When someone is as wealthy as George Soros, the concept of millions and billions takes on a whole new meaning. In early October, the 87-year-old hedge fund manager and philanthropist made history with one of the largest transfers of personal wealth ever made by a private donor to a single foundation. The foundation in question, the Open Society Foundations, was founded by Soros in his native Hungary in 1984. With the recent $18 billion influx, the foundation is now the second largest philanthropic organization in the U.S.–second only to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which, of course, was also founded by a billionaire.
Although the massive donation was only officially disclosed a few weeks ago, it has been quietly in the works for several years now. For several decades now, Soros has made annual donations to the organization ranging from $800 million to $900 million. Needless to say, these were massive contributions in the first place. A few years ago, these donations increased even more. As announced earlier in October, this brings the total amount that Soros has donated to Open Society Foundations to $18 billion–and he likely isn’t finished yet. Indeed, it is estimated that Soros will donate an additional $2 billion or so over the next few years.
Soros’s Open Society Foundations’ roots spread back to Hungary in 1984, which is when Soros established the first Open Society Foundation in his home country. Then as now, the organization was founded to support a variety of causes. Right away, it focused on delivering funds to promote democratic governance, free expression and respect for individual rights. What started with just a single outpost in Hungary grew rapidly through the years. Today, Open Society Foundations promote democracy and human rights in more than 120 countries around the world, but the organization has lately been focusing more of its attention on the United States.
Through the years, Open Society Foundations has engaged in a variety of activities to help promote its stated causes. The organization gets its name from the concept of a “closed society,” which is how life under Nazi rule has often been described. It is fitting because Soros came of age during the Nazi Germany occupation of his home country and had to pose as the Christian godson of a government official to get out and flee to England. Soros clearly named his organization “Open Society” to reflect the fact that it promotes transparency in politics.
Some of the earliest charitable work that was performed by Soros and the Open Society Foundations occurred in South Africa during apartheid. The hedge fund manager and his team worked to provide black South Africans who were being repressed by apartheid with scholarships for furthering their educations. Not long after that, the Open Society Foundations helped to provide photocopiers to Eastern Europeans, giving them the ability to make photocopies of texts that had been banned under communism. Clearly, Soros’s experiences as a child and teenager have prompted him to help those who suffer under human rights violations.
It is incredible to consider that George Soros, a penniless immigrant who fled Hungary during the Nazi Germany occupation, would go on to become one of the wealthiest people in the world. Born in August 1930 to non-practicing Jewish parents in Budapest, Soros was only 13 years old when the Nazi occupation of Hungary started in 1944. Right away, Jewish children were barred from attending school, and things only got worse from there. At 14, Soros was able to pose as the Christian godson of a family friend who worked for the government, and this allowed him to flee to England and then, later, America.
In London, Soros attended the London School of Economics. He ultimately graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree as well as a master of philosophy. Soros used his in-depth understanding of philosophy to inform his investment activities, which he started working on early in life. He launched his career by working different positions at various merchant banks in England; he then did the same thing when he arrived in the United States. These experiences gave him the background that he needed to break into what he really wanted to do: hedge fund management.
Soros started his first hedge fund, Double Eagle, in 1969. He hit the ground running with that enterprise and ended up with enough seed money to start another hedge fund. This time, in 1970, he founded Soros Fund Management, which still exists to this day. Soros quickly made a name for himself on Wall Street, and it wouldn’t be long before his name would be recognized around the world. Unlike many who accumulate vast amounts of wealth, however, Soros never planned to hoard his fortunes. From the very start, he sought to pay his success forward by assisting those who suffer at the hands of their governments.
Had Soros merely remained a wealthy investor and hedge fund manager who enjoyed giving away most of his fortune, he would still have been famous. However, he cemented his place in history by making some fairly bold moves earlier in his career. In particular, in 1992 he famously bet $1 billion against the Great British pound. In so doing, he started being described as the “man who broke the Bank of England.” The move stirred up a great deal of controversy, and it was probably the first time that Soros grabbed the attention of the world.
More than 30 years ago, Soros landed on the Forbes 400 list for the first time, clocking in with a total net worth of around $300 million. For the company’s Forbes 400 list for 2017, it ranked Soros at number 20, with a fortune estimated at around $23 billion. With the massive donation to Open Society Foundations, however, Soros has slid precipitously down the list. After the donation, he is ranked at number 59 with an estimated net worth of around $8 billion. His personal fortune is a lot smaller, but it’s still far, far more than most people will ever see in their lifetime.
Over the last few years, the Open Society Foundations has focused more and more on the situation in the United States. In 2014, for example, the organization contributed $1.4 million to help pass California’s Proposition 47, which reduced minor theft and drug possession to misdemeanors in an effort to reduce overcrowding in jails. The organization and Soros kicked into overdrive for the 2016 election, as the billionaire contributed millions to Super PACs opposed to Donald Trump. Soros also lost an estimated $1 billion wagering that Trump would lose.
With Trump in office and issues like LGBTQ rights and police brutality dominating the public conscience, Soros and his foundation are busier than ever. The organization’s budget for 2017 is $941 million, and it is focusing on themes ranging from early childhood development to justice reform. Since 1979, the billionaire has given away more than $14 billion, and it doesn’t look like he will be slowing down anytime soon. With so much money being contributed to his Open Society Foundations, it is hoped that the organization will be able to make even more headway for the many causes that it supports.