Amy Klement, Managing Partner of Imaginable Futures, a venture of the Omidyar Group



If you ever wondered how a Silicon Valley mindset rooted in social entrepreneurship can improve global education, then this episode is for you. A fascinating look at an organisation that is quite different from traditional philanthropy.


Imaginable Futures is a philanthropic investment firm that combines impact investing and foundation grant-making in order to unleash human potential through learning.


About Amy Klement


Amy Klement is the Managing Partner and a Board member of Imaginable Futures. Previous to spinning out into Imaginable Futures, Amy was a Partner at Omidyar Network and led the Education initiative since 2013. Prior to this role, she was responsible for Omidyar Network’s work in Financial Inclusion, Property Rights and Consumer Internet & Mobile initiatives in key geographies. She has held board seats or observer roles with Teach for All, Andela, NewGlobe, Imagine Worldwide, Kiva, Living Goods, Social Finance US, Mimoni and Off Gridd Electric.


Prior to Omidyar Network, Amy worked for eBay where she served as VP of product strategy and operations driving the development of the company’s long-term product vision and leading user experience and design and as well as VP of relationship marketing, leading email, on-site and other retention marketing channels. Amy formerly worked for PayPal, joining as one of its earliest employees in 1999. As VP of product, she and her team developed the company’s payments platform, facilitated overseas expansion into Europe and Asia, and was instrumental in the launch of PayPal Mobile. Earlier, Amy worked in corporate strategy and development at Gap Inc, and as an analyst at JP Morgan.


Amy received her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Bucknell University, where she graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Amy is a proud mom of two miracles and wife of another.



Episode Transcript


This is a transcript of the conversation between Alberto Lidji, host of The Do One Better! Podcast, and Amy Klement, Managing Partner of Imaginable Futures.


Alberto Lidji

Without further ado, Amy, a big heartfelt welcome on to The Do One Better! Podcast today.


Amy Klement

Thanks, Alberto. It's a joy to be here.


Alberto Lidji

Great was good to speak with you again. I know it's been a while and I know you guys have been going through a lot of turbulence like the rest of the world when it comes to, to anything having to do with international work, learning, education and so forth. I guess we could start by finding out a little bit about this fairly new venture this Imaginable Futures, what's it all about?


Amy Klement

Yeah, yeah, it's, it's both a new venture, we're both a baby, as you said, just we just celebrated our one year anniversary. And, and we're also we've, you know, we were previously the education initiative of the Omidyar network and, you know, took with us many, many years of investing and philanthropy and a large portfolio. So we exist to unleash human potential through learning, so that all people can thrive in our very interdependent and ever changing world. And this all is very critical, we very, very much taken intentional view towards equity in our work. Our approach, we take the best of both entrepreneurship, and systems change approaches. So these entrepreneurial approaches, you know, coming from, from Silicon Valley, and our roots in social entrepreneurship, we invest in and support entrepreneurs and changemakers, who really work at the edge of innovation. And we do that both for profit and nonprofit, as you said, because we know that innovation is required. There was no doubt before COVID. And now it's just starkly clear. And we also take a system change approach. So we work deeply to understand systemic forces, barriers and enablers. And we work together with the ecosystem really, to build healthier systems. So we use our philanthropic capital to fund and support sector infrastructure, knowledge creation, policy, advocacy, etc, that's really informed by our investments in innovation. And we can do this because we've got this, you know, hybrid structure that you mentioned, that's part philanthropic foundation, and part impact investor.


Alberto Lidji

Tell us a little bit about that. Because it's not everyday that you come across such a structure.


Amy Klement

Yeah, yeah. So it's, it's a unique structure. And it's really our legacy from Omidyar Network, that really, really works well in the learning and education space. Because you know, as you know, Alberto, learning and education is both public sector, private sector and social sector. So in order to really create change, you do need all the tools in the toolbox, and we need to be able to work flexibly across all of those players. So we do that with staff across the US, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in Nairobi, Kenya, and in London, England. And we kind of leverage this global platform to stay at the forefront of innovation and learning science and see what's happening around the world, while also staying really locally rooted to make sure we're addressing the local needs of where we work.


Alberto Lidji

What's Imaginable Futures looks like catch, how many people do you have in the team? You're based out in Silicon Valley right now. But you mentioned you have a geographic footprint hat's certainly International. Tell us a little bit about who is Imagine Futures, who are the people in there?


Amy Klement

Yeah, we're a really diverse group. So we're a little less than 20. It's a diverse group of people with a variety of backgrounds, from, you know, from education backgrounds, to tech backgrounds, to consulting backgrounds, to other nonprofit backgrounds, kind of you name it. And, and I really think that that's critical for, for informing our work.


Alberto Lidji

Fascinating. Tell us a little bit about the subtle difference between learning and education. So if I gather things correctly, you'd like to present yourself as focused on learning and unleashing human potential through learning, versus having people think of you purely as education is that is that fair to say?


Amy Klement

Yeah, I mean, I think our… we recognise that that learning starts early. And, and, you know, 85% of brain development happens in the first five years. We do a lot of work in early childhood, which is sort of outside of an outside the the formal education systems, even in our work in K12. We have done work outside the formal education systems. And as we look at some of our work in post secondary, also outside of… learning is lifelong, life wide. And so that's how we like to talk about it.


Alberto Lidji

Yeah. You're part of this bigger Omidyar Group, or are a venture of the Omidyar Group. Can you give us a little bit of insight of where you fit into that bigger ecosystem? And also, what prompted that… restructure or recalibration? Because you used to lead the education initiative within Omidyar, and now you're heading this up. Give us a little bit of a flavour of where Imagine Futures sits and the organisation and in broader sense,


Amy Klement

Yeah, so so Pam and Pierre Omidyar are just really remarkable humanists and I just feel so grateful to be able to work with them and learn from them. And so the Omidyar Group are all of the organisations, over 15 organisations that are founded and funded by the Omidyar within the Omidyar Group, Omidyar Network is a was one of the organisations within the Omidyar Group, and Omidyar Network really restructured itself over over the past multiple years, there were initiatives or business units or programme areas within Omidyar Network that had grown to be much larger than the Omidyar Network, I joined back in 2010. And there were, you know, five different five different business units that were really quite different, working in different sectors with different goals using different tools. And what we found was, you know, living within one organisation with the same investment committee, the same HR policies, the same, you know, Twitter feed, that it was becoming constraining. And so we've each one of us spun out. And what that's really enabled us to do is just be so much more empowered and flexible and nimble and accountable to our work. And I'll tell you, having spun out just six weeks before COVID hit, Alberto, I was so thankful, you know, I was just so thankful that we had the space to respond to what, you know, the ecosystems needed from us, in learning, and to be… yeah, just really, really grounded and nimble,


Alberto Lidji

Was it it was a challenging exercise that whole rebrand… I mean, it's more than rebranding, but many people, especially within education within early years, they know Omidyar or they they know the Omidyar Network, and all of a sudden, well, here's Imaginable Futures, which sounds great, but maybe not everybody, you know, not everybody knows what that is, was it a challenge on the branding side, and how you're, how you're perceived and how responsive people are to your emails and so forth?


Amy Klement

You know, I think it was a lot of work to set up a new organisation, that's for sure. Because we've really kind of started it from kind of the ground up to say, you know, who do we want to be what how do we want to show up. The branding side, not so much I think that in the kind of investing in philanthropic world so much is about the individual and we just have such great relationships with all the organisations we work with. And the other thing is, I am very conscious of the power dynamic when you hold a chequebook and so we're, we have we've heightened awareness of that, and we're constantly examining how we, how we attune to and share that power. So it wasn't as much of a challenge as I thought it might be.


Alberto Lidji

Well, let me ask you a little bit about the power dynamic, I wasn't going to go there. But it's, I think it's a very relevant topic and something you're bringing up. And you know, that power, dynamic power imbalance, the Global North and the Global South and, and I know, you guys really go out of your way to make sure that it's not just a one way conversation, but it's very inclusive, and that your listening and engaging with what's going on the front lines, give us a little bit of insight into your efforts and success and being able to do that.


Amy Klement

Yeah, I think this has been a huge this has really been huge for us. And, you know, I think more recently, as the world turned upside down. In addition to supporting our existing portfolio, we knew we really, really needed to listen even more deeply. And so we took some very highly participatory approaches, you know, bringing in students and parents and teachers in addition to the entrepreneurs and the policymakers and funders etc. And so as we had these conversations, we really included all types of knowledge, right, the stories the empirical experiences, of individuals in the system, their narratives, not just the McKinsey reports and the landscape documents and, and really, it was highly transformational for our team. And for us, I think it's just a new way for, for philanthropy to be operating. And, you know, what that reinforced for us was that these systems of learning are perfectly designed to produce the results they produce, which are highly inequitable, you know, they're perfectly designed to produce inequity, and that their roots are in colonisation and racism and patriarchal culture. And that if we do not actively name this, and fight against it, that we're merely reinforcing the status quo. So, because of that, we've really been… and we knew that before, but gosh, was it reinforced across all the industries across all the regions we work in, high income, medium income and low income contexts. And so we've really been in reexamining our practices, our ways of being or approaches. And it's manifested in really being, you know, much, much more inclusive. And really thinking about co-creating, and power shifting, power sharing. So we've experimented with a bunch of things, things like, we've built a panel of student parent advisors in the US who advise not just on our strategy, but even provide input on our specific investments, we've launched a fund that's, that's enabling the the people we serve to drive and help allocate the funds. We, you know, we just, we bring in these voices whenever we can, and gosh, it's been such an amazing learning experience, and also just, you know, relationship building experience. But I really think, you know, as we take a step back and look at this, I think this new way of being a really kind of conscious awareness, creating space, championing voices, co-creating solutions. There's a lot of experimenting and learning that we as philanthropy have ahead of us. And it's exciting, it's hard work, but it's really exciting work.


Alberto Lidji

It must be. And tell me a little bit about the portfolio. So when you spun out, it wasn't like you just made $200 million worth of investments over the last year, a lot of these investments were investments that were in place, when you were within as it were, the Omidyar Network, now they're standing alone, but give us a flavour for the portfolio. And also sort of that, I guess, the split between more traditional foundation grant making an impact investing, what does that look like?


Amy Klement

So our background is, as I mentioned, is really in social entrepreneurship and our roots in Silicon Valley. So, you know, we think about this sort of investing at the edge of innovation and investing in these changemakers. So, you know, one example that I'll give there is New Globe, which is best known as Bridge International Academies, their community schools, that are across Africa and India, and they're just a fabulous example of innovation. New Globe supports visionary governments to really transform their public education systems. And currently reach a million children a day in impoverished communities through a wide portfolio of programming. What they did is through their community schools, they have… which was a really scalable platform… they built what I think of is kind of like this operating system for basic education. That is everything from you know, lesson plans, to student assessment to how to manage schools to, you know, sort of the visibility across the network for government leaders. And really based in tech, you know, their curriculum is in the cloud. So they can… they're just such a learning organisation that they can take the the feedback back from their, you know, million children every day and use that to go kind of edit and refine and the revise the lesson plans on a on a regular basis. And during COVID I was just, you know, so overwhelmed by how, how innovative they were, like so many others, they had to pivot right schools were closed. And they launched Bridge at Home, which was this multimodal platform of radio lessons, WhatsApp, online, paper base that was all integrated, and they could do this far faster than most because their systems were all in the cloud.


Alberto Lidji

Do you engage with them as a as a as a grant maker are you investing in them?


Amy Klement

Yeah, we are an investor, we lead their series A investment back in 2009. And have been, have been with the company since.


Alberto Lidji

Great. For a lot of a lot of philanthropists who listen to the show education is a big one. So Sustainable Development Goal 4… the other two that sort of you know, that also click on very closely to SDG 4 is SDG 5 on gender, and then SDG 2 on hunger and nutrition. And, you know, I always say there's no point having a brand new shiny school if the child is malnourished, or if the teaching quality is poor.


Amy Klement

Absolutely.


Alberto Lidji

Yeah. And what advice would you give to a philanthropist who's listening to this right now is thinking, well, they want to make a difference.… but sometimes just building another school isn't the answer. So how do you start thinking about reaching those truly marginalised and, and trying to think about how you can deploy some of the funds in that space in education, thinking perhaps with an innovation cap as well?


Amy Klement

Right now, what I would say is, we are in an unbelievable crisis of learning, you know, from losing, you know, up to 50% of childcare seats in the US to just really basic literacy and numeracy, so we are in a, we are in a, like, just a foundational crisis. And so what I would say is, in the next few years, really look at… in the communities close to you… the communities of need close to you… understand how you can help with issues of hunger, I mean, in our work we talk about unleashing human potential through learning, recognising that learning is very intersectional. Right, it does include nutrition, it includes social emotional well being, you know, and, and so I would say, reach out to the community closest to you in need and understand… whether it be, you know, issues of hunger, whether it be, you know, supporting, you know, teacher well being programme, see what's most needed in your community and listen to the community.


Alberto Lidji

In your case, you do you take funding from external stakeholders, or you're purely funded by…?


Amy Klement

We don't know, we don’t.


Alberto Lidji

Right. And in terms of making those decisions… so you I think you alluded to the Investment Committee, what it used to look like, you know, when you were part of the of the broader network, now, you're, you're making those calls more independently. How often do you make these investment decisions? Like, what's the cycle? If somebody is interested in securing funding or investment… how do they engage with you… what are the things you're looking for?


Amy Klement

Yeah, so we don't have an investment cycle, we don't, we don't have a proposal process, we try to be as responsive as possible to the needs and to be entrepreneur friendly. So please don't create specific documents for us. What I would say is, is reach out and connect, we do have specific areas in which we invest, which is all outlined on our website. So I would say, you know, take take a look on our website, and then there's a way to contact us through our website. And really, as we, as we evaluate entrepreneurs, and we really are looking at things like are they… are they reaching the populations that we care about?


Alberto Lidji

Which are?


Amy Klement

Really low income and previously kind of underestimated, underserved populations. We look at are they grounded in, in the science of learning? So it doesn't have to necessarily be evident, you know, evidence, we don't need to have evidence produced as yet, because we often invest early stage. But, you know, is it grounded in the science of learning? We look at… is a values aligned entrepreneur. We're deeply rooted in values. And we look at is there potential for scalable change that… it doesn't necessarily need to be direct scale, it can be through replication or through TI, but is there is there potential for scalable change.


Alberto Lidji

The sort of investment sizes that you get involved with? Is there an average, is there such a thing as an average?


Amy Klement

Yeah, I mean, it's really flexible, because we do, we'll do small kind of project based grants in the order of, you know, $100,000, and then we have made investments up to three, $3m to $4m and we typically try to do general operating grants, understanding that that's, that's really what's most needed when we when we invest on the grant side when we make when we make grants.


Alberto Lidji

So there is there is unlike, unlike the misconception that many people have there is funding for core costs, there is funding for operating a charity on the ground or an organisation on the ground is not just donors thinking, we're only going to give to two specific programme and nothing else.


Amy Klement

Yeah, I mean, that, that I think, is one of the one of the big misses of philanthropy, you know, I started early PayPal team and helped scale that business and take it International. And there's no way we would have been able to do what we did, if we hadn't had significant investment at the core, and been able to attract fabulous leadership, and build strategic plans, and do all the things that you do when you build a great business. So for us, you know, understanding, you know, the leadership team and then supporting the strategy, and supporting that leadership team is really core.


Alberto Lidji

Do you therefore also act sort of like an incubator as well? I mean, are you deploying some of your technical expertise to to engage with the management teams on the ground


Amy Klement

As much as we can we do. And so we, you know, in some of our larger investments, we may take board roles, we, you know, we certainly try to share as much of our learning and networks etc, with with our portfolio. So, we we try to be, we try to be engaged there as much as possible. We also try to, you know, support our organisations, we save some budget to be to support in sort of a very bespoke way, whether it be you know, with a, you know, a leadership coach, or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training, or, you know, recruiting such that we can, you know, really be supportive, the owner of the organisation,


Alberto Lidji

I'm with you, I'm with you. So, what are you most excited right now? What is it that you're losing sleep, because you're just so excited with the potential that…


Amy Klement

Oh, there's so so much. I mean, maybe I'll give, I'll give two broad examples. But it's really, really hard to choose. I'm just, I'm really excited at the momentum that we're seeing in early childhood in the United States. I would say over the past five years, we've seen a real kind of connection between the science, right, and the science, which says, you know, 85% of brain development happens… and you know, that there's a return on investment of like seven to eight times, together with the social entrepreneurship community, and the sort of technology community and the innovation community. And so we're seeing some great momentum there. We seed fund an organisation called Promise Venture Studios, which is like this design studio for for-profit and non-profit, early childhood entrepreneurs… Head Start doing a lot of work on the innovation front. I mean, it's just it's, it's, I think, it's, it's really interesting, and then I couple that with the very devastating and unfortunate, you know, repercussions of COVID and the pandemic on the early childhood space. And the awareness, the awareness, the growing awareness that parents and communities now have, that childcare is the backbone of our economy. If childcare is not open, businesses cannot open. And, and so I think that there is… and you see it in the new administration's in their plans, you know, I just think that there's a growing opportunity for both kind of public funding and policy, and then to embrace the innovation that we are now seeing to bring more affordable, accessible quality childcare, to more families.


Alberto Lidji

Yeah, well, the early early years pieces is key key. For any listeners who care about that space, again, just check out Prof Jack Shonkoff at Harvard, and Jim Heckman at the University of Chicago, the former on the neuroscience, the latter on the economic arguments for investing in early years. Both of those are great. So how did you get into all of this? So you came through PayPal in the late 90s, one of their early employees, then eBay… that’s not the traditional career trajectory of somebody running a foundation necessarily… give us a little bit of insight into the narrative that is Amy.


Amy Klement

Yeah. You know, I was recruited recruited to join x.com by Elon Musk in 1999. And I was in the middle of applying to business schools. And needless to say, that never happened. I do not have my graduate degree, I joined as the first product manager and we merged with PayPal, several months later, we raised our $100m series C round right before the bubble burst in 2001. So I know that so much of kind of starting a business is really luck and timing. We went public in February of 2002. And then we were acquired by eBay, you know, shortly thereafter, and my learnings from that are, you know, many fold, first of all, just amazing opportunities for scale, you know, in building out a global just world class product and design team… I ran product and design there for many years. And building this product that really, you know, continues to be the backbone of the internet, still to today. But my key learnings there were around, you know, just entrepreneurship, and that entrepreneurship is way-finding. It is finding the path by making it that no one has done this before. So there is no right one right way. And I think that is like a deep, you know, that is a really critical learning for leadership is that there is no one right way. Right. And so it's about getting out there and trying and taking risk. I think the other big learning from that was the importance of empathy and leadership, the importance of, of connecting, that it's not just about what you know and what you do, but it's about how you do it. And that I think is… that's really core to who who I am as a leader is kind of the is that is the empathy, the compassion, the how. And then I think, from there, through the eBay acquisition, I got to know the work of Omidyar Network, and was really, really blessed to make that transition back in 2010. In the early in the early years, I led a lot of our work in emerging markets across multiple sectors, we were sort of less sector focused. And then in 2013, we kind of moved to more of a concentrated focus on education and learning. And, gosh, in the past eight years, I have learned so much, we have learned so much, and and we continue to grow and change and I continue to grow and change. I'm just really grateful that I get to work on such meaningful issues with such incredible people, partners.


Alberto Lidji

How do you want to see things unfold for the next 10 years? What would success look like in 2030 at imagined futures?


Amy Klement

I mean, for us, for me, I think so much of it is that we, as a human race, recognise our interconnectivity, you know, that we wake up to the dependence that we have on one another, whether motivated by sort of a spiritual awakening, and these various sort of existential crisis times, or a purely economically motivated one, and that we just really reckon with our interdependence, and that, that awareness leads to greater inclusion. And that power is shared to include more and more voices from previously excluded and underestimated groups. And thus, by including, you know, by including those, those new people, new voices, that new knowledge, new insights, new solutions are brought to the fore, and that this ultimately just, you know, creates a more just world where all people can thrive. So it's kind of really reinforcing my, this point around, it's not just about listening to the customer, you know, Alberto, I've spent the last 20 years of my career doing this and preaching it as I lead product and user experience and usability and investment more. But you know, really this idea that this, you know, this is more… this requires a new way of being of kind of conscious awareness, of creating space, of championing voices of co-creating solutions.


Alberto Lidji

Are you feeling optimistic for the, for 2030 and where we're heading?


Amy Klement

I think I hold it all at the same time. You know, the data is just pretty terrible and where we are, whether it be you know, girls not returning to school because of, you know, child marriages and pregnancies and to, you know, the the devastating learning loss and gaps and just incredibly, polarising inequities. And at the same time, we have seen dramatic innovation. And we have leapfrogged in awareness of things like childcare, awareness of the digital divide, you know, there has been just a massive growth in, in awareness. And I think we've seen the early and incredibly encouraging responses from the ecosystems to try to reimagine and really say what if,


Alberto Lidji

Yeah, yeah. Key takeaway for our listeners… before we wrap things up for today, what's that one thing you'd love for them to keep in mind after they finish listening to today's episode?


Amy Klement

I think it would be, you know, get involved, the urgency and the need, that there is no better time than the present. And that, you know, this is not just about our future economies, but just you know, wellbeing and social cohesion and peace. And I think the other thing that I would just say is, you know, one of my really big learnings over the past year has been around the importance of values. When we spun out, the very first thing we did was co-create our values. And I had no idea how, like prescient this act was, because when the world turns on its head, that's all you've got. Your strategy and your plans are out the door, but anchoring back on your values really provides stability. So, I would really encourage people to take the time and do that with their teams, with it with theirselves, with their families. To really anchor in what is most important because I think that will guide your actions, your words, and help create a better world for all of us.


Alberto Lidji

I love that, anchoring back to your values. Ultimately, what really matters. You've been listening to Amy Klement, who is the Managing Partner and Imaginable Futures. To our listeners, thank you so much for tuning in every week. And Amy, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you again and hosting you today on The Do One Better! Podcast.


Amy Klement

Thank you, Alberto.





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