Open Society Foundations commit $50M to women and youth groups’ work on democracy

NEW YORK (AP) — Open Society Foundations, the major philanthropy now led by Alex Soros, said Tuesday it will commit $50 million to increase civic engagement among women and young people over the next three years as part of its strategy to support democracy in the U.S.

Alex Soros, chair of the Open Society Foundations and son of its founder billionaire investor George Soros, said advocacy from women and younger generations is essential to stopping the advancement of authoritarianism.

“In the early stages of the Trump administration, philanthropic support for organizations seeking to protect and defend progressive policy wins and to counter democratic suppression efforts surged,” Alex Soros said in a statement. “But groups dedicated to the civic engagement of women and young people did not see similar increases in levels of support.”

The new Open Society commitment will support nonprofits working on a wide range of issues impacting these groups, including reproductive justice, climate change, voting and gun safety.

Such support is needed, said Shawnda Chapman, director of innovative grantmaking and research for the Ms. Foundation for Women, adding that foundations looking to support social justice need to fund nonprofits in the movement as if they want them to win. The Ms. Foundation published research last week advocating for more financial support for women and gender nonconforming people of color leading nonprofits on the frontlines of social justices issues.

The second edition of their report, “Living With Pocket Change: What It Means To Do More With Less,” interviews leaders from those groups about how they try to stretch support from philanthropic foundations as far as possible.

“At this moment, when women and women’s bodies and gender nonconforming folks are being attacked on a daily basis, are they willing to move 10% to us?” Teresa Younger, Ms. Foundation’s president and CEO, said of other foundations. “Are the bodies of Black and brown women and gender nonconforming folks valuable enough for them to continue to feel uncomfortable about the dollars that are sitting in their endowments and move those dollars to the field?”

OSF says the new funding will be in addition to prior commitments it’s made to U.S.-based organizations since 2020, like $220 million for Black-led organizations working for racial justice, $100 million to Latino organizations to support civic engagement and immigrants’ rights and $52.6 million for organizations that work in Indigenous and Asian communities.

The new funding is explicitly not timed to influence the 2024 presidential election, said Laleh Ispahani, the executive director of Open Society-U.S., emphasizing that the funding is nonpartisan.

“We want them at the forefront of informing a new agenda for any administration,” she said of the grantees. “We want them to be there if there is a resistance again. They are important no matter what.”

Grantees include Planned Parenthood, the National Women’s Law Center, the Alliance for Youth Action, Run for Something, and Power Rising, a member of the Black Women’s Leadership Collective, which led a campaign to support the nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

“The fact that they would take this chance, make this investment to groups that are on the ground, actually doing work on shoestring budgets, was really gratifying and really just a vote of confidence for our work, for our methodology, for our strategies,” said the Rev. Leah D. Daughtry, founder and co-convenor of Power Rising, of OSF’s new support.

The Ms. Foundation found that many frontline organizations, like Power Rising, work across issue areas, often in tandem with other groups and in response to unfolding events. The organization advises foundations to build on trust-based giving, to support self-guided capacity building for these organizations, and to diminish grantmaking tied to specific issue areas.

The report includes testimonies from leaders of color that reveal how thinly stretched and overburdened they are, but Younger with Ms. Foundation said that shouldn’t be read as a criticism of trust-based philanthropy, which she said is highly valued. It’s a reminder that more is needed.

OSF said the funds will be granted between 2024 and 2026 and will include a mix of funding for nonprofit organizations and for advocacy groups, which hold a different tax status and are allowed to do more work campaigning directly around issues. Ispahani said funding for that kind of advocacy can be very valuable.

In June, OSF announced that Alex Soros was elected head of OSF’s board and that it would embark on a reform of its internal organization, which would include laying off at least 40% of its staff globally. OSF’s president, Mark Malloch-Brown, told grantees in October that the work of its U.S. program would not change until after the 2024 presidential elections.

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