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Q&A: Jayant Sinha, Omidyar Network India Advisors

Debasis Mohapatra 

Jayant Sinha

Omidyar Network, a global philanthropic fund that strives for synergy in for-profit investment and not-for-profit grants for social causes, sees India as a country of myriad opportunities. The fund house, promoted by eBay founder Piere Omidyar, has an investment plan of $100-$200 million in the next three to four years in the country. It is now also in talks with Unique Identification Authority to be a part of the initiative. Jayant Sinha, managing director and country head of Omidyar Network India Advisors, spoke to Debasis Mohapatra about the growth strategy of the firm. Edited excerpts:

What is your investment plan for India in the near future and in which sectors? How much of these investments will go to organisations working on social issues?
We do have a plan to invest around $100 million-$200 million in India in the next three to four year. This includes both for-profit equity investment and not-for profit grants as we do in city-based non-government organisation, Janaagraha.

As far as the sectors are concerned, we are looking at micro-finance, mobile money, mobile commerce, and most of the enterprises working at the base of the pyramid such as education, agri-business and clean technology, etc. At a global level, we do have a 50:50 investment ratio for both for-profit and non-profit organisations and we try to replicate that model in India as well.

What is the total fund size for India?
We don’t have a fund size as such for India. It is primarily driven by donations from the founder and the kind of opportunities we come across in the country. So, we invest on innovative social entrepreneurial projects that work for capacity building at the base of the pyramid without any specific investment amount in mind.

There is a plethora of fund houses in India investing in social projects. How are you different from these fund houses?

We are a patient capital. We are not like those who put their money and expect a return within a certain period of time. Rather, we have a fairly long-term view regarding our investment.

Further, we are a flexible capital, which means we are in both the for-profit and not-for-profit space. And lastly, we believe in capacity building through our investments that will have a long-term impact on the community.

The Indian government is working on a novel project for providing a unique identification number to every citizen which will benefit people at the bottom of the pyramid. You also work in a similar ecosystem of empowering rural people. Are you considering an association with UID?
We held discussions with Unique Identification Authority to provide our services in this project. Especially, we see a lot of opportunities in the mobile-banking space.

If a person can get financial services through a mobile phone, which will be facilitated through the unique identification number, then financial inclusion will be much faster. Similarly, we also see a lot of opportunities in the business-correspondents space, which is now open to for-profit organisations.

What is your current investment in the micro-finance space? What are your investment plans in India in this space?
Our investment in MFIs is around $300 million across the globe. In a sense, we are deeply involved with the micro-finance industry in various countries.

In India, our investment depends on the kind of opportunities that we come across. We have worked with Indian MFIs in creating a credit bureau of the beneficiaries. We see future opportunities in micro-insurance and other financial products that can be delivered through this route.

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First Published: Sun, October 03 2010. 00:24 IST