Access to Land Titles: An Interview with Peter Rabley of Omidyar Network


Property rights are deficient or non-existent in most of emerging countries. Especially for the low-income people of emerging markets, it is extremely difficult to buy property because they don't have the proper documentation necessary. Building on land without proper documentation can lead to wrong evictions and forced displacement which in turn creates a glass ceiling to building decent housing for themselves. But solutions do exist. An interview with Peter Rabley, Director of Investments at Omidyar Network, will shed more light on existing solutions for access to land titles which help faciliate the provision of Affordable Housing. 



Q: What are the reasons for the difficulty of receiving land titles in developing countries?

In many countries, the process of obtaining formal rights to land or property is procedurally complex and opaque, time-consuming and often unreliable. This is true for tenants as well as owners and for both rural and urban dwellers. But this does not stop the informal economy from moving forward. People will conduct sales among themselves and not register, or in rural areas will rely on community and family support to not update interfamily transfers. While this works to some degree it is highly inefficient and does not allow occupants to leverage the security of being in place and investing in their children’s education or employment. In addition, without formal documentation of where it is you live, you lose out – you cannot use your address to take advantage of financial services, utilities etc. So people who don’t have formal documents including a legal title are missing out on access to the legal and financial systems. Their situation could easily become precarious and they will not be able to defend their property if their status is challenged. 


Q: Could you describe an example of solution which has been tested to address the challenge of access to land titles?

We have an investment in a startup called Suyo in Colombia. By combining GPS-based mapping technology with a clear path through the legal system, they are able to register and obtain formal documentation for people in a matter of weeks, a process that would previously have taken months or years if it was even possible. There’s nothing magical about their solution; it’s simply a matter of understanding the pain points in the surveying and legal system, and finding a direct, convenient and cost effective way through them. But the impact on people’s lives is huge. We’ve heard testimony from people who never dreamt of having secure legal title to their homes and businesses, but who now have the official papers they need to invest and plan for their futures. We are investing in a similar startup in Ghana – where the legal system is completely different but the solution (combining readily available technology with a clear understanding of the local system of land ownership) is exactly the same.

Q: What are the key actions needed to take that solution to scale? 

The technology exists to map a property, a community, a region, even a country. The challenge is how to combine that mapping data with diverse legal and administrative systems. Certain aspects of these solutions can be taken to scale, but they will always have to be adapted to local conditions and power relationships. There’s no one-size-fits-all package that can deliver land titles or property rights everywhere, but there are great efforts being made in very different societies to speed the process up and include most of the population who live outside of the formal system.

About Omidyar Network

At Omidyar Network, we start from a fundamental belief: People are inherently capable, but they often lack opportunity. Omidyar Network invests in entrepreneurs who share our commitment to advancing social good at the pace and scale the world needs today. We are focused on five key areas we believe are building blocks for prosperous, stable, and open societies: Consumer Internet and Mobile, Education, Financial Inclusion, Governance & Citizen Engagement, and Property Rights. We take calculated risks in the earliest stages of innovation, helping to transform promising ideas into successful ventures. As an active impact investor, we offer more than just financial support. We provide vital human capital capabilities, from serving on boards to consulting on strategy, coaching executives to recruiting new talent. To learn more, visit our website


Peter Rabley, Director of Investments, Omidyar Network