NET WORTH: $25.2 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Soros Fund Management
FUNDING AREAS: Education & Youth, Governance & Accountability, Health, Rights & Justice, Media and Information
OVERVIEW: George Soros has made significant contributions to health, education, and humanitarian efforts worldwide through his Open Society Foundations, which work “to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people.” The foundation’s initiatives are education and youth, governance and accountability, health, rights and justice, and media and information.
BACKGROUND: George Soros was born to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary. He survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary and the Battle of Budapest during WWII. He immigrated to England in 1947, where he studied at the London School of Economics while working as a porter and waiter. When he decided that he wanted to work in finance, he wrote to every managing director of every merchant bank in London and eventually got an entry-level position. In 1956, he moved to New York, where he worked his way up from an arbitrage trader and analyst to vice president and investment fund manager. In 1973, he founded Soros Fund Management, which became one of the most profitable hedge funds of its time.
EDUCATION & YOUTH: Soros's Open Society Foundation aims “to ensure young people from different backgrounds have equal access to education and to promote critical thinking, respect for diverse opinions, and free and open intellectual inquiry.” The foundation’s education and youth program prioritizes minority and underprivileged groups. In 2005, Soros partnered with the World Bank to establish the Roma Education Fund, which “supports policies and programs which ensure quality education for Roma, including the desegregation of education systems.” In the U.S., Soros has supported the Leadership Conference Education Fund’s anti-hate incident initiative. A complete list of education grantees is available at Open Society’s grants page.
GOVERNANCE & ACCOUNTABILITY: In the area of governance and accountability, the Open Society Foundations “work with governments and businesses to advance transparency, rule of law, and good governance around the world.” In recent years, the foundations have prioritized anticorruption, drug policy reform, the European Union, media freedom and counterterrorism. Past grantees include Publish What You Pay, the Media Foundation of Sparkasse Leipzig and Transparency International, an organization that addresses global corruption and resulting criminal activity. Information about additional grantees in this area is available at the Open Society Foundations’ grants page.
HEALTH: Soros’s health initiative aims to “establish health policies and practices that are based on evidence and promote social inclusion, human rights, and justice.” One past grantee, the Institute of Development Studies, used funding “to gather researchers, practitioners, advocates and decision-makers to share experience and knowledge about how power and politics impact accountability in the health sector.” Another grantee, the Federation for Women and Family Planning conducted a “response to threats to reproductive health and rights in Poland.” A complete list of health grantees is available at the foundations’ grants page.
RIGHTS & JUSTICE: Human rights and justice are prominent among Soros’s philanthropic initiatives. In this area, his foundations aim to “advance human rights and justice around the world by advocating equality for minorities and women, supporting international war crimes tribunals, and helping institute national legal reforms to ensure freedom of information, promote sentencing alternatives, and protect the rights of criminal defendants.” Past grantees include International Service for Human Rights, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations, the International Commission of Jurists and the Center for Civilians in Conflict, a U.S.-based organization that works internationally to “prevent, mitigate and respond to civilian harm.” Descriptions of additional rights and justice grantees area available at the foundations’ grants page.
MEDIA & INFORMATION: Soros’s grantmaking in the areas of media and information supports “efforts that expand and protect press freedoms, increase public access to knowledge and information, include minority voices in media, and use the arts to address pressing social issues.” In this vein, Soros has supported the Writers and Scholars Educational Trust, an organization that works globally to monitor and prevent censorship, and the Institute for Nonprofit News, a consortium of North American nonprofit news organizations that “promote the value and benefit of public-service and investigative journalism.” A database of additional past grantees is available the foundations’ grants page.
LOOKING FORWARD: Soros's long-standing commitment to democracy and minority rights will likely shape his future philanthropy. The Open Society Foundations support organizations of all sizes with grants ranging from $10,000 to several million. Each initiative maintains its own list of RFPs and application guidelines, which may change yearly.