My Philanthropy


By George Soros

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ebook (Digital original)


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George Soros is one of the world’s leading philanthropists. Over the past 30 years, he has provided more than 7 billion to his network of foundations, known collectively as the Open Society Institute, for projects around the world and in the United States.

In this e-book, Soros writes in detail for the first time about his vision for philanthropy. “I have always been leery of philanthropy,” he writes, “Philanthropy is supposed to be devoted to the benefit of others, but many philanthropists are primarily concerned with their own benefit.” Soros engages in philanthropy not out of a desire for praise or to impose his vision upon the world but out of a strong sense of moral duty: “My success in the financial markets has given me a greater degree of independence than most other people enjoy. This allows me to take a stand on controversial issues. In fact, my exceptional position obliges me to do so.”

Soros is celebrated for his brilliant financial and economic insights and his investment strategies. But his contribution to philanthropy and the impact of his generosity is equally impressive. This text reveals the thinking and practice that drives a lesser known aspect of this remarkable man’s life, his goals for society and his philosophy.


My Philanthropy
George Soros
I am both selfish and self-centered and I have no qualms about acknowledging it; yet over the past thirty years I have established a far-reaching philanthropic enterprise—the Open Society Foundations—whose annual budget used to hover around $500 million and is now climbing towards a billion. (Total expenditures since 1979 are about $8 billion.) The activities of the Open Society Foundations extend to every part of the globe and cover such a wide range of topics that even I am surprised by it. I am, of course, not the only one who is selfish and self-centered; most of us are. I am just willing to admit it. There are many truly charitable people in the world, but few of them amass the kind of wealth that is necessary to be a philanthropist.
I have always been leery of philanthropy. In my view, philanthropy goes against the grain; therefore it generates a lot of hypocrisy and many paradoxes. Here are some examples: Philanthropy is supposed to be devoted to the benefit of others, but philanthropists are primarily concerned with their own benefit; philanthropy is supposed to help people, yet it often makes people dependent and turns them into objects of charity; applicants tell foundations what they want to hear, then proceed to do what the applicant wants to do.
Given my critical attitude towards philanthropy, why do I devote such a large part of my wealth and energies to philanthropy? The answer is to be found partly in my personal background and history, partly in the conceptual framework that has guided me through my life, and partly in sheer happenstance.
The formative experience of my life was the German occupation of Hungary in 1944. I was Jewish and not yet fourteen years old. I could have easily perished in the Holocaust or suffered lasting psychological damage had it not been for my father, who understood the dangers and coped with them better than most others. My father had gone through a somewhat similar experience in the First World War, which prepared him for what happened in the Second.
As I like to tell the story, he joined the Austro-Hungarian army as a volunteer and was captured by the Russians. He was taken to Siberia as a prisoner of war. In the camp he became the editor of a handwritten literary magazine which was displayed on a plank, and it was called The Plank. The writers of the articles used to gather behind the plank and listen to the comments of the readers. My father brought home the handwritten pages, and I remember looking at them as a child. The Plank made him very popular, and he was elected the prisoners' representative. When some prisoners of war escaped from a neighboring camp, their representative was shot in retaliation. Instead of waiting for the same thing to happen in his camp, my father collected a group of prisoners and organized a break-out. They built a raft with the intention of drifting down to the ocean. But their knowledge of geography was deficient, and they did not realize that all the rivers of Siberia empty into the Arctic Ocean. When they recognized their mistake, they got off the raft and made their way back to civilization across the uninhabited taiga. They got caught up in the lawlessness of the Russian Revolution and went through some harrowing adventures. That was his formative experience.
Eventually my father made his way back to Hungary, but he came home a changed man. When he volunteered for the army he was an ambitious young man. As a result of his adventures in Russia, he lost his ambition and wanted nothing more from life than to enjoy it. Bringing up his two children was one of his chief joys. That made him a very good father. He also liked to help and guide other people and had a knack for striking up acquaintance with strangers. He held his own insights and judgment in high regard, but in other respects he was genuinely not a selfish or self-centered man.
When the Germans occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944, my father knew exactly what to do. He realized that these were abnormal times and people who followed the normal rules were at risk. He arranged false identities not only for his immediate family but also for a larger circle. He charged a fee, sometimes quite an exorbitant one, to those who could afford it and helped others for free. I had never seen him work so hard before. That was his finest hour. Both his immediate family and most of those whom he advised or helped managed to survive.
The year of German occupation, 1944, was my formative experience. Instead of submitting to our fate, we resisted an evil force that was much stronger than we were—yet we prevailed. Not only did we survive, but we managed to help others. This left a lasting mark on me, turning a disaster of unthinkable proportions into an exhilarating adventure.1 That gave me an appetite for taking risk, and under my father's wise guidance I learned how to cope with it—exploring the limits of the possible but not going beyond the limits. I positively relish confronting harsh reality, and I am drawn to tackling seemingly insoluble problems. Helping others never lost its positive connotation for me, but for a long time I had few opportunities to practice it.
After the heady adventures of the war and immediate postwar period, life in Hungary became very drab. The country was occupied by Russian troops, and the Communist Party consolidated its rule. I wanted out and, with my father's help, I managed to get out. In September 1947, I left for England to study.
Life in London was a big letdown. Aged seventeen with very little money and few connections, I was lonely and miserable. I managed to work my way through college, but it was not a pleasant experience. All students whose parents were resident in England were entitled to a county council stipend. I was an exception because my parents were not with me. Working one's way through college was not a well-trodden path, but that is what I had to do.
I had two encounters with philanthropy during that difficult period, and they have colored my attitude towards charity ever since. Shortly after I arrived in London I turned to the Jewish Board of Guardians to ask for financial support. They refused me on the grounds that their guidelines called for supporting only young people who were learning a trade, not students. Later on, when I was already a student at the London School of Economics, I took on a temporary job at Christmas time as a railroad porter and I broke my leg. I came out of the hospital on crutches, and I thought this was a good opportunity to get some money out of the Jewish Board of Guardians. I climbed two flights of stairs on my crutches and asked them for temporary support. They repeated their mantra about helping only apprentices, but they couldn't refuse me. They gave me three pounds, hardly enough to live on for a week. This continued for several weeks. Each time I had to climb the stairs on crutches to collect the money.


On Sale
Aug 14, 2012
Page Count
62 pages

George Soros

About the Author

George Soros was named as the Financial Times Person of the Year for 2018, citing the standard bearer of liberal democracy and open society: the ideas which triumphed in the cold war, now under siege from all sides, from Vladimir Putin’s Russia to Donald Trump’s America.

For more than three decades, George Soros has used philanthropy to battle against authoritarianism, racism and intolerance. Through his long commitment to openness, media freedom and human rights, he has attracted the wrath of authoritarian regimes and, increasingly, the national populists who continue to gain ground, particularly in Europe.

He is chairman of Soros Fund Management and founder of a global network of foundations dedicated to supporting open societies. Soros  is the author of several bestselling books including The Crash of 2008 and The Crisis of Global Capitalism

Learn more about this author