OSF grants hundreds of thousands of dollars to civil initiatives in the Hungarian countryside

December 1, 2017

George Soros visits CEU’s new campus for the first time on October 19, 2016 | Photo: Flickr/CEU/Zoltán Tuba (Kepszerkesztoseg)

George Soros’s Open Society Foundations are about to dispense hundreds of thousands of dollars among civil initiatives in the Hungarian countryside, reports abcug.hu.

Open Society Foundations (OSF), founded by Hungarian-American financier-philanthropist Soros, will launch a new program in Hungary’s Dél-Dunántúl (Southern Transdanubia) and Észak-Alföld (Northern Great Plain) regions. As a part of the project, OSF will open offices in the cities of Pécs and Debrecen.

“We have realized that we have to dive deeper in treating social problems and that we cannot tell from Budapest what is needed in an Ormánság village,” OSF’s recently appointed spokesman Csaba Csontos told abcug.hu. According to Csontos, OSF has made agreements with a Pécs- and a Debrecen-based NGO that in the previous months had measured what are the biggest problems caused by poverty in their respective regions. In the upcoming days, OSF will issue a call for proposals for housing, educational, healthcare and other poverty-connected topics.

“Open Society Foundations will help the two distributing organizations with communications and methodology, however we are not going to tell them what to do,” Csontos said. He told abcug.hu that OSF would like to support smaller scale projects with a maximum of USD 12,000 per project. According to Csontos, OSF not only seeks to reach already established NGOs but also smaller communities, even families, who are not legal entities.

“This is not only about dispensing money but also about community organization,” he said. Thus the offices in Pécs and Debrecen will operate as community spaces where the local NGOs will be able to gather and help regional initiatives.

“The way we see it, in addition to poverty, the second-biggest problem is that local communities fell apart, there is no dialogue and trust among them,” Csontos said. “We would like for local communities to embrace initiatives. If someone needs firewood, then it shouldn’t be us who take it there with a truck, instead the street should join forces and look after the elderly in need.”

Csontos noted how the ability of NGOs in the countryside to maneuver decreases by the day: “They receive less and less help from the state and they can only obtain EU funding if they cooperate with the council. This is not easy, however, when the to-be-supported organization is stigmatized locally.”

This new project marks a remarkable change in OSF’s strategy, which in the past couple of years tended to support bigger, rights-advocacy organizations such as the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union or the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. However, the new project does not endanger the funding of these organizations in any way. OSF’s expansion in the Hungarian countryside fits the organization’s new strategy that seeks to take itself closer to the people.

After months of hateful anti-Soros governmental propaganda, the organization has decided to react to the attacks and build its own narrative that relies heavily on stressing the merits of Soros in supporting good causes in Hungary. In line with this new more active strategy, Soros released a statement and gave an interview to the Hungarian commercial TV channel RTL Klub. In his video message, Soros said he decided to speak up because he felt it necessary to defend members of civil society who “take great risks”. Soros said he is “very concerned for Hungary” and he wants Hungarians to know that he would do anything he can to support “the people of Hungary.”