OVERVIEW: The New York-based Open Society Foundations is a human rights and development funder that focuses on wide range of human rights and social justice issues, with a particular focus on developing countries. Over the past 30 years, Open Society has spent over $30 billion on grants and foundation programs to support a wide variety of issues and causes.
IP TAKE: Open Society is involved in a wide range of social justice and human rights causes. LGBTI grantmaking is largely geared toward developing countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe and Africa, but domestic LGBTI grantmaking isn't out of the question.
PROFILE: The Open Society Foundations is a massive, wide-ranging human rights and development foundation headquartered in New York City, with offices around the world. The original mission of the Foundation, founded by well-known investor and philanthropist George Soros, was to help formerly communist countries build their civil societies and transition to democratic rule. Today, Open Society works in over 100 countries, including the U.S., and the scope of its mission has expanded considerably.
The LGBTI program at Open Society is actually a sub-program under the umbrella of the broader Human Rights Initiative, though it also receives some focus from OSF's Public Health Program. LGBTI issues are by no means dominant at Open Society, but they have received substantial attention in recent years, as the LGBT movement itself has gained momentum all over the world.
Open Society's approach to LGBTI grantmaking is to "seek to combat discrimination by empowering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities to promote and defend their human rights." This approach is consistent with Open Society's overall philosophy over the past 20 years, with Eastern Europe being given particular attention. Indeed, some of Open Society's LGBT work in recent years has taken place in Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia and Georgia, though it recently offered support for organizations working on the area of gender diversity and transgender rights in Western Europe as well.
African societies have also increasingly appeared on the radar of many LGBTI funders in recent years, due to the particularly harsh repression of LGBTIs that has taken place in several parts of the continent. Open Society has given some attention to Uganda, where LGBTIs have lived under the constant threat of death, and supported the Kenyan organization Transgender Education & Advocacy.
Open Society Foundations does not specify which sub-programs are involved in its Human Rights Initiative grants. The LGBTI-related grantmaking that does take place has a heavy international focus, though Open Society has also awarded domestic LGBT grants, including multiple grants to the Astraea Foundation as well as the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. Additionally, the Open Society Human Rights Initiative's Advisory Board includes among its members Astraea Executive Director Emeritus Katherine Acey. Although the process for submitting unsolicited grants is not clearly specified on its web site, interested organizations can view a brief video explaining the foundation's funding priorities and search for open OSF grants here.
- Michael Heflin, Director of Equality, Human Rights Initiative, Washington DC
- Emily Martinez, Director, Human Rights Initiative, Washington DC
- Maxim Anmeghichean, Program Officer, Human Rights Initiative (LGBTI grantmaking and advocacy)