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In Focus: The Open Society Foundations

The Open Society Foundations were founded in 1979 by LSE alumnus George Soros (BSc Economics 1951, MSc Philosophy 1954) with the aim of building vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people.  

The Foundations seek to strengthen the rule of law and civil society, ensuring respect for human rights, minorities and diversity of opinion, and implement initiatives to advance justice, education, public health and independent media. The first non-US foundations set up by Soros were in Hungary, Poland and Russia in the 1980s, where they distributed photocopiers to universities and libraries that helped to break the communist party’s grip on information, ultimately contributing to the emergence of democratic governments.

Over the years, the Foundations have generously supported a number of LSE research projects that fit their mission statement. Here we detail four key examples from the 2012/13 academic year and speak to the academics who worked with LSE Advancement's Foundation Partnerships team to secure Open Society support.  

“The Open Society Foundations’ values align with LSE’s on a number of levels. The focus on shaping public policy in a fair and progressive way, based on thorough and high quality research, makes for a natural synergy between our two organisations.

The projects supported in 2012/13 highlight just how broad the range of those who benefit from our co-operation can be – from the South Sudanese civilian who wants a role to play in the governance of their new country, to the civil society voices who will have a say in the debate on media reform. We thank the Open Society Foundations for their generosity and partnership.” 

Stuart Corbridge, Provost and Deputy Director

International Drug Policy Project


The International Drug Policy Project in LSE IDEAS is led by John Collins, a PhD candidate in the Department of International History. The project has benefited from two Open Society grants via its Global Drug Policy Program.

In 2012 LSE IDEAS produced a special report, Governing the Global Drug Wars|, in which it was argued that the current global war on drugs had failed and was in many ways worsening global problems of human security and socioeconomic development. 

The report called for an independent root and branch review of the approach to, and apparatus governing, international drug control. President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia endorsed the report’s findings and in his Foreword called on the academic community to ‘discover and implement bolder and smarter answers to this pressing problem’. 

Taking up this challenge and in anticipation of the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016, LSE IDEAS have established the Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy. It will bring together economic experts from around the world to undertake the most thorough economic evaluation of the current international drug control strategy ever conducted. Both the research behind the report and the establishment of the expert group were backed by Open Society funding. 

“The current international approach to drug control is severely broken. This is something academics have known for a long time but policy makers have been unwilling to acknowledge,” said John Collins. “LSE has a long history of leading policy discussion on issues of vital global significance – however, without the support of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program, our work in highlighting an improved and evidence-based approach to international drug policy would, quite simply, not be possible."

LSE Media Policy Project

NOTWThe LSE Media Policy Project (MPP) helped to provide a platform for voices not often heard in policy debates, allowing them to voice their positions and share new research and ideas through publications, events and its blog, supported by an Open Society grant. 

The publication of five policy briefs, two of which were submitted to the Leveson Inquiry, were among its key achievements, along with bringing more civil society voices into policy debate, expanding networks and contributing to the international debate on media reform. 

The Media Policy Project blog| posted a total of 254 posts between August 2011 and June 2013, each representing a meaningful contribution to a policy debate. Open Society support ensured the project was able to expand considerably its capacity to commission posts from outside contributors, ensuring the blog became a real platform for exchange and a vehicle for bringing a variety of views and research findings into policy discourse. 

The MPP policy briefs packaged academic research into a short accessible form for policy makers and other stakeholders, calling to attention issues that spoke directly to current debates or were worthy of bringing to the level of policy discourse. As with the blog, Open Society support ensured that the briefs were able to call on academics outside of LSE’s Department of Media and Communications to a much larger extent, an important step in broadening the discussion. 

The project also organised several events, ranging from small expert meetings on specific issues to large public events aimed at raising awareness and discussion on current issues. Meanwhile an internship programme gave 12 young media researchers the chance to engage in the media policy process and research, attending various events related to their areas of interest in current policy debate, as well as contributing to the MPP blog. 

Director of the Media Policy Project, Dr Damian Tambini said: “Academic research is not always presented in a form, and at a time, that facilitates policy impact. The result, all too often is that policymakers have to rely on research provided by a narrow group of informed and well resourced interest groups. This project aims to address these problems and facilitate more exchange between academic experts, civil society and policymakers.”

Constitution making in South Sudan

South-SudanDr Chaloka Beyani, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Law, has benefited from  support from the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA), which is enabling him to participate in the constitution making process of the Republic of South Sudan, the world’s newest nation. 

The partnership between Dr Beyani and OSIEA  is seeking to contribute towards a transparent, inclusive and participatory constitution making process, that ultimately leads to a legitimate South Sudanese constitution and government. 

Dr Beyani, who is also United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, and Chair of the Coordination Committee of United Nations Special Procedures, is focusing on enhancing the role of the South Sudan Civil Society, the Constitutional Review Commission, bilateral donors and other stakeholders. He is looking to strengthen the capacity of the Commission by sharing ideas and experiences on best practice in open and democratic constitution making processes. 

Drawing upon his experience in constitution and treaty making, including a role in the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, he is conducting strategic consultations with stakeholders and engaging a variety of audiences through lectures, seminars and research. Open Society support has enabled Dr Beyani to visit South Sudan roughly every two months. 

“Having gained independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011, South Sudan now faces a critical juncture in its political landscape,” said Dr Beyani. “It is imperative for its people and the wider region that a fully transparent and participatory process leads to the legitimate government that the South Sudanese deserve. Open Society support has been and will continue to be invaluable – it is enabling me to draw upon my experiences and feed into the Constitutional Review Commission’s work, in a way that has enhanced the process.”

Arab Revolutions: Media Revolutions

In the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ much attention was given to the innovations of social media in the transformation and scope of media in North Africa and the Middle East with little focus on traditional institutional Arab media and its impact on informing public opinion. Thanks to a grant from the Open Society Foundations, LSE researchers have spent more than a year interviewing 200 journalists and stakeholders from transitional national media industries in three countries in the region.

The Arab Revolutions: Media Revolutions project was led by Dr Fatima el-Issawi from Polis, LSE’s media think-thank within the Department of Media and Communications. Dr el-Issawi used case studies and qualitative interviews to explore the interplay between traditional national media and the new political sphere. The project has resulted in three country reports analysing the media’s impact in the processes of democratisation in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Findings indicate a lack of professional practice within the newsrooms: poor-quality and biased reporting; censorship and limited freedom of expression; lack of editorial independence; and job insecurity and intimidation. 

Ultimately the Open Society Foundations funded research concluded that a cultural change inside newsrooms and the support of the development of solid media institutions and an adequate regulatory framework was essential for meeting the challenge of moving towards international professional standards.

Professor Charlie Beckett, director of Polis said: “everyone talked about a Facebook or Twitter revolution but it is still newspapers and especially television that have had the biggest impact on Arab countries going through political turmoil. It is the mainstream media newsrooms who have had to adjust from state control to new opportunities for real journalism. However, this unique and very topical research has shown directly how control over media freedom is being reasserted in new ways and that mainstream journalism is struggling to reform itself.”