Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow awarded Pierre Omidyar an honorary degree during the University's 155th Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 22, 2011.
Pierre Omidyar: When you graduated from Tufts, you could not have known that you would go on to transform the way the world does business. With the establishment of eBay, you empowered individuals and small businesses world-wide by creating an efficient internet market. You taught us that with the help of thoughtfully designed software, people would do business with strangers over the web, and thus ushered in the world of e-commerce. You have demonstrated the same spirit of innovation in your philanthropy. Just as eBay harnessed the power of countless individual transactions, you have promoted positive social change and economic development by giving individuals and local communities the resources and tools they need to shape their own futures one decision at a time. Together, you and your wife Pam have been recognized as the world’s most innovative and effective philanthropists. Your personal vision and generosity launched the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund, and in the process, helped to demonstrate to others that it was possible to do well by doing good. A loyal alumnus, you have served Tufts as a Trustee and, together with Pam, one of the co-chairs of the Beyond Boundaries Campaign. Pierre Omidyar, we salute you for your vision, generosity, humility and decency, and take great pride in conferring upon you the degree of Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa.
Internet entrepreneur, social visionary, and philanthropist PIERRE OMIDYAR, A88, created the online marketplace eBay, connecting people on a global, life-altering scale. Although skilled as a software engineer, his talents and interests go far beyond the technical realm. From an early age, Omidyar believed that people are basically good, and when presented with opportunities, they will do amazing things—eBay proved this many times over.
Omidyar was born in Paris, France, in 1967 to Iranian immigrant parents, both of whom attended school there. His mother, a linguist, earned her doctorate at the Sorbonne. The family moved to the United States when Pierre was six years old so that his father, a surgeon-in-training, could complete his residency at Johns Hopkins University. Omidyar became fascinated with computers while in middle school and went on to graduate from Tufts University in 1988 with a degree in computer science.
After graduation, he worked for Claris, an Apple Computer subsidiary, developing software for the Macintosh. In 1991 he co-founded a company called Ink Development Corporation, which later included Internet shopping software and was sold to Microsoft. Through this period, Omidyar was becoming steadily more intrigued by the challenges and possibilities of online commerce.
In 1995, that inclination bore fruit. Over the long Labor Day weekend, Omidyar, then twenty-eight years old, wrote the original computer code for what would become eBay.
The first item Omidyar sold on the site was a broken laser pointer. He was amazed that anyone would pay for such a thing, but he learned that a buyer wanted the device for his laser-pointer collection. The site soon exploded in popularity. Starting with collectibles, the range of items for sale grew to include furniture, electronics, home appliances, airline tickets, and cars. By mid-1997, employing a market system based on mutual trust between buyer and seller, eBay was hosting 800,000 auctions a day. Omidyar remains chairman of eBay, and today the company enables more than 90 million buyers and sellers worldwide to connect and prosper, as well as send and receive payments through PayPal, its online payment engine operating in 190 markets and twenty-four currencies. In 2010 the total worth of goods sold on eBay was $62 billion—more than $2,000 every second.
Reflecting a belief in the power of personal growth and empowerment to foster positive social change, Pierre and his wife, Pamela, J89, are models of generosity. In 2005 the Omidyars donated $100 million to Tufts, the largest single gift in university history, to create the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund. In addition, the couple has given more than $40 million to fund a variety of other programs at Tufts, including $18 million to found what became the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.
They also founded Omidyar Network, which creates opportunities for people to improve their lives, investing in innovative organizations harnessing the power of markets. Omidyar Network has committed more than $383 million internationally to for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations to spark broad, positive social change. At home in Hawaii in 2009, the Omidyars committed $50 million to the Hawaii Community Foundation to spur innovation in the local philanthropic sector, and established the Ulupono Initiative, a social investment firm dedicated to improving the quality of life for Hawaii residents through sustainability.
A former Tufts trustee, in 2009 Omidyar was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as a commissioner on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. In 2010, Omidyar launched Honolulu Civil Beat, a local online news service dedicated to public affairs journalism and civic engagement.
To date, Pierre and Pam Omidyar have committed more than $1 billion to philanthropic efforts and have pledged to give away the vast majority of their fortune during their lifetime.