The Mission of the Open Society Foundations

Understanding open society is one thing. Trying to create open societies or strengthening open societies is something else. They have to evolve, they have to create themselves, and that process is a never-ending process. We are living in very anxious times. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world. People are afraid and they want to hide behind closed borders. Societies are divided and the spaces of contestation are becoming more explosive and, in some cases, violent. People are questioning the rationality. People are questioning the established institutions and norms. It’s an onslaught, not just on immigrants’ rights, but on Muslim rights, on reproductive rights, on LGBT rights. This endless war on terror. The migration crisis. All of that is distorting democratic practice in the world. We’ve got enemies—open society and its enemies. We are, as the Open Society Foundations, part of a network who support a set of values, and a set of principles, and a set of ideas. This vision of an open and humane society. A society in which everybody’s full potential as a human being is realized. A belief in the right of every individual to have certain levels of dignity, including freedom. The freedom of expression. The freedom of assembly and association. The freedom of movement. The right to protest. Voting rights. A free judiciary. Equal justice and transparency and fairness. And a government that is held accountable by its people. And at the very heart of the idea of open society is that people can disagree, but they can still recognize the greater goal of being able to live in mutual respect, in peace. OSF provides an opportunity to question power, to hold power to account, but the complexity of the fight is that power fights back. Even though we are faced with seemingly intractable problems, we need the courage to step into this moment, to take up this challenge. If not us, then whom? In order to have an open society, you have to have to mediate the tension between equality and liberty, popular sovereignty and individual freedom. And it’s a difficult task. The philosophy of Open Society is very much to work with people on the ground who have that energy, who are doing the work, and know the environment where they’re operating. Local advisors, local activists, they have the agency and the authority to be change agents in their country. We are asking people to mobilize themselves. We need to provide the tools. Now we’re seeing the individual as part of a community of thinkers, of activists, of writers, journalists, artists. We’re at a moment now where people’s very lives are on the line. We need healthy institutions in civil society. You need them to be well-run. It doesn’t matter which country you’re in. You will find a remarkable group of courageous people speaking out against violations of rights. They are the voices we seek to support. The only thing that matters is your patience for genuine change —how the world should be. The Foundations do more than fund projects. We are engaged with ideas. There are certain things one has to fight for even if it’s not popular. One must always go to the space where the greatest pain is. We have to do that in a way that speaks to the ultimate values that we are trying to defend and promote. This is tough work. It gets us into trouble. There are times when I wake up in the night and I wonder, is this what I really want to keep doing? It’s really about my belief that a better world, a better society is possible. This is exactly what a foundation like OSF was built for. The whole point is to maintain and to foster and to strengthen open society. And that means you’re made for the moment when open society is threatened. If you believe in something, and you have the convictions towards it, you can really withstand insurmountable odds, and really fight the fight. Open society is always endangered, and it needs to renew itself by being tested and surviving.

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