Earlier in the year, when Forbes published its annual list of the wealthiest people in the world, hedge fund manager George Soros clocked in at spot number 20. At the time, his total net worth was estimated to be around $23 billion–an unfathomable fortune for the vast majority of people. All of that changed a few weeks ago, however, when it was announced that Soros had officially donated $18 million to Open Society Foundations, the charitable organization that he has been running for more than three decades. While some will argue that he made this move strictly to save on taxes, the truth is that the election of Donald Trump and other developments have prompted Soros and other progressive leaders to get even more serious about fighting back.
If you are at all aware of current events, odds are that you have heard of George Soros. An immigrant from Hungary, he fled his home country as a teen due to the Nazi occupation. As a member of a Jewish family, he was at serious risk. This experience had a profound impact on Soros’s outlook on life–and it has prompted him to devote himself to protecting human rights and spreading democratic governance around the world. His recent donation to Open Society Foundations is just the latest step in a lifetime of striving to improve people’s lives.
How did an immigrant who was forced to flee his home country as a teen turn out to be one of the richest people in the world? Soros’s story is fascinating indeed, and being familiar with it will help you to understand the work that he does with Open Society Foundations. To escape from Nazi-occupied Hungary, Soros posed as the Christian godson of a government employee who also happened to be a friend of the family. By doing this, he was able to get to England, where he could relax and focus on his life.
Soros spend time in London, where he attended the London School of Economics. After working diligently on his studies, he came away from the university with a Bachelor of Science as well as a Master of Philosophy. Now that he was armed with impressive educational credentials, Soros was ready to break into the world of banking. He did this by taking various positions at merchant banks first in England and later in the United States. When he came to America, he went directly to ground zero for investment banking: Wall Street.
It didn’t take very long for George Soros to find his stride in the world of investment banking. In 1969, he started his first hedge fund. Dubbed Double Eagle, it was such a success that it allowed him to acquire the seed money that he needed to start yet another hedge fund. This time, in 1970, he launched Soros Fund Management. This organization is still in existence to this very day, and it plays an integral part in contributing Soros’s many generous donations to the Open Society Foundations.
By the early 1980s, Soros was doing so well with his hedge fund management activities that he decided to officially branch out into philanthropy. This had always been his plan, but now he had the means to make a meaningful difference in the world. He established the first chapter of Open Society Foundations in Hungary in 1984. At the time of its founding as now, the organization’s goals included promoting democratic governance around the world; protecting people’s right to free expression; and fostering respect for the rights of individuals. The name, Open Society, is designed to serve as a solution to the closed societies that occur under communism and other fascist regimes.
Although his fortunes steadily increased, Soros largely flew under the radar in the U.S. for some time. That changed in 1992, when he made a bold move against the British pound that netted him a profit of more than $1 billion. Controversially, Soros publicly decided to bet against the pound, as he believed it to be vastly overvalued. When his predictions turned out to be correct, he ruffled quite a few feathers. However, given that he would later go on to donate more than 80 percent of his fortune to charity, it’s safe to say that his heart has always been in the right place.
During the presidency of Barack Obama, a Democrat, George Soros and his Open Society Foundations largely turned their attention away from the U.S. and toward other regions of the world where human rights were in jeopardy. However, as the tide began to change in the U.S., the need to fight back against anti-LGBT and other groups became more urgent. At the same time, police brutality was resulting in the deaths of dozens of innocent people, and Soros and the Open Society Foundations focused much of their resources on fighting back against such scourges.
As the 2016 election approached, it at first seemed that the odds of Donald Trump being elected were very slim. In fact, Soros famously wagered against a Trump presidency and reportedly lost upwards of $1 billion. During the 2016 election cycle, he and his foundations poured considerable donations into Super PACs that had been established expressly to defeat Trump. As we all know now, of course, those efforts turned out to be in vain. Trump was elected, and a whole new world of trouble opened up. In fact, Soros even stated that “dark forces” had been awakened in the U.S. with his election.
At 87 years of age, Soros undoubtedly knows that he won’t live forever. It appears that in addition to being pressured by the election of Trump, Soros wants to put his wealth to good and helpful use while he is still around. Although it was reported that he donated $18 billion to Open Society Foundations, as if it was all donated at once, he actually started increasing his donations to the foundation over the last few years. Previously, around $800 million to $900 million would be donated per year; more recently, that figure had risen sharply. It should also be noted that Soros has pledged to donate an additional $2 billion before this is all said and done.
With the total donation of $18 billion to the Open Society Foundations, Soros has now established the second largest philanthropic organization of its kind in the U.S.; only the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is larger. The move was among the largest transfers of wealth ever made by a private donor to a single foundation, so it garnered plenty of attention and definitely ruffled the feathers of Soros’s sharpest critics, which are mostly comprised of far-right-ring conservatives.
Even in his advanced age, George Soros continues to be a thorn in the side of Republicans and of anyone who seeks to repress people’s freedom. Thanks to his very generous donation, which is ultimately worth about 80 percent of his total wealth, his legacy will live on long after he is gone. Two of his sons continue his work, and they will ensure a seamless transition when the time comes. In the meantime, Soros and his team will doubtlessly be busy gearing up for the 2018 mid-term elections–and with any luck, they will actually get somewhere.