Open Society Foundations Will Give More Than $130 Million to Aid People Hardest Hit by COVID-19 Pandemic

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Open Society Foundations Will Give More Than $130 Million to Aid People Hardest Hit by COVID-19 Pandemic

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations will give more than $130 million to combat the ravages of COVID-19 around the globe, with a focus on providing immediate relief for vulnerable communities and pushing back against government encroachment on political freedoms.

Open Society’s commitment includes rapid response at the local level where many of our staff live and work—from Berlin to London, to Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, to Amman and Cape Town. Half of Open Society’s initial COVID-19 response will go toward the United States, which has so far suffered the largest number of confirmed deaths, and where systemic inequality will have profound global consequences in the years to come. As the virus spreads across continents, we will also focus our efforts in the Global South, particularly in countries where weak institutions face both public health and economic disaster.

Our funding centers on those who are most at-risk, including informal, low-wage, and gig economy workers; refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers; disadvantaged groups such as the Roma in Europe; homeless people; frontline health workers and caregivers; and detained and incarcerated individuals. 

“The scale of this pandemic has laid bare the fault lines and injustices of our world,” said George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations. “We missed the opportunity to create a more just economy after the financial crisis of 2008 and provide a social safety net for the workers who are the heart of our societies. Today, we must change direction and ask ourselves: What kind of world will emerge from this catastrophe, and what can we do to make it a better one?”

“This is the first step of our ongoing response to address the economic and political dislocation wrought by this disease,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations. “Our emergency relief efforts will support our grantees to immediately reach those who cannot access aid through government systems. But just as critically, we aim to ensure that the centers of power never again allow those who are the backbone of our economies to suffer in the shadows.”

Deeply concerned about grave threats to democratic accountability and individual freedoms, Open Society will also fund partners that are challenging violations to political freedoms, as leaders take steps to suspend access to information, roll back sexual and reproductive rights, extend surveillance beyond public health means, and look for scapegoats to blame, exploiting the pandemic as a means to seize unchecked power. 

Specific elements of the funding package include:

  • Nearly $42 million for our global partners to support low-income workers, including in the informal sector, care givers, and the undocumented; protect refugees, migrants and asylum seekers; and provide access to new vaccines and treatments, regardless of economic or citizenship status.
  • $37 million to initiatives to support workers and their families in New York City, home to Open Society’s largest office, and $12 million will contribute to emergency relief for vulnerable workers in numerous other U.S. cities and states. $2.5 million will fund additional community efforts in Baltimore, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.—communities in which Open Society works and to which the Foundations maintain deep ties.  
  • $9 million toward the ongoing struggle to end the excessive use of mandatory imprisonment and detention around the world, which will have a catastrophic impact on health, including for those at greatest risk in crowded facilities in the United States and across Africa, Asia, Eurasia, and Latin America.
  • $3 million for Europe, including both London and Berlin, for local groups countering disinformation and serving the cities’ most vulnerable people, such as senior citizens. Budapest and Milan have each received over $1 million already.
  • $3.5 million for southern Africa, through the Open Society Foundation for South Africa and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, to support essential emergency services and care work, and to bolster an equitable public health response from civil society, the media, the government, and the private sector.