OVERVIEW: Founded by billionaire investor George Soros, the Open Society Foundations is a major player in the world of philanthropy. A good portion of OSF's grants are multimillion-dollar awards to longtime partners. In terms of K-12 education, the foundations are a reliable funder, albeit very selective. The foundations also run Education Support, Scholarship, and International Higher Education Support programs. Most funds have generally been awarded to international organizations, though a few were awarded to U.S.-based organizations.
IP TAKE: Open Society does not have a specific K-12 grantmaking program. Related grants are awarded out of its ever-evolving Education and Youth Development program. The foundations open the application process for new grants from time to time, so be sure to keep a close eye on the latest giving trends.
PROFILE: Like their founder, billionaire George Soros, the Open Society Foundations have significant financial resources at their disposal. That's certainly a good thing for nonprofits (Open Society also makes grants to individuals), though the sheer size of the foundations can make them appear an overwhelming and complex organization for nonprofits to navigate. In terms of focusing their efforts, K-12 fundraisers should direct their attention to the foundations' Education and Development Youth program.
At the moment, the majority of Open Society's education grants are being directed to several precise programs. Prominent among these, Open Society ran an initiative called the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, which seeks “to address the exclusion of large numbers of black men and boys from economic, social, educational, and political life in the United States” Under CBMA, OSF partnered with Echoing Green to award the Black Male Achievement Fellowship, and award through which "social entrepreneurs" received $70,000 in seed funding for their respective nonprofits, several of which benefit K-12 age youths. CMBA has now been spun off “as an independent organization.” In a recent year, the foundation announced that it would commit $30 million to that end.
At the same time, OSF appears to be maintaining a commitment to this area, and in a recent year pledged to give $14 million over the course of four years to support organizations advocating for “reforms in the area of school discipline so that disciplinary issues do not result in young children being pushed into the criminal justice system” as well as participate in the New York City Young Mens’ Initiative, a $127 million venture partnership with New York City and Bloomberg Philanthropies drawing on “a range of programs and approaches to eliminate systemic barriers faced by young black and Latino men and boys.”
Open Society’s other current U.S. initiative — Education and Youth Development in Baltimore —is based in the Foundations’ office in Maryland, the Open Society Institute-Baltimore. The institute's Baltimore office directs much of the local grantmaking in the city and region, and education is a major priority. Efforts are focused on a variety of educational and advocacy programs in the Baltimore area designed to close the achievement gap and provide equity in education.
Recent Open Society initiatives in Baltimore have included increasing the quality and quantity of Baltimore’s after school programs, increasing summer learning opportunities, decreasing truancy rates, and reducing the number of student suspensions, expulsions, and arrests. In the past, grants have gone to programs that strengthen the pre-K to graduation pipeline, to schools designed for underperforming, underserved students, and to out-of-school learning programs for students. OSF notes that it is generally interested in large-scale efforts rather than individual after-school or out-of-school programs.
These recent efforts offer a look at the broader aspirations of the foundations' education grants. Traditionally, Open Society grants have supported at-risk or underserved student populations in low-income communities. Whenever Open Society announces a new education initiative keep an eye out for that as a priority in the guidelines.
In addition to domestic U.S. K-12 programs, Open Society also features an Early Education Program, an international Education Support Program (operating in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean), and a Scholarship Program in higher education as well as an International Higher Education Support Program (both of which operate in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East)
There's an open application process for the Baltimore program, but that's not always the case with Open Society Foundations' grants (grantseekers can also search the foundations’ page for open grants). And while the foundations are accepting applications, they still identify potential grantees in their funding areas. When Open Society opens an application process, traditionally grantseekers have been able to submit letters of inquiry. The key is keeping an eye on the foundations' website for updated guidelines and new initiatives.
- Jane Sunduis, Education and Youth Development Program Director, Baltimore
- Aleesha Taylor, Deputy Director, Education Support Program, New York
- Dierdre Williams, Senior Program Officer, Education Support Program, New York