Two Decades of Strengthening Open Society in the Czech Republic

This September, the Open Society Fund Prague celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Over the past two decades we’ve worked to build a tolerant, open, and prosperous society in the Czech Republic. Although it’s difficult to assess one’s own work, this anniversary gave us a chance to look back and take stock of our accomplishments. Below are just a few examples of the fund’s achievements and our hopes for the future.  

Points of Pride

Like the country as a whole, the Open Society Fund Prague has changed enormously since its founding in 1992. Over the last twenty years, we have worked on a range of issues, from education and culture to social assistance and health care. During that time we’ve provided more than 1.2 billion Crowns (over $61 million US) to support Czech NGOs and individuals working on almost 10,000 projects.  

But our point of pride is not how much money we’ve given away but how we work. We’ve always tried to be a real partner to the non-profits we support and not solely a financial resource. Thanks to our close ties with the Open Society Foundations, we’ve been able to draw on a wealth of experience from outside of the country and apply innovative concepts and ideas here. For example, when working with the hospice association Homecoming, we drew heavily on foreign experience to improve care for the terminally ill and the assistance for their families. Together we advanced the concept of palliative care and palliative medicine in the Czech Republic, helped families care for their loved ones, and made sure people could die in the place of their choosing.  

We’ve devoted a great deal of time to developing the civic sector, including supporting the creation of the Centre for Foundations and Other Non-profit Organizations (ICN), which evolved into the Donors’ Forum and Neziskovky.cz. We adopted the concept of volunteerism from abroad, and, in cooperation with the civic association Hestia, promoted the ideas of volunteerism, increased the number of volunteers among the public and organizations willing to use them, and contributed to a culture of volunteerism in the country.

The Open Society Fund Prague has been able to help many individuals realize their ideas by offering flexible forms of assistance. We have never been afraid to back bold initiatives. Moving forward these attributes will continue to be very important for us. We might even be compared to “business angels,” investors searching for good ideas to finance and develop.

In the Czech Republic today it is easy to find many large, well-established projects that would not have been possible without the trust and support of the Open Society Fund Prague. We know that in the early stages, even small-scale support can make a big difference. For example, we supported the One World Festival in its early, most difficult years. It is now the world’s largest documentary film festival devoted to human rights. We backed a pilot project for social field work in marginalized neighborhoods, and today People in Need offers counseling to impoverished families in fifty locations around the Czech Republic. Many organizations, including the governmental Agency for Social Integration, have adopted and continue to use the methods developed in this project.  

The Open Society Fund Prague is not afraid of tackling intractable problems. On the contrary, we have always encouraged partner non-profits to work toward attaining systemic changes and altering deeply rooted stereotypes. Equal opportunity for men and women and a transparent, corruption-free public administration are two issues that can only be addressed over the long term and through systematic, diligent effort. It is for this reason that we have supported organizations such as Transparency International, Environmental Law Service, Human Rights League, or Forum 50%—organizations that had the courage to take on the country’s most difficult issues—from their very inception. And we are proud that we can point to a number of successes from their efforts, such as the adoption of the conflict of interest act, and the act on protection from domestic violence.  

We have worked on these and other issues with hundreds of Czechs and Czech organizations, and you can find twenty of our shared stories of achievement here.

Future Directions

Our efforts have always focused on developing an open and democratic society in the Czech Republic. Despite our progress there is still much more work to be done.  

One of the most pressing issues is improving the work of public administration, combating corruption, and creating an honest environment in the Czech Republic. For this reason we created the Otakar Motejl Fund, named after the first Czech ombudsman who played a major role in upholding the principles of rule of law. Made possible by contributions from private donors, the Otakar Motejl Fund supports Czech watchdog organizations—civic initiatives that monitor the actions of state administration, draw attention to mistakes, strive to combat corruption, and help make public administration open and accessible to citizens. More than 100 national and local watchdog organizations receive support including Transparency International, the Human Rights League, the Environmental Law Service.

Although the Otakar Motejl Fund and its sources of funding are new, our methods remain the same. George Soros founded the Open Society Fund Prague in 1992 and until now had been our biggest donor. We are grateful for his support and the successes mentioned above would not have been possible without him. Now, however, the Czech society must take a lead role in financing the development of open society in the country. We are capable of building an honest and transparent environment ourselves, whether through individual civic participation or through support for organizations that makes these issues their professional focus. We can and should establish an environment in the Czech Republic in which public administration at the local level will work with citizens to improve life in the community, and in which the administration at the state and political levels are not at the center of further shameful corruption scandals every month. It is up to us to define the environment that our children will grow up in. We look forward to another twenty years of working together.

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