Open Society Foundations to Close Open Society Institute–Baltimore after 25 Years; Will Invest $20 Million to Seed the Future of Social Justice Philanthropy
BALTIMORE—The Open Society Foundations announced today that later this year they will close Open Society Institute–Baltimore (OSI), which has operated locally for 25 years, advancing criminal justice reform, civic engagement, health equity, restorative practices, economic justice, overdose prevention strategies, and other impactful progressive initiatives in Baltimore and the region.
In partnership with the leadership of Open Society-U.S. and the Open Society Foundations, and with the generous contributions of our local donors, OSI has committed $20 million to date as part of the transition.
In keeping with Open Society’s legacy in Baltimore, the resources will enable OSI to make final investments in the community and sustainably deploy technical assistance to grantees for their near-term stability. The funds will also serve as a multiyear commitment to seed an evolution of the Baltimore Community Fellowship, which has supported more than 200 grassroots social entrepreneurs and social justice advocates since its founding.
“The Open Society Foundations were built on a deep and abiding belief in the power of local knowledge. OSI has been a 25-year proof of concept, a center of excellence for testing and trying out solutions to the city’s enduring challenges in education, criminal justice, drug dependency, and more. I am so proud of all that our colleagues there have accomplished. As the Foundations evolve to better meet the tests of these times, we will carry with us the lessons we have learned,” said Alexander Soros, chair of the Open Society Foundations.
As part of OSI’s wind-down effort, Open Society will invest $10 million towards legacy projects, including an evolution of our Fellowship and the Maryland Black Futures Fund, which will be launched later this year. Spearheaded by place-based movement organization CLLCTIVLY, and inspired by a California-based prototype, the Maryland Black Futures Fund is a new five-year, $100 million campaign to ensure that Black power-building and movement-based organizations in Baltimore and across the state of Maryland have the sustained investments and resources they need in their fight to eradicate systemic and institutionalized racism.
“True to our Baltimore spirit, we’ve decided not to view this development as a defeat but rather embrace it as a rare and timely opportunity. With the tremendous partnership of our national and global leadership, we have raised to date $20 million to facilitate a responsible closure of our office and seed an exciting evolution of this work,” said Danielle Torain, director of OSI.
“This effort is not about protecting the legacy of OSI; it's about leaning into the brilliance and ingenuity of the people of our city and heeding to the next powerful generation of social justice philanthropy and grassroots movement in Baltimore. It's about taking good care of the heart, soul and well-being of those who take care of us and fight on the frontlines each day to make Baltimore a better place,” Torain added.
OSI’s investment in CLLCTIVLY and the Black Futures Fund is an outgrowth of OSI’s Economic Justice portfolio, which has since 2021 supported a range of local funds focused on democratizing access to capital among local communities of color. Supported initiatives also include: BMore Invested, a local funders collaborative focused on supporting local community-based alternative solutions led by people of color; the Baltimore Immigrant Communities Fund, a public-private partnership and funder collaborative committed to increasing Baltimore's capacity to better serve New Americans in Baltimore; and the Revolve Fund, a philanthropic initiative that provides patient, interest-free capital to Black/African-American, Latinx, and Native American-led businesses.
The wind-down of OSI is part of the Open Society Foundations’ global shift toward greater consolidation and focus, with an overall objective of having a leaner organizational footprint allowing the Foundations to direct more funds to programmatic work for greater impact.
“For a quarter of a century, OSI has invested in local organizations and leaders whose creativity, industry, and commitment to racial justice, equity, and good government are unparalleled,” said Tom Perriello, executive director of Open Society-U.S. “Baltimore has been a powerful source of innovation and inspiration as we have worked—and succeeded—to expand voting rights, improve education, curb police violence, and treat drug use as a public health problem."
“We are incredibly grateful to Danielle Torain for her exceptional leadership, as well as Jamar Brown and all the members of our Baltimore Advisory Board. With their encouragement, we are excited that our Community Fellowships program will continue to evolve, providing local activists with the resources they need to solve the city’s most difficult challenges.”
Over the course of the upcoming weeks, OSI will host numerous briefings and conversations with grantees, partners, and local stakeholders to discuss and finalize the wind-down strategy.
OSI opened as the Open Society Foundations’ first and only U.S. field office in 1998 to better understand and address challenges in education, justice, and addiction issues in the city and create solutions that could serve as a model for other urban areas. During its 25 years in Baltimore, Open Society has supported hundreds of local grantees and individuals working to build a more equitable, just, and prosperous city for all of its residents. It has catalyzed key policy changes, fostered new movements, inspired national investments from Open Society and other funders, and led the local philanthropic sector to support organizations advancing innovative approaches to the city and region’s biggest challenges.
“OSI has a 25-year record of achievement. Begun as a field office of the Open Society Foundations, it was a true philanthropic experiment for a global philanthropy to act and achieve change locally,” said Laleh Ispahani, co-director for Open Society-U.S. “Working with stakeholders across the city, OSI invested millions in organizations and leaders seeking to enhance civic engagement, reform unfair criminal justice policies, and improve education. We are deeply proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to seeing what the Community Fellows will accomplish over the next quarter of a century.”
Over its 25 years, OSI has:
- Fostered a harm reduction movement in Baltimore and the region, leading efforts to expand access to Buprenorphine and Naloxone, building support for Overdose Prevention Sites, and contributing to a drop in overdose deaths in the city, countering statewide and national trends
- Supported advocates advancing major reforms to the criminal justice system, including the elimination of the flawed Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, advocating for and supporting implementation of the Department of Justice’s consent decree, and fostering a movement to reform a pretrial system that penalizes residents for their economic status
- Seeded several innovative initiatives designed to move capital to historically under-resourced communities
- Successfully implemented restorative practices in the Baltimore City and Maryland school system, the tenets of restorative approaches being adopted by city agencies
- Supported a host of community-based organizations that advocate for criminal justice reform and holding police accountable
- Supported more than 200 community-based social justice entrepreneurs through the Community Fellowships Program, with over 70 percent of Fellows continuing to do social justice work in Baltimore City
- Facilitated a robust response to the pandemic, including providing cash assistance to 15,000 residents, anchoring the Baltimore Equitable Vaccination Initiative
- Launched a civic engagement campaign for the 2020 election that led to Baltimore City having the highest turnout of any jurisdiction in the state and its highest since 1987