George Soros’ Open Society Foundation is going through its second restructuring in three years, with the result that staff worldwide will be cut by nearly half.
Emails obtained by Bloomberg said that the organization’s board of directors had decided over the summer to cut employees and close offices.
“With the decision by the board in June to cut the staff by more than 40%, our staffing size and footprint by necessity needs to diminish,” OSF Vice President of Programs Binaifer Nowrojee wrote in one of the emails seen by the outlet.
“We no longer have the bandwidth to operate multiple small offices, and thus the decision to further reduce our locations,” Nowrojee added.
After the latest cuts, OSF’s staff will be fewer than 500. The organization employed nearly 1,700 people as recently as 2021.
Bloomberg listed six OSF offices in Africa that would be left with no employees and would close by the end of the year, and noted that Inside Philanthropy had reported “more than a dozen offices across Africa and Asia” had been removed from a list on the organization’s website.
Inside Philanthropy (behind a paywall) had reported in July that the OSF would lay off “at least 40%” of its staff.
Offices in Barcelona and in Baltimore were also being closed, Bloomberg reported.
Africa Executive Director Muthoni Wanyeki told staff in an email, “I’m very sorry that it’s turned out this way. … It’s obviously not what any of us expected and I’m also very sorry that I didn’t have the information on this earlier.”
In what may have been a bitter note, Wanyeki noted that the cuts ran contrary to what the organization’s leadership had “committed to two years ago.”
The OSF has offered grants in excess of $1 billion each year, Bloomberg said, with roughly 10 percent of that going to Africa.
OSF President Mark Malloch-Brown said in an interview last month that many of the cuts had to do with a greater focus on assessing the impacts those grants make, as opposed to robust “due diligence” on the front end prior to deciding which grants to make.
Measuring impacts is expected to require less personnel, he said, and the restructuring was aimed at creating a more “nimble” OSF.
“The huge bureaucratic process preceded the grant and then it was much lighter thereafter,” Malloch-Brown explained. “We’re reversing that balance.”
In a decision that some will undoubtedly find ominous, no changes to programs were expected to be made in the U.S. until after the 2024 presidential election.
In August, the organization had already announced that it would “will largely terminate funding within the European Union, and further funding will be extremely limited,” Bloomberg reported.
George Soros’ son, Alex Soros, who was named as his father’s successor in June, disputed that idea, however.
“It’s news to me that OSF is leaving Europe,” he said at an August conference in Austria, Bloomberg reported. “It was reported in various outlets that that’s the case but we’re simply changing our strategy.”
He later reiterated that position in a Politico Op-Ed dated August 31.
“So, as OSF retools the way it works globally, we are shifting our priorities in Europe accordingly,” he wrote. “Yes, this means we will be exiting some areas of work as we focus on today’s challenges, as well as those we will face tomorrow. And yes, we will also be reducing our headcount significantly, seeking to ensure more money goes out to where it’s most needed. But this isn’t any kind of a retreat.”