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.