International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Freedom Award: Honoring George Soros

"My success in the financial markets has given me a greater degree of independence than most other people. This allows me to take a stand on controversial issues: In fact, it obliges me to do so because others cannot."

—George Soros

 On November 6  the International Rescue Committee honored businessman and philanthropist George Soros with its Freedom Award, thereby recognizing what IRC president David Miliband has called his "tremendous commitment to the advancement of human rights, social justice and democracy around the world." 

The contributions that George Soros has made to the cause of freedom worldwide have been far reaching, creative and effective. Perhaps most significant, he is the founder and chairman of Open Society—a network of foundations, partners, and projects in more than 100 countries. His commitment to the idea of open society—where rights are respected, government is accountable and no one has the monopoly on the truth—makes the Open Society Foundations unlike any other private philanthropic effort in history.

Open Society Institute grants to the IRC over the years have provided more than $3 million in support of lifesaving programs worldwide. Open Society is an especially valuable partner because of its willingness to invest in flexible, strategic or higher-risk activities—including assessments, pilot projects and fledgling efforts—that enable the IRC to test and scale up the most effective and efficient programs.

When war erupted in the Balkans in 1992, Mr. Soros made a $50 million grant to the UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, to help it and its implementing partners like the IRC save lives and alleviate suffering in Bosnia. Twenty years ago this week at the 1993 Freedom Award Dinner, Mr. Soros was presented with the IRC Humanitarian Award in recognition of this extraordinary generosity.

Mr. Soros began his philanthropy in 1979, giving scholarships to black South Africans under apartheid. In the 1980s, he helped undermine Communism in the Eastern Bloc by providing Xerox machines to copy banned texts and supporting cultural exchanges with the West. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he created Central European University to promote critical thinking. He expanded his philanthropy to the United States, Africa and Asia, and his Open Society Foundations have supported paralegals and lawyers to represent thousands of individuals who were unlawfully being held, sometimes for years and without any legal representation.

He underwrote the largest and most concerted effort in history to bring the Roma people of Europe into the mainstream. The Foundations have provided school and university fees for thousands of promising students, including young Roma, refugees from armed conflicts,and young people from other marginalized groups.

George Soros helped establish an international system to bring transparency and accountability to the natural resource extraction industries, whose practice of making secret payoffs to local tyrants has for decades fueled some of the world’s worst political unrest and most heinous violence. He has supported independent organizations such as GlobalWitness, the International Crisis Group, the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Institute for New Economic Thinking. 

Watch video: George Soros accepts the 2013 Freedom Award

In his Freedom Award acceptance speech, Soros described the Syria crisis as a glaring failure of international governance and called for a more robust humanitarian response.

“Right now we are witnessing a major unresolved humanitarian crisis in Syria,” Soros said. “People are starving. Soon they will be freezing, children are malnourished and the first cases of actual starvation have been observed.”

Soros warned that if the situation stretches into winter the death toll could well begin to exceed the victims of violence. He announced he was donating $1 million “to encourage the IRC to step up its efforts with the dual aim of activating global public opinion and mobilizing a meaningful response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.”

See more highlights of the 2013 Freedom Award Dinner

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