Interview: Stephen King, CEO of Luminate

Stephen King, Luminate, CEO.

Last year, Luminate, once part of Omidyar Network, was launched as an independent undertaking with a mission to help create just and fair societies where citizens are able to participate fully and equally and to hold governments to account. The new organisation’s CEO, Stephen King, explains the rationale for separation to Alliance and talks about how and where Luminate works, the advantages of having a ‘dual chequebook’ and the virtues of making grants without strings.

Luminate grew out of Omidyar Network’s Government and Citizen Engagement programme. Why was the decision taken to make it a separate entity?

This strand of work started within Omidyar Network around 10 years ago, mainly in the US and focussed on what we used to call government transparency, which was about providing greater access to people about how government worked, the ability to hold it to account and so on. The transition to governance and citizen engagement happened around 2010-11 and coincided with the idea – which sounds quite outmoded now – that technology would be a great liberalising force. It would provide people with access to information, the ability to hold their leaders accountable, the ability to organise – this was in the heady days of the Arab Spring, when that seemed plausible. There was also a sense of optimism around that time, particularly with the Obama administration, the Cameron coalition in the UK and the launch of the Open Government Partnership in 2011, that open data, open government would be the future. But in 2016, Brexit, the election of Trump and the rise of authoritarianism and populism checked that assumption.

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