through eighth grade, for a fee of between $54 and $126 per year, depend­ing on the loca­tion of the school. It was found­ed in 2007 by May and her hus­band, Jay Kim­mel­man, along with a friend, Phil Frei. From ear­ly on, the founders’ plans for the world’s poor were auda­cious. ‘‘An aggres­sive start-up com­pa­ny that could fig­ure out how to prof­itably deliv­er edu­ca­tion at a high qual­i­ty for less than $5 a month could rad­i­cal­ly dis­rupt the sta­tus quo in edu­ca­tion for these 700 mil­lion chil­dren and ulti­mate­ly cre­ate what could be a bil­lion-dol­lar new glob­al edu­ca­tion com­pa­ny,’’ Kim­mel­man said in 2014. Just as titans in Sil­i­con Val­ley were remak­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion and com­merce, Bridge founders promised to rev­o­lu­tion­ize pri­ma­ry-school edu­ca­tion. ‘‘It’s the Tes­la of edu­ca­tion com­pa­nies,’’ says Whit­ney Tilson, a Bridge investor and hedge-fund man­ag­er in New York who helped found Teach for Amer­i­ca and is a vocal sup­port­er of char­ter schools.

    The Bridge con­cept — low-cost pri­vate schools for the world’s poor­est chil­dren — has gal­va­nized many of the West­ern investors and Sil­i­con Val­ley moguls who learn about the project. Bill Gates, the Omid­yar Net­work, the Chan Zucker­berg Ini­tia­tive and the World Bank have all invest­ed in the com­pa­ny; Pear­son, the multi­na­tion­al text­book-and-assess­ment com­pa­ny, has done so through a ven­ture-cap­i­tal fund. Tilson talked about the com­pa­ny to Bill Ack­man, the hedge-fund man­ag­er of Per­sh­ing Square, which ulti­mate­ly invest­ed $5.8 mil­lion through its foun­da­tion. By ear­ly 2015, Bridge had secured more than $100 mil­lion, accord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal.

    The fact that Bridge was a for-prof­it com­pa­ny gave pause to some NGOs that work in devel­op­ing coun­tries. But oth­ers rea­soned that in the last decade, for-prof­it com­pa­nies backed by what are called social-impact investors — peo­ple and insti­tu­tions that make mon­ey by doing good — had suc­cess­ful­ly brought about impor­tant inno­va­tions, like solar-pow­er ini­tia­tives and low-cost health clin­ics, in poor coun­tries. Bridge’s mod­el relied on sim­i­lar investors but was even more ambi­tious in its dreams of scale. ‘‘There is a great demand for this,’’ May said in an M.I.T. video from 2016. Some of the company’s back­ers, she said, were ‘‘not social-impact investors,’’ con­tin­u­ing that ‘‘it was straight com­mer­cial cap­i­tal who saw, ‘Wow, there are a cou­ple bil­lion peo­ple who don’t have any­one sell­ing them what they want.’?’’ For a 2010 case study on the com­pa­ny, Kim­mel­man told the Har­vard Busi­ness School that return on invest­ment could be 20 per­cent annu­al­ly.

    By 2015, Bridge was edu­cat­ing 100,000 stu­dents, and the founders claimed that they were pro­vid­ing a ‘‘world-class edu­ca­tion’’ at ‘‘less than 30 per­cent’’ of what ‘‘the aver­age devel­op­ing coun­try spends per child on pri­ma­ry edu­ca­tion.’’ This would rep­re­sent a remark­able achieve­ment. None of the founders had tra­di­tion­al teach­ing expe­ri­ence. May had been an unpaid teacher at a school in Chi­na; Kim­mel­man worked with teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors devel­op­ing an ed-tech com­pa­ny. How had they pulled it off? In inter­views and speech­es, they cred­it­ed cut­ting-edge edu­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy and busi­ness strate­gies — the com­pa­ny mon­i­tors and stores a wide range of data on sub­jects includ­ing teacher absen­teeism, stu­dent pay­ment his­to­ry and aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment — along with their con­cern for the well-being of the world’s poor­est chil­dren. That potent mix­ture, they said, had allowed them to begin solv­ing a com­plex and intractable prob­lem: how to pro­vide cheap, scal­able, high-qual­i­ty school­ing for the most vul­ner­a­ble, dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren on earth. Their achieve­ment, they believed, could change the world — the sub­ject line of a 2014 Bridge com­pa­ny email read, ‘‘What do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jay Kim­mel­man and Shan­non May have in com­mon?’’ The next year, the ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Greg Mau­ro, who is a Bridge board mem­ber, told The Wall Street Jour­nal that if all went as planned, the com­pa­ny would seek an ini­tial pub­lic stock offer­ing in 2017.

    By 2016, in addi­tion to the hun­dreds of Bridge schools open in Kenya, 63 were up and run­ning in Ugan­da and 23 in Nige­ria. (They would lat­er open four schools in India.) In March of that year, the Liber­ian gov­ern­ment decid­ed that Bridge might be the key to over­haul­ing the nation’s bare­ly func­tion­ing edu­ca­tion sys­tem, and offi­cials there struck a deal with the com­pa­ny that hand­ed over the oper­a­tion of 50 pri­ma­ry schools, with the poten­tial for let­ting them run many more in the future.

    At the same time, Bridge was fac­ing dif­fi­cul­ties in the coun­tries where it had been teach­ing the longest. In Kenya, enroll­ment was grow­ing more slow­ly than the founders antic­i­pat­ed. A teach­ers’ union was mount­ing a vocal oppo­si­tion. Some parts of the Kenyan gov­ern­ment were crack­ing down, too. While Uber and Airbnb explod­ed in the gray areas in reg­u­la­tions that gov­erned taxis and hotels, Bridge had trou­ble oper­at­ing with­in the thick­et of com­pli­cat­ed, restric­tive Kenyan edu­ca­tion reg­u­la­tions. ‘‘Tech­ni­cal­ly, we’re break­ing the law,’’ May said in a 2013 arti­cle in TES, an edu­ca­tion pub­li­ca­tion, ‘‘but so are thou­sands of oth­er schools who are oper­at­ing like this.’’ In Feb­ru­ary 2017, a high court in the Kenyan coun­ty Busia upheld a deci­sion to close 10 of 12 Bridge schools; Bridge appealed, and the schools remained open. In Ugan­da, a sim­i­lar dynam­ic was at play. A few months ear­li­er, the high court issued an order for Bridge schools to be closed because gov­ern­ment inspec­tors said that chil­dren were being taught in sub­stan­dard facil­i­ties and unsan­i­tary con­di­tions. Bridge suc­cess­ful­ly appealed, and the schools remain open.

    Rather than approach­ing prof­itabil­i­ty, the com­pa­ny was oper­at­ing at a loss of $1 mil­lion a month. In March of this year, May went to Lon­don to pro­vide tes­ti­mo­ny to Par­lia­ment as part of a series of hear­ings about the British government’s inter­na­tion­al-devel­op­ment efforts in edu­ca­tion, includ­ing $4.4 mil­lion of British gov­ern­ment fund­ing for Bridge that had allowed them to expand to Nige­ria. In April, the com­mit­tee chair­man issued an open let­ter to Britain’s sec­re­tary of state for inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment say­ing no fur­ther invest­ments should be made until there has been ‘‘clear, inde­pen­dent evi­dence that the schools pro­duce pos­i­tive learn­ing out­comes for pupils’’ and that there were ‘‘seri­ous ques­tions about Bridge’s rela­tion­ships with gov­ern­ments, trans­paren­cy and sus­tain­abil­i­ty.’’ Those ques­tions were echoes, per­haps, of the same ques­tion that Bridge skep­tics had asked from the begin­ning: Even if its big dream made sense in the­o­ry, could it actu­al­ly work amid the com­pli­cat­ed polit­i­cal forces and bru­tal pover­ty of the nations whose chil­dren were most in need?

    The first inklings of the idea behind Bridge came to May and Kim­mel­man in 2005. They were in their late 20s and liv­ing in Huang­baiyu, a vil­lage in north­east Chi­na where May was doing her doc­tor­al work in anthro­pol­o­gy, and they began to do research on the pro­found effects of edu­ca­tion­al fail­ure in poor com­mu­ni­ties. ‘‘Heads of house­holds who didn’t grad­u­ate from pri­ma­ry school lit­er­al­ly had hous­es made of shod­di­er mate­ri­als than those who did,’’ Kim­mel­man recalled in a phone inter­view late last fall about one exam­ple that struck him, a hint of his Long Island child­hood in his accent. ‘‘You could see the effect that edu­ca­tion has on human poten­tial in front of your eyes.’’ May, who is an Ari­zona native, and Kim­mel­man grad­u­at­ed from Har­vard and met at their five-year reunion in 2004. By then, Kim­mel­man, who favors open-col­lared shirts and thick black glass­es, had found­ed a soft­ware com­pa­ny that he said gen­er­at­ed rev­enue of $20 mil­lion the year he sold it to the edu­ca­tion­al pub­lish­er Houghton Mif­flin. At the time, there was increas­ing inter­est in invest­ments in edu­ca­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy, and he soon began to won­der if he might fig­ure out a start-up idea that could pro­vide an edu­ca­tion­al solu­tion that could trans­form lives, not just in the vil­lage of Huang­baiyu but for a gen­er­a­tion of poor chil­dren all over the world.

    May and Kim­mel­man mar­ried, and in 2007 they went on an extend­ed hon­ey­moon in Africa, where they met up with Frei, Kimmelman’s for­mer room­mate, who pre­vi­ous­ly worked at the Bay Area design and con­sult­ing firm IDEO and was work­ing for an agri­cul­tur­al non­prof­it in Malawi. Togeth­er the three of them came up with a plan, which even­tu­al­ly evolved into an idea for a vast chain of replic­a­ble schools, their growth pow­ered by small tuition pay­ments from work­ing par­ents — fruit sell­ers, night watch­men and wash­er­women. They’d keep costs afford­able by train­ing instruc­tors (many of them uncer­ti­fied) to deliv­er a script­ed cur­ricu­lum and by using inex­pen­sive build­ing mate­ri­als in the con­struc­tion of their schools.

    The upfront costs of devel­op­ing Bridge’s soft­ware and data-col­lec­tion sys­tem were daunt­ing. Acquir­ing land was cost­ly, too. Rais­ing enough mon­ey ear­ly on was vital. ‘‘Jay’s suc­cess as an ed-tech entre­pre­neur opened doors’’ in Sil­i­con Val­ley, says Frei, who left the com­pa­ny in 2013. Accord­ing to an unpub­lished 2014 Stan­ford Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness case study that Bridge pro­vid­ed, prof­itabil­i­ty would depend on achiev­ing scale very quick­ly. By 2016, they planned to enroll more than 750,000 stu­dents, at which point they would be break­ing even. By 2022, they esti­mat­ed that they would edu­cate 4.1 mil­lion stu­dents and gen­er­ate $470 mil­lion in rev­enue.

    The company’s pitch was tai­lor-made for the new gen­er­a­tion of tech-indus­try phil­an­thropists, who are impa­tient to solve the world’s prob­lems and who see unleash­ing the free mar­ket as the best way to cre­ate endur­ing social change. Investors were impressed by Kim­mel­man and the audac­i­ty of their plan. The idea of doing ‘‘high qual­i­ty at low cost was real­ly inter­est­ing,’’ says Kevin Starr, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Mula­go Foun­da­tion, which even­tu­al­ly pro­vid­ed Bridge with $1 mil­lion in grant mon­ey and intro­duced a hand­ful of tech moguls to Bridge. ‘‘We knew he had a track record as an entre­pre­neur. He could exe­cute.’’

    The founders decid­ed to build their head­quar­ters in Nairo­bi, and they opened their first school there in 2009. Long known as the Green City in the Sun, Kenya’s cap­i­tal had begun to reimag­ine itself as the tech cap­i­tal of East Africa; new­ly formed telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies were plac­ing cheap mobile phones in the hands of mil­lions of farm­ers, mer­chants and low-wage work­ers, and mobile bank­ing quick­ly fol­lowed. The pub­lic-edu­ca­tion sys­tem, though, was not keep­ing pace. In 2003, the Kenyan gov­ern­ment offi­cial­ly abol­ished fees for pub­lic pri­ma­ry edu­ca­tion but after­ward found itself unable to con­struct enough schools for the poor chil­dren who tried to enroll. Pub­lic schools, which receive mon­ey from the gov­ern­ment for teach­ers’ salaries and build­ing main­te­nance, still charge par­ents small amounts to cov­er costs like class­room sup­plies and fire­wood. The schools’ qual­i­ty varies, but in some, read­ing mate­ri­als, text­books and even chalk can be in short sup­ply. All pub­lic-school teach­ers are cer­ti­fied. Teacher absen­teeism is wide­spread. Accord­ing to a 2007 World Bank report, 30 per­cent of teach­ers in one region in Kenya fail to show up on any giv­en school day. Learn­ing lev­els for chil­dren are low: 70 per­cent of third graders can­not do sec­ond-grade work. And while some catch up, many don’t.

    Wealthy Kenyans and for­eign­ers send their chil­dren to pri­vate schools, which are taught in Eng­lish and enjoy lav­ish resources. The work­ing poor often opt to send their chil­dren to parochial or local pri­vate schools, known as infor­mal schools, that take no mon­ey from the gov­ern­ment but charge fees that are slight­ly high­er than pub­lic schools’. Some pro­vide a basic edu­ca­tion, but many do not. Six­teen per­cent of Kenya’s poor school-age chil­dren do not attend any school because their par­ents can’t afford even the small­est school pay­ments. All Kenyan schools are required to teach the pre­cise­ly pre­scribed nation­al cur­ricu­lum, which is taught in Kiswahili and Eng­lish and mas­tery of which is mea­sured by an eighth-grade test called the K.C.P.E. Obtain­ing a high grade on the K.C.P.E., which is seen as a sign of a child’s indus­tri­ous­ness, intel­li­gence and moral rec­ti­tude, means a stu­dent may con­tin­ue on to high school.

    At the start, the Bridge founders quick­ly learned that Kenyan par­ents did not nec­es­sar­i­ly see Bridge schools as a bet­ter option. ‘‘When the first acad­e­mies opened, our men­tal­i­ty was a bit like, ‘If we build it, they will come,’?’’ said Marie Leznic­ki, then Bridge’s vice pres­i­dent of brand strat­e­gy, in the Stan­ford case study. The case study authors explain that one chal­lenge for the com­pa­ny was that par­ents were large­ly illit­er­ate and there­fore saw lit­tle dif­fer­ence among schools. But some aca­d­e­mics who have stud­ied the for-prof­it, low-fee chain say that some poor Kenyan par­ents were wary of the mod­el. Send­ing a child to Bridge was more expen­sive than the vil­lage pub­lic school, though less expen­sive than some infor­mal schools. The poor­est fam­i­lies sim­ply couldn’t afford the tuition and addi­tion­al pay­ments that Bridge required. ‘‘They have to pay enroll­ment fees, they have to pay for uni­forms, they have to pay for lunch,’’ says Christo­pher Kirch­gasler, a for­mer char­ter-school teacher in the Unit­ed States who spent 10 months study­ing Bridge schools in Nairo­bi and Nyeri Coun­ty, north of Nairo­bi, for his doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion. ‘‘For us, a mat­ter of a few dol­lars is noth­ing, but for these very poor fam­i­lies, it can be a mon­u­men­tal obsta­cle.’’

    For many who did enroll, Bridge’s strict pay­ment sys­tem quick­ly became oner­ous. Bridge’s busi­ness in Kenya depends on most par­ents mak­ing rou­tine elec­tron­ic pay­ments by mobile phone. But slum-dwelling par­ents in Kenya are most­ly occa­sion­al work­ers who rarely have a pre­dictable income. In infor­mal set­tle­ments around Nairo­bi, I vis­it­ed 10 or so par­ents in their homes who explained the frag­ile finances of their lives. A sick child, an uptick in the price of corn meal or even a pro­longed rain­storm can throw a fam­i­ly on the mar­gins into an eco­nom­ic cri­sis. In most infor­mal and pub­lic schools, pay­ment terms are flex­i­ble, and the sub­ject of pro­tract­ed nego­ti­a­tion. Bridge says that it works with fam­i­lies to meet their needs. But many peo­ple told me that the school sends chil­dren home if fees are not paid.

    ‘‘They tell you, ‘Sit at home with your child until you get the mon­ey,’?’’ says one par­ent, a veg­etable sell­er mar­ried to an unem­ployed welder who has two chil­dren enrolled at a Bridge school in Nairobi’s Math­are slum. Anoth­er moth­er with a 9‑year-old child says she found it dif­fi­cult to make Bridge pay­ments: ‘‘At times I’ve gone with­out eat­ing so I can pay school fees.’’

    Bridge exec­u­tives say their schools depend on pay­ing cus­tomers. ‘‘We get crit­i­cized for being blood­less cap­i­tal­ists,’’ Michael Con­way, Bridge’s East Africa direc­tor of oper­a­tions, told me when I met him in Nairo­bi last Sep­tem­ber, ‘‘but we know fam­i­lies make choic­es about who gets paid first. We don’t want to be the last ven­dor paid. If we become that, then our finan­cial mod­el would be dif­fi­cult to sus­tain.’’

    Bridge does not com­ment on the details of its finan­cial per­for­mance, so nei­ther May nor Kim­mel­man would say how many of Bridge’s Kenyan schools main­tain enough enroll­ment to sus­tain their mod­el. May says that Bridge cur­rent­ly has 80,000 stu­dents enrolled, down 10,000 from last year. ‘‘Before the cam­paign to attack Bridge began, the acad­e­mies across Kenya were finan­cial­ly sus­tain­able,’’ she says. Con­way acknowl­edged that the sit­u­a­tion on the ground made things com­pli­cat­ed. ‘‘It is dif­fi­cult to keep up enroll­ment and make the schools break even,’’ Con­way said, ‘‘because the churn is so high.’’ He explained that in 2017, thou­sands of enrolled chil­dren were not paid up.

    Some edu­ca­tion experts say that Bridge’s plans for an inter­na­tion­al chain of low-fee, for-prof­it pri­vate schools rests on a flawed assump­tion. While such schools can work well for the rel­a­tive­ly small num­ber of fam­i­lies in poor com­mu­ni­ties who have salaries, says Kei­th Lewin, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of devel­op­ment and inter­na­tion­al edu­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sus­sex in Britain who has opposed the mod­el, it is unre­al­is­tic to expect the most impov­er­ished fam­i­lies to be able to pay. ‘‘Peo­ple who engage in a dis­course around mak­ing a vast num­ber of the poor­est peo­ple in Africa pay $6 every month for school tuition are peo­ple who have no idea what the lives of peo­ple liv­ing at or below the pover­ty line are actu­al­ly like.’’

    Inside the Bridge school in Kiser­ian, an hour’s dri­ve from cen­tral Nairo­bi, stu­dents wore the same green uni­forms and sat at atten­tion behind the same rough wood­en desks I saw in Kawan­gware. In front of a black­board, a preschool teacher, Gladys Ngu­gi Nyam­bara, a thin woman also dressed in bright green, held a Bridge ‘‘teacher com­put­er’’ that con­tained a recent­ly down­loaded les­son script on rec­og­niz­ing the ‘‘F’’ sound in com­mon Eng­lish words. Nyam­bara held up a pic­ture of a fish and saw these words on the e‑reader’s screen: What is this? (sig­nal) Fish.

    She ges­tured toward the class with the pic­ture and deliv­ered the line as pre­cise­ly as she could. ‘‘What is this?’’ She snapped her fin­gers. ‘‘FEESSH.’’ She sur­veyed the 26 expec­tant faces in front of her. Her eyes went back to the script on the gray rec­tan­gu­lar tablet. Lis­ten. Say it the slow way. FISH. She fol­lowed the prompt. ‘‘Lis­ten, class. This is a FEESSH.’’

    There was a pause, and the teacher leaned over the e‑reader. Our turn. Pupils say it the slow way. (sig­nal) Fish. ‘‘Class, your turn.’’ She snapped her fin­gers again. ‘‘What is this? ’’

    After some uncer­tain­ty over whether to use ‘‘this’’ or ‘‘that,’’ the chil­dren began to duti­ful­ly respond. ‘‘This is a FEEEESH.’’

    Nyam­bara pressed on, repeat­ing the call-and-response five more times. ‘‘This is a FEESH. Now class?’’ Snap. ‘‘This is a FEESH,’’ respond­ed the chil­dren, their voic­es mov­ing from uncer­tain­ty to singsong, pleased to be catch­ing on.

    The cur­ricu­lum trans­mit­ted into class­rooms is one of the company’s main sell­ing points to investors, many of whom see the estab­lish­ment of a stan­dard cur­ricu­lum deliv­ered through tech­nol­o­gy as a solu­tion to strug­gling schools. In 2013 the com­pa­ny began hir­ing Unit­ed States char­ter-school teach­ers in Cam­bridge, Mass., to write Bridge lessons that were then loaded onto the e‑reader in East African class­rooms each day.

    The chal­lenge for the Amer­i­can writ­ers was to meet the cur­ricu­lum set by the Kenyan gov­ern­ment while also try­ing to improve the out­comes. ‘‘We found that teach­ers in Kenya were used to lec­tur­ing at the front of the class­room, and chil­dren were pas­sive — they weren’t ask­ing or even for­mu­lat­ing ques­tions,’’ says Michael Gold­stein, a char­ter-school founder who worked as chief aca­d­e­m­ic offi­cer at Bridge from 2013 to 2016. ‘‘So in our les­son scripts, we tried to get away from long peri­ods of teach­ers talk­ing. In a typ­i­cal Bridge les­son, the teacher reads the expla­na­tion for about 10 min­utes, he cold-calls a stu­dent to check for under­stand­ing, he gets stu­dents to talk among them­selves or work in groups for 20 min­utes as the teacher moved between desks. What we are going for is active class­rooms — and this is some­thing real­ly dif­fer­ent for the chil­dren we serve.’’ Dur­ing 2016, Bridge’s cur­ricu­lum team pushed to learn from their results so far, por­ing over 10,000 pho­tographs of les­son books in Kenya to see evi­dence of what teach­ing tech­niques are work­ing best.

    The e‑reader all but guar­an­tees that every instruc­tor, despite his or her edu­ca­tion or prepa­ra­tion lev­el, has a les­son script ready for every class — an impor­tant tool in regions where teach­ers have few resources. But scripts can be con­fin­ing, some teach­ers told me. And in some of the 20 or so Bridge class­rooms I observed, pupils occa­sion­al­ly asked ques­tions, but Bridge instruc­tors ignored them. Teach­ers say that they are required to read the day’s script as writ­ten or risk a rep­ri­mand or even­tu­al ter­mi­na­tion, and they do not have time to enter­tain ques­tions. Bridge says that ‘‘teach­ers are required to ref­er­ence the day’s teach­ers’ guide and to dili­gent­ly work to ensure all mate­r­i­al is cov­ered in each les­son.’’ Still, an alert teacher at the head of a class is its own vic­to­ry. Although I saw a range of pub­lic-school class­rooms, in one, the teacher was sound asleep, head on desk, in front of a class­room of 60 fid­get­ing fourth graders.

    Bridge has writ­ers in Nairo­bi who cre­ate the lessons that are in Kiswahili, but many lessons, to be deliv­ered in Eng­lish, are writ­ten in Amer­i­ca. And it is chal­leng­ing to devel­op les­son plans for teach­ers and chil­dren from a dif­fer­ent cul­ture. Mis­un­der­stand­ings can occur. Geordie Brackin, the company’s ener­getic direc­tor of inno­va­tion, guid­ed me to a Bridge class­room where stu­dents were using flash­cards and told me that when he goes to gov­ern­ment schools he ‘‘doesn’t see flash­cards, and our teach­ers don’t report using flash­cards.’’

    Brackin’s obser­va­tion, though, was greet­ed with embar­rassed smiles at local pub­lic and pri­vate schools a short walk away. ‘‘Of course, peo­ple who are trained teach­ers, we know about flash­cards,’’ said Lil­ian Odhi­ambo, who runs a small pri­vate school in the Math­are slum. She steered me by the elbow into a class­room where a string hung with paper rec­tan­gles bisect­ed the room. I watched as stu­dents reviewed Eng­lish vocab­u­lary words by look­ing up at one side of the rec­tan­gles, respond­ing to them aloud, then step­ping under the string to check their answer on the oth­er side of the card. ‘‘We are a poor school, and paper is expen­sive,’’ Odhi­ambo explained. ‘‘In this way, we make flash­cards work for all the chil­dren, not just one.’’

    After eight years of oper­a­tion, the impact of the Bridge cur­ricu­lum on learn­ing is uncer­tain. In 2015, Bridge pub­licly issued a work­ing paper titled ‘‘The Bridge Effect,’’ its most recent eval­u­a­tion. The study tracked 2,737 kinder­garten, first- and sec­ond-grade stu­dents for the 2013–14 school year: one set enrolled in Bridge, and anoth­er, sim­i­lar set of stu­dents enrolled at local pub­lic schools. The stu­dents were assessed at the begin­ning and end of the school year. There was a 43 per­cent increase in the num­ber of Bridge kinder­garten stu­dents who reached the ‘‘emer­gent’’ bench­mark in Eng­lish and a 40 per­cent increase in learn­ing sub­trac­tion in math, com­pared with 22 per­cent and 15 per­cent increas­es for their pub­lic-school coun­ter­parts. The per­cent­age increase of Bridge stu­dents who reached the ‘‘flu­ent’’ bench­mark in Eng­lish was high — among Bridge first graders it was 40 per­cent, com­pared with a 17 per­cent increase among first graders in pub­lic schools. Increas­es in the per­cent­age of stu­dents who reached the ‘‘flu­ent’’ bench­mark in addi­tion and sub­trac­tion were small­er. The per­cent­age increase of sec­ond graders who scored ‘‘flu­ent’’ in math skills was actu­al­ly the same or high­er in pub­lic schools than at Bridge.

    I asked two experts in sta­tis­tics — Nat Malkus, from the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute, and Bryan Gra­ham, from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley — to help me eval­u­ate the find­ings. “This is good evi­dence of pos­i­tive effects,” says Malkus. Both point­ed out that the study’s results are com­pli­cat­ed by Bridge’s high dropout rate: While a third of pub­lic-school stu­dents dropped out, near­ly half of Bridge stu­dents left dur­ing the study and were unable to take the final assess­ment. ‘‘The high attri­tion rate should give one pause,’’ Malkus says, ‘‘when con­sid­er­ing the full effect of the pro­gram.’’ Gra­ham, co-edi­tor of The Review of Eco­nom­ics and Sta­tis­tics, says that ‘‘orga­ni­za­tions are under a lot of pres­sure to do these stud­ies and ‘prove’ their pro­gram works. Rea­son­able and informed peo­ple could look at the infor­ma­tion in that report and come to wide­ly dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions about the effect of Bridge on aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment as they mea­sure it. It’s infor­ma­tion, just not espe­cial­ly action­able infor­ma­tion.”

    Anoth­er area of achieve­ment that Bridge trum­pets is the suc­cess of its stu­dents on the eighth-grade K.C.P.E. test. In 2015, accord­ing to Bridge, 63 per­cent of Bridge stu­dents who had been there for at least two years passed, com­pared with 49 per­cent of Kenyan stu­dents nation­wide. But it’s unclear whether Bridge’s approach will be sus­tain­able as the com­pa­ny grows. For­mer Bridge employ­ees told me that in prepa­ra­tion for the 2015 exam, those on track to get a low­er score were asked to repeat a year. The rest were tak­en to a res­i­den­tial cram school and prepped for the test by teach­ers who flew in from the Unit­ed States.

    To keep their class­rooms filled, Bridge has always relied heav­i­ly on mar­ket­ing. Bridge has adver­tised its bright green logo with its ‘‘Knowl­edge for All’’ tag line on posters, fliers, bill­boards and brand­ed vests worn by motor­cy­cle-taxi dri­vers. Con­front­ed with lag­ging enroll­ment, Kim­mel­man and May brought on a data-ana­lyt­ics researcher, Josh Wein­stein, who worked on an exper­i­ment in 2011 to find out how to attract more fam­i­lies to the schools. For one set of schools, Bridge did the usu­al mar­ket­ing before open­ing. For the sec­ond set of school open­ings, Bridge did the mar­ket­ing but also added an elab­o­rate open­ing cer­e­mo­ny, com­plete with boun­cy cas­tle. The third set had the mar­ket­ing and waived a month of school fees for every fam­i­ly. The fourth had the mar­ket­ing, the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny and the waived fees. The impact of the boun­cy cas­tle and the waived fees, Wein­stein wrote on his blog, was ‘‘amaz­ing. Not only was ini­tial enroll­ment near­ly three times what we had expe­ri­enced in the past,’’ but once the free month was over, ‘‘the con­ver­sion rate — the most impor­tant fac­tor in mea­sur­ing the effi­ca­cy of a mar­ket­ing pro­mo­tion in retail — was 85 per­cent. This is prac­ti­cal­ly unheard-of in retail.’’ (Bridge says ini­tial enroll­ment was two times what they had expe­ri­enced with sim­i­lar schools, and the con­ver­sion rate was 75 per­cent.)

    The Bridge founders, Wein­stein wrote, decid­ed that every school open­ing there­after would as soon as pos­si­ble fea­ture a cer­e­mo­ny and that every new stu­dent would be giv­en a free month of school. Kirch­gasler, who stud­ied Bridge for his dis­ser­ta­tion, point­ed out that this often end­ed up putting par­ents in what could become a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. If a fam­i­ly found that they couldn’t make pay­ments, say, in the mid­dle of the term, it was often dif­fi­cult to trans­fer a child to a new school. ‘‘Among the fam­i­lies I stud­ied, mov­ing a child to a new school was a gam­ble,’’ he said. ‘‘Pub­lic and infor­mal schools were reluc­tant to take stu­dents back if their new school didn’t work out’’ — poten­tial­ly leav­ing a child out of school and mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for a par­ent to work.

    A for­mer Bridge employ­ee told me that the company’s own mar­ket­ing could some­times cre­ate bad feel­ings among the peo­ple they want­ed to serve. ‘‘Many times, they would open a school and invite a local offi­cial to a grand-open­ing cer­e­mo­ny, and the local offi­cial took offense,’’ the for­mer employ­ee, who asked that her name not be used, says. The local offi­cials ‘‘want­ed to be engaged.’’ Anoth­er for­mer employ­ee told me that the free tuition was con­fus­ing to many of the poor­est par­ents. ‘‘I believe the word ‘inter­na­tion­al,’ com­bined with for­eign founders, led par­ents to expect high­er qual­i­ty than in oth­er schools,’’ she says. ‘‘I believe they did become dis­il­lu­sioned. I believe many of them became dis­em­pow­ered when they want­ed changes in their schools — like elec­tric­i­ty, per­ma­nent struc­tures — but that didn’t hap­pen. They def­i­nite­ly missed the con­nect­ed­ness and mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion­ships that they would find in oth­er schools.’’

    Sim­i­lar con­cerns were voiced by Sal­i­ma Namu­sobya, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ini­tia­tive for Social and Eco­nom­ic Rights, a civ­il rights group in Kam­pala, Ugan­da, that, along with the union there, has cam­paigned against Bridge and oth­er pri­vate-school oper­a­tors. Far from edu­cat­ing poor chil­dren, she says, Bridge uses aggres­sive mar­ket­ing to enroll chil­dren who are already in pub­lic schools. ‘‘The fact that they have the word ‘inter­na­tion­al’ in the school name, they think they’re get­ting an inter­na­tion­al cur­ricu­lum.’’

    May flat­ly rejects the notion that Bridge’s mar­ket­ing could be mis­un­der­stood. ‘‘We try very hard to com­mu­ni­cate clear­ly and trans­par­ent­ly and if we knew about any­thing that led to con­fu­sion, we’d want to cor­rect that,’’ she says.

    In 2015, teach­ers’ unions stepped up their agi­ta­tion against Bridge. The com­pa­ny, May says, was the vic­tim of a smear cam­paign mount­ed by the union, and the com­pa­ny has faced hur­dles because some gov­ern­ment offi­cials run their own schools. ‘‘They see Bridge as a threat,’’ she says. ‘‘They want to main­tain the sta­tus quo.’’

    While I was in Kenya, May intro­duced me to a group of par­ents who told me that they thought the school was pro­vid­ing their chil­dren with the best start in life. Liv­ingston Kagasi, a lanky day labor­er who donned a suit, a pressed shirt and a tie for the group inter­view, said that the local pub­lic school was an unap­peal­ing option for his son Riv­i­val. Kagasi said that leav­ing a child in a dirty class­room with 80 oth­ers and a teacher who may show up late, or not at all, feels like ‘‘dump­ing your child’’ and ‘‘not prepar­ing them for life.’’ Not long before, Kagasi’s wife got a job as a clerk in the gov­ern­ment that came with a steady salary and trans­ferred their son to Bridge. Eliz­a­beth Mumo, anoth­er par­ent, told me she had high hopes for her two sons, Joshua and Samuel, who attend the Bridge school. In her tidy two-room cin­der-block home, Mumo explained to me that when she wakes up in the morn­ing, she offers a prayer of thanks­giv­ing that God has allowed her hus­band, a liv­ery-car con­duc­tor, to make enough mon­ey to pay for the cook­ing gas she needs to make the morn­ing tea. She told me that some­times mon­ey is tight but that she wants her chil­dren to go to Bridge. She likes the fact that the teach­ers and stu­dents speak in Eng­lish. She point­ed out that a hand­ful of Bridge stu­dents have gone to pri­vate schools in the Unit­ed States — an almost-unimag­in­able break for a slum-dweller, and a suc­cess sto­ry that Bridge mar­kets to Kenyan par­ents. Mumo imag­ines her old­est son going to a uni­ver­si­ty: ‘‘I can see Oxford.’’

    Kenya has many high-school-edu­cat­ed, unskilled work­ers who are look­ing for jobs, and ini­tial­ly, Bridge’s low-cost mod­el depend­ed on that labor pool for staffing schools. Instruc­tors receive three to six weeks of train­ing on ped­a­gogy, class­room man­age­ment and edu­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy. They are paid between $95 and $116 a month, less than what pub­lic-school teach­ers make in Kenya but more than what teach­ers can often make in infor­mal schools. Under pres­sure from the Kenyan gov­ern­ment, Bridge began to employ more cer­ti­fied teach­ers, and the com­pa­ny now says that more than 50 per­cent of its instruc­tors are cer­ti­fied. All instruc­tors work from 7:10 a.m. to 5:20 p.m., with a short­er day on Sat­ur­day — longer hours than most Kenyan pub­lic-school teach­ers. Bridge teach­ers are encour­aged to mar­ket Bridge to par­ents in the com­mu­ni­ty.

    Ear­ly on, the com­pa­ny found it dif­fi­cult to retain instruc­tors. The Stan­ford case study cit­ed high teacher turnover in 2010. Bridge began requir­ing instruc­tors to sign a two-year con­tract; if they broke it, they had to pay back the cost of their train­ing. Teacher turnover slowed.

    Bridge teach­ers are dis­cour­aged from talk­ing to the press, and their con­tracts remind them that they may not speak on behalf of Bridge, but some agreed to talk to me pro­vid­ed they were not iden­ti­fied. A few said they were grate­ful for the job and hap­py to have a les­son script. Oth­ers expressed frus­tra­tion about hoped-for bonus­es that they nev­er were able to achieve. Teach­ers can receive extra mon­ey if they main­tain enroll­ment of at least 25 pupils per class. A mid­dle-aged teacher who pro­vides sci­ence instruc­tion at a Bridge school told me she was encour­aged to go to the mar­ket and try to enroll the chil­dren of the fruit sell­ers when her teach­ing day was done. But it was hard to recruit new stu­dents.

    All the teach­ers I spoke to appre­ci­at­ed the reg­u­lar pay­check. But they chafed at how they were man­aged, often by unseen boss­es com­mu­ni­cat­ing with them via text or robo­call. Some Bridge staff mem­bers described what they saw as a stark con­trast between their hopes for Bridge and a grit­ti­er real­i­ty. One school admin­is­tra­tor, an acad­e­my man­ag­er, described how the pres­sure to ensure that par­ents made their pay­ments on time was dis­heart­en­ing. ‘‘I didn’t real­ize how hard it would be to talk to par­ents,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re ill, they’re out of work, they had a fire. No one is in the house who’s mak­ing any mon­ey. How can they pay when they have no mon­ey for food?’’ And work­ing at Bridge, teach­ers said, can dis­rupt a career: Instruc­tors are required to sign an employ­ment agree­ment that includes a non­com­pete clause that pre­vents them from work­ing at oth­er near­by schools for a year after they leave.

    In the pub­lic and infor­mal Kenyan schools I vis­it­ed, school admin­is­tra­tors wel­comed my impromp­tu drop-ins warm­ly, showed me their class­rooms and intro­duced me to their teach­ers, who spoke frankly about their chal­lenges. Bridge teach­ers and man­agers say that sort of open­ness is not allowed. At some Bridge schools I vis­it­ed unescort­ed, staff mem­bers said that they would need to con­tact supe­ri­ors if I didn’t leave.

    One of these schools was Bridge Dia­mond in Muku­ru, a slum of 600,000, just east of cen­tral Nairo­bi. The school­yard fence was made of patched, bent gray met­al and barbed wire. The school build­ing itself was shab­by and neglect­ed. In the school­yard, about 30 feet away from where chil­dren enter their class­rooms, was a deep trench of fetid garbage and rot­ting bags of feces; when res­i­dents can’t use the com­mu­nal latrines they use ‘‘fly­ing toi­lets’’ — defe­cat­ing in a plas­tic bag and throw­ing it as far as they can. The chick­en-wire win­dows were rust­ed and ripped. Some class­rooms were emp­ty. One had 15 stu­dents sit­ting at desks but no teacher.

    Staff mem­bers at Dia­mond were eager to show the poor con­di­tions in their school but also urged me to leave quick­ly. Last sum­mer, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta doc­tor­al can­di­date, Cur­tis Riep, was gath­er­ing enroll­ment infor­ma­tion in Ugan­da for an inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion of teach­ers’ unions, which lat­er put out a report on the num­ber of chil­dren enrolled in Bridge in that coun­try and the num­ber of untrained teach­ers at the head of Bridge’s class­rooms. He made unescort­ed vis­its to three of its schools near Kam­pala. The acad­e­my man­agers con­tact­ed com­pa­ny exec­u­tives, and Riep was arrest­ed by the Ugan­dan police, though the charges, crim­i­nal tres­pass and false­ly iden­ti­fy­ing him­self, were quick­ly dropped. Riep calls it ‘‘pure intim­i­da­tion.’’ May says Bridge act­ed respon­si­bly because a stranger was at the school.

    Last year, when the Liber­ian gov­ern­ment began work­ing with Bridge to oper­ate 50 of its schools, it rep­re­sent­ed a new mod­el for the com­pa­ny — run­ning gov­ern­ment-fund­ed schools instead of com­pet­ing with them. Under the plan, Liber­ian par­ents would not have to pay tuition to attend Bridge-run schools. Instead, the Liber­ian gov­ern­ment would pay the salaries of Liber­ian-cer­ti­fied teach­ers, one of the biggest expens­es asso­ci­at­ed with school­ing, and pro­vide Bridge with school­hous­es in which to hold class­es. Bridge would use mon­ey raised for the project to pay the cost of run­ning those schools. ‘‘Because par­ents don’t have to pay, it removes the moral­ly trou­bling’’ process of remov­ing chil­dren from class when their par­ents can’t come up with the mon­ey, says Tilson, the Bridge board observ­er, who acknowl­edges that he has nev­er been in a Bridge school while it was in ses­sion.

    ...

    The new mod­el of work­ing with gov­ern­ments may allow the com­pa­ny to con­tin­ue to expand, but it’s still an open ques­tion whether it can real­ize its dream of Sil­i­con Val­ley-style growth, giv­en the messy real­i­ties that are part of life in the poor­est parts of the world. Greg Mau­ro, the Bridge board mem­ber, says that an I.P.O. is still two to four years away. May says the com­pa­ny may con­sid­er sell­ing learn­ing mate­ri­als. They’ve been col­lect­ing data on school­child­ren and their fam­i­lies and might part­ner with micro­fi­nanc­ing insti­tu­tions to help Bridge par­ents get loans, as well as work­ing as an inter­me­di­ary for health-insur­ance plans. ‘‘While we are very focused on edu­ca­tion, it’s hard to say where it might go,’’ she says. ‘‘We are look­ing for oppor­tu­ni­ties to help our fam­i­lies.’’

    ———-

    “Can a Tech Start-Up Suc­cess­ful­ly Edu­cate Chil­dren in the Devel­op­ing World?” by PEG TYRE; The New York Times; 06/27/2017

    “The new mod­el of work­ing with gov­ern­ments may allow the com­pa­ny to con­tin­ue to expand, but it’s still an open ques­tion whether it can real­ize its dream of Sil­i­con Val­ley-style growth, giv­en the messy real­i­ties that are part of life in the poor­est parts of the world. Greg Mau­ro, the Bridge board mem­ber, says that an I.P.O. is still two to four years away. May says the com­pa­ny may con­sid­er sell­ing learn­ing mate­ri­als. They’ve been col­lect­ing data on school­child­ren and their fam­i­lies and might part­ner with micro­fi­nanc­ing insti­tu­tions to help Bridge par­ents get loans, as well as work­ing as an inter­me­di­ary for health-insur­ance plans. ‘‘While we are very focused on edu­ca­tion, it’s hard to say where it might go,’’ she says. ‘‘We are look­ing for oppor­tu­ni­ties to help our fam­i­lies.’’”

    Micro-loans. That’s the solu­tion their look­ing at. For peo­ple in this kind of sit­u­a­tion:

    ...
    At the start, the Bridge founders quick­ly learned that Kenyan par­ents did not nec­es­sar­i­ly see Bridge schools as a bet­ter option. ‘‘When the first acad­e­mies opened, our men­tal­i­ty was a bit like, ‘If we build it, they will come,’?’’ said Marie Leznic­ki, then Bridge’s vice pres­i­dent of brand strat­e­gy, in the Stan­ford case study. The case study authors explain that one chal­lenge for the com­pa­ny was that par­ents were large­ly illit­er­ate and there­fore saw lit­tle dif­fer­ence among schools. But some aca­d­e­mics who have stud­ied the for-prof­it, low-fee chain say that some poor Kenyan par­ents were wary of the mod­el. Send­ing a child to Bridge was more expen­sive than the vil­lage pub­lic school, though less expen­sive than some infor­mal schools. The poor­est fam­i­lies sim­ply couldn’t afford the tuition and addi­tion­al pay­ments that Bridge required. ‘‘They have to pay enroll­ment fees, they have to pay for uni­forms, they have to pay for lunch,’’ says Christo­pher Kirch­gasler, a for­mer char­ter-school teacher in the Unit­ed States who spent 10 months study­ing Bridge schools in Nairo­bi and Nyeri Coun­ty, north of Nairo­bi, for his doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion. ‘‘For us, a mat­ter of a few dol­lars is noth­ing, but for these very poor fam­i­lies, it can be a mon­u­men­tal obsta­cle.’’

    For many who did enroll, Bridge’s strict pay­ment sys­tem quick­ly became oner­ous. Bridge’s busi­ness in Kenya depends on most par­ents mak­ing rou­tine elec­tron­ic pay­ments by mobile phone. But slum-dwelling par­ents in Kenya are most­ly occa­sion­al work­ers who rarely have a pre­dictable income. In infor­mal set­tle­ments around Nairo­bi, I vis­it­ed 10 or so par­ents in their homes who explained the frag­ile finances of their lives. A sick child, an uptick in the price of corn meal or even a pro­longed rain­storm can throw a fam­i­ly on the mar­gins into an eco­nom­ic cri­sis. In most infor­mal and pub­lic schools, pay­ment terms are flex­i­ble, and the sub­ject of pro­tract­ed nego­ti­a­tion. Bridge says that it works with fam­i­lies to meet their needs. But many peo­ple told me that the school sends chil­dren home if fees are not paid.

    ‘‘They tell you, ‘Sit at home with your child until you get the mon­ey,’?’’ says one par­ent, a veg­etable sell­er mar­ried to an unem­ployed welder who has two chil­dren enrolled at a Bridge school in Nairobi’s Math­are slum. Anoth­er moth­er with a 9‑year-old child says she found it dif­fi­cult to make Bridge pay­ments: ‘‘At times I’ve gone with­out eat­ing so I can pay school fees.’’
    ...

    “‘‘They tell you, ‘Sit at home with your child until you get the mon­ey,’?’’ says one par­ent, a veg­etable sell­er mar­ried to an unem­ployed welder who has two chil­dren enrolled at a Bridge school in Nairobi’s Math­are slum. Anoth­er moth­er with a 9‑year-old child says she found it dif­fi­cult to make Bridge pay­ments: ‘‘At times I’ve gone with­out eat­ing so I can pay school fees.’’”

    Well that’s one way to afford tuition: don’t eat. After all, No one said run­ning a for-prof­it edu­ca­tion net­work for the poor would­n’t require sac­ri­fices. Some­one has to sac­ri­fice in order to ensure the 20 per­cent annu­al returns Jay Kim­mel­man, one of the three founders, was promis­ing when they were sell­ing investors on the busi­ness mod­el:

    ...
    The Bridge con­cept — low-cost pri­vate schools for the world’s poor­est chil­dren — has gal­va­nized many of the West­ern investors and Sil­i­con Val­ley moguls who learn about the project. Bill Gates, the Omid­yar Net­work, the Chan Zucker­berg Ini­tia­tive and the World Bank have all invest­ed in the com­pa­ny; Pear­son, the multi­na­tion­al text­book-and-assess­ment com­pa­ny, has done so through a ven­ture-cap­i­tal fund. Tilson talked about the com­pa­ny to Bill Ack­man, the hedge-fund man­ag­er of Per­sh­ing Square, which ulti­mate­ly invest­ed $5.8 mil­lion through its foun­da­tion. By ear­ly 2015, Bridge had secured more than $100 mil­lion, accord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal.

    The fact that Bridge was a for-prof­it com­pa­ny gave pause to some NGOs that work in devel­op­ing coun­tries. But oth­ers rea­soned that in the last decade, for-prof­it com­pa­nies backed by what are called social-impact investors — peo­ple and insti­tu­tions that make mon­ey by doing good — had suc­cess­ful­ly brought about impor­tant inno­va­tions, like solar-pow­er ini­tia­tives and low-cost health clin­ics, in poor coun­tries. Bridge’s mod­el relied on sim­i­lar investors but was even more ambi­tious in its dreams of scale. ‘‘There is a great demand for this,’’ May said in an M.I.T. video from 2016. Some of the company’s back­ers, she said, were ‘‘not social-impact investors,’’ con­tin­u­ing that ‘‘it was straight com­mer­cial cap­i­tal who saw, ‘Wow, there are a cou­ple bil­lion peo­ple who don’t have any­one sell­ing them what they want.’?’’ For a 2010 case study on the com­pa­ny, Kim­mel­man told the Har­vard Busi­ness School that return on invest­ment could be 20 per­cent annu­al­ly.
    ...

    “For a 2010 case study on the com­pa­ny, Kim­mel­man told the Har­vard Busi­ness School that return on invest­ment could be 20 per­cent annu­al­ly

    With micro-lend­ing that 20 per­cent annu­al return is going to be a lot eas­i­er to achieve. And don’t for­get that micro-lend­ing isn’t just a means of help­ing Bridge Inter­na­tion­al achieve its prof­it goals. Assum­ing the micro-lend­ing it done under the Omid­yar Net­work mod­el of micro-lend­ing, all those small loans will be for-prof­it too. Dead­ly for-prof­it loans that dri­ve par­ents to sui­cide.

    Because sac­ri­fices need to be made. For the chil­dren, of course.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 4, 2017, 1:31 pm

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