Who's Getting the Big Awards From the Open Places Initiative?

The Open Society Foundations awarded three $1.9 million grants to charitable teams in Buffalo, N.Y., San Diego, Calif., and Puerto Rico, aimed primarily at its goals of human rights, improving the lives of marginalized populations, fostering civic engagement, and finding local solutions for more effective government.

It’s called the Open Places Initiative. Big changes in federal and state funding, advances in technology, and large scale demographic changes have altered access to political and economic activities in low-income communities, and the Open Society hopes to leverage its 30 years of promoting democracy internationally toward improving civic and political engagement here in the U.S. The program awards funds to geographically diverse, locally based teams of charities dedicated to fostering accountable government, civic engagement, criminal justice reform, and equal educational opportunity.

Though Open Society is known primarily for grantmaking outside the U.S., the Open Places Initiative represents an ambitious effort to spur change at home.

Planning grants were awarded to eight candidate cities last April, and the three selected regions will now use their funding toward local solutions for a common problem. The Open Society Foundations attaches relatively few strings to the award in order to give the local groups maximum freedom to design place-based strategies that best suit their needs. The foundation assessed the groups during the planning period, and has determined that the award recipients are best-suited for mobilizing residents, business, area nonprofits and other stakeholders toward some kind of local reform. 

The winning proposals:

Buffalo: Economic development to bring jobs to low-income communities, and to reduce the number of young people entering the criminal justice system.

San Diego: Improving the rights of workers, promoting social and economic stability for immigrants and people involved in the criminal justice system.

Puerto Rico: Increasing government transparency, building new models to improve access to legal representation in civil cases, and encouraging savings for low-income residents.

The New York-based Open Society Foundations was founded by chairman George Soros, originally for the purpose of helping other countries make the transition to democracy from communism. Its mission has expanded to building just, tolerant societies, accountable governments, and engaged citizens. In pursuit of its mission, the Open Society Foundations has spent over $10 billion over 30 years.