Background

Europe’s estimated 10–12 million Roma citizens form the largest and most disadvantaged ethnic minority on the continent. Millions of Roma remain trapped in a vicious cycle of exclusion, where acute poverty and deprivation are compounded by anti-Roma prejudice and discrimination. A recent European Union report found that on average, across nine areas of everyday life, the Roma encountered ethnic-based discrimination more than all other minority groups surveyed, including those from the sub-Sahara and North Africa.

The Roma Initiatives Office responds to political challenges to Roma rights by supporting Roma who can advocate at the European, national, and local levels for policies that promote integration and equal opportunities, combat segregation, and challenge all forms of discrimination faced by Roma. In addition, we facilitate dialogue, exchange and collaboration across the Open Society Foundations to coordinate efforts, increase knowledge and enhance the impact of Roma-related grantmaking and advocacy.

We build on the Foundations’ many years of support for Roma and pro-Roma civil society organizations to promote active citizenship and grassroots community participation. Substantive Roma participation is essential for meaningful integration, and Roma communities need to participate in the design, implementation, and monitoring of public policies that affect them. Effective and democratic Roma leadership is vital to this process.

The Roma Initiatives Office invests in building the capacity of an emerging generation of young men and women to take a leadership role by involving them in voter education and community mobilization campaigns, and providing training that gives Roma activists the skills and confidence to be a force for social change. We fund internships for Roma graduates in the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of Europe, and support intensive English language training. In partnership with the Roma Education Fund, we provide opportunities for postgraduate study in the Roma Access Program run by Central European University in Budapest.

We work with a broad range of civil society partners to promote positive images of Roma communities and culture, to repudiate racism, and to promote intercultural dialogue. The Roma Initiatives Office recognizes that one of the most formidable obstacles to Roma inclusion is the high level of anti-Roma prejudice harbored by majority populations and fomented by the far-right. Successful inclusion policies require an increased level of public support and effective action to counter racist stereotypes. Attitude change is a complex process that we addresses by promoting intercultural dialogue, identifying the factors that drive prejudice and negative attitudes, and showing how such attitudes can be effectively challenged and ultimately changed.