Omidyar Network, together with Ashoka's Changemakers, launched a competition aimed at promoting innovation in property rights around the world. Photo by: Omidyar Network

In August 2010, Omidyar Network partnered with Ashoka’s Changemakers to launch Property Rights: Identity, Dignity & Opportunity for All, a competition aimed at promoting innovation in property rights around the world.

At Omidyar Network, we believe land is the poor’s greatest asset. With secure rights to property, people realize vital economic and social benefits — a reliable source of food to feed their family, an asset that provides income today and acts as collateral to expand financial options tomorrow, a recognized personal identity that accords civic status and participation, and ultimately a greater sense of human dignity.

Omidyar Network works to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. We see property rights as critical to giving individuals agency, stimulating economic growth and alleviating poverty. Today, more than one third of the world’s population lives on less than US$2 per day, and two thirds reside on physical property for which they lack formal rights or documentation. Our goal is to catalyze greater awareness, spur innovation, and encourage policy reforms that can bring the benefits of property rights to millions.

Since 2006, Omidyar Network has committed more than $23 million to property rights efforts. We are not alone: Advocacy organizations, international development institutions such as the World Bank and governments have worked relentlessly for decades to reform land administration and judicial systems to improve property rights. But the sector remains nascent and fragmented, often overlooked by the development community as a topic in its own right and lacking the support needed to scale innovative solutions. We are working to change this and hope you’ll join us.

Case study: A competition for innovators

The Changemakers competition was an entirely new approach to identify and support leaders from diverse disciplines and geographies who are employing some of the most creative and sustainable solutions to bringing rights to individuals and communities across the globe. Designed to accelerate social innovation and impact, the competition rewarded three winners with a $50,000 prize and greater visibility among policy makers and large, international actors—essential partners in helping help them scale and amplify their impact.

Each organization was evaluated on its ability to demonstrate innovation, social impact and sustainability. On Feb. 15, the three challenge winners were announced.

Terra Nova, Brazil

A for-profit company that improves the quality of life for poor families living in urban slums by peacefully managing land disputes and enabling residents to purchase title to the land they occupy.

Terra Nova partners with governments and community leaders to give slum dwellers alternatives for gaining rights to property. As the judging panel noted, Terra Nova demonstrates the need for grassroots organizations and local governments to work together.

Terra Nova’s unique approach helps redefine the way governments approach land rights for privately-held urban areas, providing effective and diplomatic means for proprietors and occupants to resolve land issues.

Red Tierras, Colombia

An interactive network that utilizes technology to connect land rights practitioners from marginalized communities, NGOs and governmental agencies across Latin America.

Red Tierras focuses on replicating best practices in land conflict resolution, agrarian reform and sustainable natural resource management.

Red Tierras stood out for its strong plan for sustainability and growth and for its remarkable use of technology platforms to educate indigenous groups, build relationships among stakeholders and facilitate greater participation in land rights.

ENSS/SUTRA (A Family of One’s Own), India

A social movement that demands long-term lease rights from the government to support and promote an alternative, women-centered household structure.

As one judge articulated, this organization is notable in that it pairs an older woman with a younger widow or single woman to form a mutually reinforcing family unit, wherein each woman has rights to her land and therefore greater dignity in the community.

This plan to help women network and develop interdependent relationships entails a radical shift in how Indian women think about kinship, gender roles and land rights.

From innovation to impact

While the winners represent different constituents and geographies, each has delivered impressive results on the ground.

A truly global competition, 211 organizations representing 47 countries and widely diverse approaches submitted entries. From technology, education and legal services for women to environmental advocacy, the entrants employed myriad approaches to addressing property rights. We celebrate the singular passion these pioneers share — as well as the diversity of models and methods they use to bring economic, social and political benefits to individuals and communities.

The Changemakers competition makes two things clear. First, there are many highly capable individuals and organizations, with a proven track record, committed to enhancing access to land rights. Second, grassroots innovation exists globally in this space and has vast potential to engender social change.

Looking forward, we must ask ourselves: How can all players — activists, academics, policymakers, social entrepreneurs and technology providers — come together to share ideas and build on one another’s strengths? How can experienced practitioners implement cutting-edge technologies, such as crowdsourcing and GIS mapping, to scale impact? How can funders such as Omidyar Network help nurture efforts on-the-ground?

Only by increasing awareness and collaboration can we connect proven leaders with new innovators and foster a movement that unleashes opportunity around the world.

Please share your thoughts and ideas and join us in this important conversation.

About the author

  • Stephanie Cohn Rupp

    Stephanie leads investments for Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, in the areas of property rights and microfinance. She focuses on investments that help formalize land rights and increase land security for the poor and that improve microfinance infrastructure by expanding networks, enabling credit information sharing, and mitigating foreign exchange risks. The views expressed in her guest editorial do not necessarily reflect those of Devex.