Ulupono Initiative is a for-profit impact investment firm focusing on sustaining Hawaii through investments that produce more local food, increase clean, renewable energy and reduce waste. We invest in innovative organizations to catalyze large-scale change. Our work focuses on what we can change, to improve our lives, and our community.
eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and wife Pam established Ulupono Initiative in 2009 based on their conviction that every person has the power to make a difference. Both had spent part of their childhood in Hawaii, so when they returned to live here, they wanted to continue to invest from a values-driven perspective in their community. They wanted to contribute to efforts related to sustaining the land and stimulating the economy.
The Omidyars founded Ulupono Initiative as a Hawaii-based impact investment organization that is rooted in the local wisdom that a healthy environment and a healthy economy are intertwined. Ulupono has invested in solar energy, biofuels, expanded local agriculture, work to re-establish a dominant homegrown dairy industry, and waste reduction projects. Ulupono shares resources, including a local food market demand study of Oahu shoppers that helps to gauge consumer demand, collaborative work to increase the number of grass-fed cattle raised in Hawaii and other studies.
We collaborate with partners to include long-term local experience and wisdom; proven management; and strives to include best-in-class technology in working toward innovative solutions for today’s challenges in our three focus areas. The non-profit portfolio has included extensive work in creating and supporting school gardens, farm-to-school networks, agricultural incubators, as well as leadership development in these key areas.
We aim to play a catalytic role with our investments. We typically focus on several investments each year of $1 million to $3 million in key mission-focused projects. We work closely with our investees to help them achieve their goals, seeking a governance role where appropriate.
To have the greatest impact on our organizations where we invest and our mission, we invest according to these criteria:
- Impact and Mission Alignment: We look for potential to catalyze meaningful changes in moving Hawaii toward sustainability through Ulupono’s three objectives – producing more local food, increasing renewable energy, and reducing waste.
- Focused on Hawaii: We seek to nurture innovative ideas based in Hawaii, recognizing that a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand in hand.
- Best-in-class: We strive to find projects that display a unique or innovative advantage over others in industry/class and therefore, these are projects that are scalable and replicable; they can and should be expanded and reproduced.
- Strong Leadership and Management: We invest in teams with strong, proven track records – or data, models, or metrics to support the clearly defined vision – and a plan of action. The organizations must demonstrate operational efficiency, controls, transparent practices, and disciplined financial planning and adhere to shared human rights policy.
- Long-term Viability: We seek a realistic plan for long-term sustainability as a standalone entity. We want to see how an organization’s own capacity can allow it to carry out its mission in the future.
- Shared Values: We identify with organizations that exhibit shared core values of respect for others, high standards, learning and growth, creativity, courage, humility, and a pono approach.
- Collaboration Wanted: We encourage building alliances, collaborating and working together within our diverse community.
In addition, our for-profit investments must also show a commensurate amount of return for the risk of the investment Ulupono is making.
Ulupono Initiative proactively seeks new investments based on our investment area strategies and systems thinking rather than simply a project-by-project approach.
Pierre’s experience at eBay, which he founded in 1995, was based on his belief in the potential of individuals and the power of markets. Starting from the premise that people are basically good, Pierre created a platform that gave everyone equal access to information, opportunity, and the tools to pursue their goals. eBay allowed people to connect with others over shared interests and provided them incentives, like public feedback, to engage constructively with trading partners, thereby owning their marketplace reputation and ultimate success.
Those principles of access, connection, and ownership influenced the Omidyars’ approach to philanthropy. While eBay was still a young company, Pierre and Pam co-founded The Omidyar Foundation to support non-profits. They later broadened their scope to form Omidyar Network, which makes investments in for-profit companies as well as grants to nonprofit organizations, with social impact being the unifying criterion for investment. They used the Omidyar Network model to help formulate the vision for how Ulupono works.
When Pierre and Pam moved back to Hawaii to raise their family, they sought meaningful ways to make a difference on important issues. In addition to founding Ulupono, some of their Hawaii efforts include a six-year $50 million commitment over five years to the Hawaii Community Foundation to the Ohana Fund; providing a matching grant to help build the Omidyar K-1 neighborhood at Punahou School; and founding the Hawaii Leadership Forum, which has multiple programs to help support growth of locally grown and trained leaders for the future of Hawaii.