Turning Good Policies into Real Change

Chris Stone started as the second president of the Open Society Foundations today.

Thirty years ago, George Soros began his Open Society Foundations. Since then the Foundations have grown enormously. They operate in over 100 countries, and combine a powerful global vision with local knowledge and local legitimacy.

Along the way, we have benefited from extraordinary talent, knowledge, and skills in our efforts to build open societies. We remain just as committed as we were 30 years ago to expanding and defending people’s rights, pursuing justice, protecting and respecting human dignity, and strengthening democratic practice.

We will need to combine that commitment with ingenuity, collaboration, and persistence if we are to continue to bring meaningful change in the places we work: change that is felt by the people who are oppressed and on whose behalf we work.

This is not an easy task. In my own experience I have seen how better laws and policies don’t necessarily transform the lives of people. I saw this happen in South Africa when I was at the Vera Institute of Justice. I remember well a 1996 meeting with Dullah Omar, then minister of justice under Nelson Mandela. Omar told me how the ANC believed it had first thought it could transform South Africa by passing good laws and writing good policies. But after two years and many admirable developments, Omar knew that for many people on the ground in South Africa transformation was still a dream.

Open Society has had similar experiences. For years we fought the segregation of Roma children into inferior schools in Eastern Europe. In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights gave the Roma an apparent victory in a landmark decision, D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic. But despite this legal victory, the schools remain segregated.

These stories illustrate the very real frustrations that reformers everywhere encounter and the inherent difficulty in this work. We must remember that our end goal is not a policy statement, or a better law, or a legal victory. Our end goal is to make sure that the people on whose behalf we are working—those suffering from oppression and abuse—experience real change in their lives.  We need to clear away the obstacles that prevent their voices from being heard and deprive them of their own power.

The Open Society Foundations have a wide array of tools to make this happen. We have expertise in health, education, justice, information, and technology. We can help establish think tanks or make economic investments. We can offer individual fellowships and scholarships. Our strength is our ability to pull all of these resources together, to marshal our different capacities and combine them in long term strategies.

If we can spot more of these opportunities to leverage the different parts of our network together, we will be able to make a meaningful difference in more people’s lives. I know we can do this, and I am excited about the challenges ahead.

6 Comments

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It is encouraging to see the Soros Foundation taking an active role in helping the poor and powerless around the world. There are laws being created in every country every day, not always for the best. Someone needs to help those without resources to help themselves.

Congratulations Mr Stone, we at the Internationial Society for Social Justice and Human Rights believe that your leadership will deepen the advocacy, protection of the voiceless and the violated around the world. We will continue to identify with the ideals of Open Society till humanity stop all forms of human and economic rights violations.

Just curious about International Society for Social Justice, could you send me an e-mail newsletter? Also I wonder if you are Native American?

Segregation of Roma - moving from policies to effective implementation – remains one of our challenges and we have to continue to struggle and use our ability and knowledge towards bringing change for the wellness of our children. Give Roma children the opportunity to get quality education and they will make our society a better place for all. Thank you Mr. Stone for what you and OSI stand for...

Most grateful for you Mr Stone, you really deserve it because every leadership position God appoints it at the right time. We have confidence that this is now high time where all developing Civil Society Groups in Malawi (Africa) are going to experience a recognition and genuine support from your office towards this fight for Human Rights, support the local masses for a better change on bad polices which oppress people the right to social, economic and developmental constraints. Help us intensify a fight on various issues /interventions against poor governance in which our African governments are currently using as a tool to silence CSOs not to criticise them and end up oppressing the poor in their own country.
We are very proud of you Mr Stone with your entire OSF Team.

May I take this early opportunity to congratulate Christopher Stone for taking up the appointment to the helm of Open Society.
We at Kisumu Citywide Residents Alliance hope and wish that the Kenyan office will be more responsive and remove nepotism from its ranks. Open Society is an organization that has the potential to exceed the current limits in term of its performance at the grassroots level. This is hindered by some persons using the big name syndrome.

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