OVERVIEW: The Open Society Foundations contributes to local organizations that aim to shape public policy, democratic governance, human rights, and social reform.
IP TAKE: It's easy to get lost in the web of the Open Society Foundations' giving, but organizations based in New York City want stick to the Open Society's US programs. Keep in mind, Open Society awards grants for a number of issues globally and domestically. It does not have a grantmaking program specifically earmarked for NYC. The only city-specific initiative is the Open Society Institute in Baltimore.
PROFILE: Open Society Foundations is an umbrella name for a group of George Soros's national and international foundations. This is another foundation rooted in the hedge fund industry, and in fact Soros was the co-founder of one of the very first hedge funds, the Quantum Fund. Soros first established the Open Society Institute in 1993 to support the foundations he was already working on in Central and Eastern Europe. His initial goal was to help these countries transition from Communism. In 2010, the Open Society Institute changed its name to the Open Society Foundations.
Open Society's main offices are located in New York City and serves its US programs as well as a number of other programs related to the Foundations' international grantmaking.
There have been several major grantmaking areas at Open Society that apply foundation-wide and are not necessarily specific to New York City, but it gives grantseekers an idea of what the Foundations are interested in funding. Those five areas of focus include: Education/youth, governance/accountability, health, media/information, and rights/justice. In its US-based grantmaking, Open Society places an emphasis on the following:
- Advancing criminal justice and drug policies that are both fair and effective
- Supporting the rights of vulnerable and marginalized populations
- Supporting organizations “…that advance a more informed and engaged public and responsive and effective government”
Locally, Open Society provides the majority of its support to rule of law, education, public health, and independent media organizations. The Foundations are often outspoken about their work and regularly speak out about keeping big government in check. Open Society has also spoken out about the high cost and overcrowded nature of prisons in the United States.
Open Society's education program funds every level from early childhood to higher education. Education proposals should bring together students from different backgrounds, respect diverse opinions, and promote critical thinking. Government proposals should feature efforts to work with government organizations and businesses to advance transparency and ensure fair participation. Media proposals should prominently feature minority voices and use the arts as a speech platform. Although much of its justice program is also focused internationally, criminal justice issues are highlighted in New York City.
The Open Society Foundations have an overwhelmingly impressive grantmaking program. In a recent year, the Foundations awarded more than $15 million and had over $1.7 billion in assets. The Foundations do occasionally grant loans for program investments as well. Although Open Society is vocal about its opinions and ideals, it will not support political parties or any organizations connected with them.
Past New York City grants included $8.5 million to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, $6 million to the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and $400,000 to Columbia University's hydrocarbon resources project in Timor-Leste.
Unlike many foundations in the city, Open Society Foundations awards grants, scholarships, fellowships, and individual funds on a local scale. You can search the Foundations' website for open grant opportunities and verify the upcoming deadlines. For New York-based organizations, the most opportunities currently lie in the media/information and rights/justice categories. With general inquiries, you can reach Open Society at 212-548-0600 or via online form.
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