Marine Buissonniere, Open Society Foundations

TITLE: Director, Public Health

FUNDING AREAS: Global health

CONTACT: buissonniere.marine@opensocietyfoundations.org, 212-548-0600

IP TAKE: Buissonniere is in charge of public health funding at the Open Society Foundations, which devotes tens of millions of dollars to health-related grants annually. Big priorities for Buissonniere and Open Society: empowering the marginalized and getting health care to people who are denied it.

PROFILE: The Open Society Foundations are a group of charitable organizations backed by financial wizard George Soros, with billions of dollars in combined assets. The foundations' mission is a fairer, more justly governed world, one where government is transparent and democratic, marginalized people are empowered, and we all have access to health care, basic human rights, and education. Laudable goals, all of these, if more than a little challenging to execute. Fortunately for Open Society, it not only has its giant coffers to rely on as it works to shift the world order toward something more equitable and less oppressive, it also has some impressive human talent. A standout among its staff roles: Marine Buissonniere, director of public health.

Buissonniere comes to the Open Society Foundations after many years with Doctors Without Borders (or, in Buissonniere's native French, Medecins Sans Frontieres). From 2003 to 2007, Buissonniere served as secretary-general to the global public health organization, after years of working in the trenches. She was Doctors Without Borders' head of mission in Korea, its operations director in Tokyo, the head of mission for Gaza and the West Bank, and the administrator in Beijing. Incidentally, Buissonniere speaks fluent Mandarin in addition to French and English.

Buissonniere is outspoken on the issues that matter to Open Society. In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled (6-2, with Scalia and Thomas dissenting) that the U.S. government cannot require nonprofits to take an anti-prostitution pledge as a condition of receiving federal funding for HIV/AIDS fighting efforts. Alliance for Open Society International, an affiliated Open Society office, was the lead plaintiff in the case, arguing that the pledge violated its right to free speech. Buissonniere, in a press release celebrating the Court's decision, also makes the case that, more than just a free speech issue, collaborating with sex workers is an important component of successfully halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. As she explains:

Public health groups cannot tell sex workers that we 'oppose' them, yet expect them to be partners in preventing HIV. Condemnation and alienation are not public health strategies. The pledge ignores years of evidence that sex workers are critical partners in the fight against AIDS.

Buissonniere is similarly outspoken about the intersection of health and human rights on Twitter, where she regular posts her thoughts and links to articles she finds interesting (see below). Buissonniere's tweets involve a great number of issues including the criminalization of sex workers in Europe (Buissonniere opposes this), Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz's thoughts on income inequality (Buissonniere agrees with them), and the economics of AIDS drugs (Buissonniere is pretty sure drug companies are up to something).

In 2012, Open Society spent around $380 million on grants, with approximately $22 million going toward health-related causes and projects. The foundations believe that people who face stigma and discrimination are often denied access to health care, and so it wants to support health projects that support inclusion and minority empowerment. The foundations find health-related work in access to medicine, accountability in health, disability rights, drug policy reform and harm reduction, health financing, health media, health law, palliative care, the Roma, and sexual and reproductive health.

Groups interested in applying for Open Society money for their health projects can find information on the application process here.