After existing for more than 30 years, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations recently officially became the second-largest philanthropic organization in the United States. Only one other organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is larger. Unlike many charitable organizations, however, Open Society Foundations rose to second place thanks to a single, massive donation. According to a recent report, Soros has now given $18 billion to the foundation. While doing that has made OFS the second largest organization of its kind in the country, it has caused Soros’s position on the list of the world’s wealthiest people to plummet–and the billionaire is surely fine with that.
News of the massive donation to Open Society Foundations emerged in early October. However, while it appears based on reports that Soros made a single, massive donation of $18 billion, the truth is that the money has been slowly but surely donated to the foundation over a period of many years. Indeed, for decades, Soros’s Soros Fund Management would contribute anywhere from $800 million to $900 million per year to Open Society Foundations. In recent years, however, that yearly amount has risen precipitously. Partly this is due to the fact that at 87, Soros doesn’t exactly have decades left to see his vision come to pass.
Earlier this year, Soros was ranked 20th on Forbes’ annual list of the 400 wealthiest individuals in the world. At the time, his net worth was estimated at $23 billion. Since the massive donation was made public, however, Soros’s position on the list has changed. Now that he’s parted with $12 billion, he is ranked at number 59 on the list, and his net worth is now estimated at around $8 billion. One thing is for sure: While he has donated most of his fortune through the year, Soros still has plenty left to live on very comfortably.
Soros founded the first Open Society Foundation in Hungary in 1984. When it was established, its stated goals included promoting democratic governance around the world; protecting and respecting individual rights; and promoting the right to freedom of expression. These issues are quite personal to Soros, as he grew up in Hungary while it was occupied by Nazi Germany. To make matters worse, Soros’s family was Jewish–albeit not actively practicing–so they were targeted. In Hungary at the time, which was the year 1944, Jewish children were banned from attending schools. Things were getting ugly, and the Soros family knew that it had to leave.
Many families didn’t have the luxury of being able to flee Nazi-occupied Hungary. Luckily for George Soros, his family had a good friend who worked for the government. This friend posed as Soros’s godfather, and Soros was presented as a young Christian. Just 14 years old at the time, Soros fled his country and went over to England. For such a young person, this had to be a monumental experience, and it undoubtedly shaped Soros’s view of the world. While some people might go on to be bitter and angry, Soros used these experiences as inspiration for helping others.
Soros has never been afraid of making a splash. After leaving Hungary, he ended up in London, where he attended school for many years. He graduated from the London School of Economics with both a bachelor of science degree and a master of philosophy. Interestingly enough, Soros would later use much of what he learned about philosophy to achieve great success in the world of investment. This success would later allow him to establish Open Society Foundations, which now works to promote human rights and liberal, progressive causes around the world.
After graduating school, Soros took jobs at various merchant banks in London to gain some experience. He then made it over to the U.S., where he took banking jobs on Wall Street in New York City. This is when Soros really started rising to prominence, as he was able to establish his first hedge fund, Double Eagle, in 1969. That venture went so well that the very next year, 1970, Soros founded Soros Fund Management, which still exists today and actually helps to contribute millions of dollars to Open Society Foundations every year.
Although Soros became well known in the world of finance early on, he didn’t gain wider attention until the early 1990s. In 1992, when the British pound was widely regarded as experiencing trouble, Soros was on the side that said that the currency was woefully overvalued. He then proceeded to quite publicly bet against the pound. Soros made a true fortune with this move, but he also angered many people who didn’t quite understand what he was doing. However, he would go on to use the money to further the goals of Open Society Foundations and other causes that are close to his heart.
Not surprisingly, Soros became very concerned when Donald Trump became the official Republican nominee for president in 2016. He and his foundation started funneling contributions to various Super PACs that were established to defeat Trump. Soros was outspoken about his support of Hillary Clinton as well. Of course, Trump went on to win the election–and Soros and his team had to mobilize. Not only did Soros’s PAC money go nowhere, but he personally bet around $1 billion that Trump would lose. Still, Soros has willingly given away the vast majority of his fortune at this point, and it is clear that he won’t be giving up any time soon.
Since being founded in the early 1980s, Open Society Foundations has been involved in a number of controversial causes. One of Soros’s first charitable activities was establishing scholarships for black South Africans during the apartheid years. This move alone surely made Soros plenty of enemies, but he didn’t stop there. During the Cold War, he and his organizations helped Eastern Europeans purchase photocopiers that were then used to reprint publications that had been banned under communism. Basically, whenever human rights violations popped up, Soros and Open Society Foundations seemed to be there to help.
Although Open Society Foundations had focused its attention elsewhere in the world for some time, it recently started focusing more on the U.S. In particular, Soros and his team have earmarked some of the $18 billion to support LGBTQ organizations, as gay rights have been under attack for many years. They have also donated considerable funds in the fight against police brutality, as many Americans are killed by police every year. Sadly, there is no end to the human rights issues that happen in the U.S. and the world, so Soros and Open Society Foundations will always have work to do.
With the next U.S. presidential election still three years away, it is clear that George Soros is already preparing to prompt sweeping changes when the time comes. Now that he runs the second largest philanthropic organization in the country, perhaps the Hungarian American can really start achieving his long-term goals. Even after he is gone, there is no doubt that his legacy will continue, as two of his sons already continue to carry out his mission. It will be interesting to see how the $18 billion–and, eventually, $20 billion–will be used to make the world a better place for everyone.