Meeting the Demands of a Changing World
By Mark Malloch-Brown
The world has changed dramatically since the early 1990s, when the Open Society Foundations’ support for human rights and democracy was in line with the tides of politics and history.
Today, we are struggling to defend the democratic achievements of the past, with more people in the world living under authoritarian governments than not. Even in places that are democratic, there are immense pressures and threats on people’s rights—excessive corporate power in the information space, marginalization of ethnic minorities and migrants, unequal access to critical services, and long term unresolved issues of racial justice and gender equality. The world is falling back.
It is in these changing times that we as a foundation need to rethink how we use the resources given by our founder and chair, George Soros, for the biggest impact.
Let me be clear that this is not an organization in financial difficulty. Nor has the foundation fallen short of proper ambition in terms of what has been achieved. Our mission remains the same—to build vibrant and inclusive societies, grounded in respect for human rights and the rule of law, whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people. We will remain committed to building the power of communities that are denied a political voice in so many places around the world. But we need to become more nimble and responsive, able to react urgently and at scale to new opportunities, ready to engage and win when movements are at tipping points.
To that end, we are transforming our entire network and ways of working to meet the most urgent challenges and seize the most promising opportunities of our time. That means:
- We will retain the important work of building up fields and grantees for success over time but being clearer and more focused about our areas of priority. At the same time, we will work with partners to build medium-term initiatives and shorter-term campaigns that focus on achievable and clearly defined wins.
- We will re-center our work on our regions, where our partners and foundations have the local expertise, relationships, and voice needed for impact.
- We will shape our thematic programs to be global stewards of our core priorities: anti-authoritarianism, economic justice, information democracy, and climate change.
- We will be nimbler, setting aside more of our budget in reserves to allow us the flexibility to respond quickly to changing conditions and new opportunities. We will also seek out ways to do more in partnership with other donors rather than alone.
This will reshape some of the ways we engage and function as a foundation. There are some areas of work that will not be a part of this future vision, and others that we will newly bring into our orbit. This is already a time of great disruption in our world amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed deep fissures in our societies. We do not take this as a signal to pause—rather it spurs us into more urgent action to face the dramatic existential threats that continue to unfold. If we are to have the impact we need to have, we need to be as strong and as effective as we can be right now. Because the world can’t wait.
Mark Malloch-Brown is president of the Open Society Foundations.