George SorosFounder / Chair
Under George Soros’s leadership, the Open Society Foundations support individuals and organizations across the globe fighting for freedom of expression, accountable government, and societies that promote justice and equality.
George Soros experienced ethnic and political intolerance firsthand. Born in Hungary in 1930, he lived through the Nazi occupation of 1944–1945, which resulted in the murder of over 500,000 Hungarian Jews. His own Jewish family survived by securing false identity papers, concealing their backgrounds, and helping others do the same. Soros later recalled that “not only did we survive, but we managed to help others.”
“1944, the year of the German occupation, was my formative experience. Instead of submitting to our fate we resisted an evil force that was much stronger than we were—yet we prevailed.” —George Soros
As the Communists consolidated power in Hungary after the war, Soros left Budapest in 1947 for London, working part-time as a railway porter and as a night-club waiter to support his studies at the London School of Economics. In 1956, he emigrated to the United States, entering the world of finance and investments, where he made his fortune. In 1970, he launched his own hedge fund and went on to become one of the most successful investors in the history of the United States.
George Soros used his fortune to create the Open Society Foundations—a network of foundations, partners, and projects in more than 120 countries. Our name and work reflect the influence on Soros’s thinking of the philosophy of Karl Popper, which Soros first encountered at the London School of Economics. In his book Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper argues that no philosophy or ideology is the final arbiter of truth, and that societies can only flourish when they allow for democratic governance, freedom of expression, and respect for individual rights—an approach at the core of the Open Society Foundations’ work.
George Soros began his philanthropy in 1979, giving scholarships to black South Africans under apartheid. In the 1980s, he helped promote the open exchange of ideas in Communist Hungary by funding academic visits to the West and supporting fledgling independent cultural groups, as well as other initiatives. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he created Central European University as a space to foster critical thinking—which at that time was an alien concept for most universities in the former Communist bloc.
With the Cold War over, he gradually expanded his philanthropy to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the United States, supporting a vast array of new efforts to create more accountable, transparent, and democratic societies. He was one of the early prominent voices to criticize the war on drugs as “arguably more harmful than the drug problem itself,” and helped kick-start America’s medical marijuana movement. In the early 2000s, he became a vocal backer of same-sex marriage efforts. Though his causes have evolved over time, they continue to hew closely to his ideals of an open society.
Highlights of George Soros and the Open Society Foundations
Starting to Build a More Open World
Central European University Opens Its Doors
His giving has reached beyond his own Foundations, supporting independent organizations such as Global Witness, the International Crisis Group, the European Council on Foreign Relations, and the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
Now in his 80s, Soros continues to take an active personal interest in the Open Society Foundations, traveling widely to support our work and advocating for positive policy changes with world leaders, both publicly and privately.
In 2017, the Open Society Foundations announced that Soros had transferred $18 billion of his fortune into an endowment that would fund the future work of the Foundations, bringing his total giving to the Foundations since 1984 to over $32 billion.
“I believe that in philanthropy one should do the right thing, whether or not it succeeds.” —George Soros
Throughout Soros’s philanthropic career, one thing has remained constant: a commitment to fighting the world’s most intractable problems. He has been known to emphasize the importance of tackling losing causes. Indeed, many of the issues Soros has taken on—and he would be the first to admit this—are the types of issues for which a complete solution might never emerge.
“My success in the financial markets has given me a greater degree of independence than most other people,” Soros once wrote. That independence has allowed him to forge his own path toward a world that’s more open, more just, and more equitable for all.
For more information about George Soros’s activities that are separate from the Open Society Foundations, visit georgesoros.com.