The Open Society Foundations in Italy

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The Open Society Foundations are one of the world’s largest private funders of human rights groups—with an annual budget of over $900 million. In 2017, our grants for work in Europe totaled $65 million.

The majority of this funding is focused on supporting democratic institutions in the formerly Communist countries of East and Central Europe, and on fighting discrimination against minority groups, including Europe’s Roma population.

In Western Europe, where democratic traditions and civil society groups are well established, our work has largely involved helping local groups respond to rapidly evolving new challenges – such as the impact of the 2008 economic crisis, or the CIA’s use of Europe in for torture and rendition after September 2001. Since 2015, we and other international donors have supported NGOs who have been responding to the influx of people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

A Brief History of Our Work in Italy

The Open Society Foundations first started working in Italy in 2008, offering support to groups who were challenging abuses of power by the government of the then prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Our work included supporting legal challenges to the concentration of media ownership under the Berlusconi administration, and the successful effort to challenge the legality of draconian legislation targeting Italy’s Roma and Sinti minority.

Over the next few years, this focus on combatting discrimination against minorities expanded to address the growing challenge of ensuring the humane treatment of migrants. We have supported groups campaigning to secure media access to closed detention camps, as well as providing backing for efforts to smooth the assimilation of new migrants into Italian society. At the same time, we have worked with groups involved in a range of other issues including: drug policy reform, protecting gay rights, and promoting civic and youth participation.

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Nine Facts about Our Work in Italy:

  1. The Open Society Foundations funding of projects in Italy amounted to around 2.5 percent of our total European grant giving in 2016. 
  2. As part of our global support for accountable government, the Foundations have supported Diritto di Sapere, which helps Italian citizens get answers from government institutions about issues that concern them—such as how much money local authorities allocated to road repairs last year, or the budget of a local hospital.
  3. Our grantees often meet the demand for services that the government is not able to meet. Cittadini del Mondo runs an intercultural library which serves the local community in the outskirts of Rome where it also organizes cultural activities and language courses for migrants, especially for women and children.
  4. Across Europe we have supported groups that mobilize local citizens who want to do something to help migrant families. In Italy, Refugees Welcome Italia, for example, promotes the integration of refugees who are hosted by Italian families without cost to the state.
  5. Another of the groups we supported, Terra! Onlus, promotes supply chain transparency and has campaigned for labeling on products to guide consumers towards an informed choice about the products’ origins.
  6. Open Society has supported groups working on public health implications of drug use in Italy, including supporting research on Italy’s innovative efforts to reduce overdose deaths.
  7. The Open Society Foundations have supported Italian human rights lawyers who have successfully challenged the government on a range of issues, including media ownership, public access to information, illegal data retention, and the rights of refugees and Roma.
  8. We have worked with other philanthropic Italian foundations, including the Nando Peretti Foundation, Fondazione Italiana Charlemagne, and Fondazione con il Sud.
  9. In the southern city of Naples, we have supported Officine Gomitoli, an intercultural center for young people, and ImparareFare, an organization that helps young people to launch their own business ventures and to resume their studies.