|[Published: Tuesday September 14 2021]
George Soros making changes at his foundation while he still can
NEW YORK, 14 Sept. - (ANA) - The mass email that went out to Open Society Foundations’ grant recipients in the United States in March began with an upbeat note about “how resistance is translating into real progress.”
The bad news was buried farther down. The left-leaning foundation — started by the billionaire investor George Soros and today the second-largest private charitable foundation in the United States — was beginning a transformation, as officials there refer to their restructuring plan. So, the email said, “the nature of many partnerships will shift.”
What that actually meant in practice only became clear amid a flurry of phone calls between concerned nonprofit leaders and foundation staff in the days that followed. Many of the nonprofit groups that relied on support from Open Society were getting what were called “tie-off grants,” a final year or so of funding to ease the blow of getting cut off. The foundation set aside an enormous $400 million for what amounted to severance payments to organizations around the world, and more than 150 foundation employees took buyouts as part of the restructuring.
Grant recipients in public health said they were stunned to be told during a global pandemic that they would be losing funding. Others supporting refugees were similarly surprised given the worldwide needs of the refugee population and the fact that Mr. Soros himself was a refugee from communism.
For years, Mr. Soros watched the world march in fits and starts toward the vision of open, pluralistic democracy that he has embraced since he was a young Hungarian Holocaust survivor studying philosophy.
The changes at the Open Society Foundations are a painful but necessary adjustment, its leaders say, because that march has halted. Now, with its founder in his 90s, the foundation — and the world — confronts rising authoritarianism and deeply divided civil societies. In the United States, that means that Mr. Soros’s work on progressive causes has made him a target of right-wing conspiracy theories.
And in 2018, in his native Hungary, Open Society was forced to close its office under intense pressure from the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a onetime recipient of a grant from the group.
“From a high-water mark in the early 2000s, we’ve really seen a recession of democracy and human rights,” Mark Malloch-Brown, the president of the foundation, said in an interview. “We’ve been a little bit peacetime generals at a time where, actually, we’re in a war again.”
The announced funding changes set off months of recrimination and criticism within the sprawling Open Society Foundations, a patchwork of separately constituted national organizations, regional offices around the world and thematic programs based chiefly in New York. Those tensions erupted at an all-staff meeting in early May, when some Open Society employees demanded to know why staff members had not been more closely consulted and accused the foundation’s leadership of “gaslighting” them. Several argued that the changes did not address internal problems with racism and sexism that the organization needed to deal with.
Lurking in the background of every discussion is the fact that Mr. Soros just celebrated his 91st birthday. He is a year older than Warren Buffett, who recently stepped down as a trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The sprawling foundation Mr. Soros has funded for decades wants to refocus while he can still weigh in on the question that many large philanthropies face, which is how to keep the vision of the founder alive after he or she is gone?
Mr. Soros declined through a spokesman to be interviewed for this article. Mr. Malloch-Brown, 67, the group’s new president and a veteran of the United Nations, the World Bank and the United Kingdom’s foreign office, is steering the organization through the transition period.
The plan is to concentrate bigger philanthropic bets at the global level. The restructuring will give more power to the regional offices, in places like Africa and Latin America, including $75 million in additional funding.
in 2017 Mr. Soros had transferred $18 billion of his fortune to the Open Society Foundations, making it the second-largest private charitable foundation by resources in the United States after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
After leaving Hungary, Mr. Soros studied at the London School of Economics. He became an arbitrage trader and moved to the United States in 1956, where he started what became Soros Fund Management. He made a fortune as an investor and first began his philanthropic work in 1979 with scholarships for Black students in South Africa and for Eastern European dissidents to study abroad. - (ANA) -
AB/ANA/14 September 2021 - - -