From the Open Society Foundation for South Africa Newsletter,
Volume one Number two - September 1997
Link to the Open Society Foundation for South Africa

Open Society Foundation for South Africa

Several organisations and individuals, particularly those who have recently established contact with the Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA), have asked for an overview of the organisation, for information about its background and purpose. Michael Savage, Executive Director of the OSF-SA, explains.

The Open Society Foundation for South Africa is one of 25 Soros Foundations around the world established to support initiatives which promote democratic practices in society. While most foundations are in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, there are also foundations in Eurasia, Haiti, the United States and South Africa.

The Open Society Fund was established in 1979 in the USA by Hungarian-born George Soros. His intention is to promote "open societies", a concept he adopted from the philosopher Karl Popper. While there is no set definition of what an open society is, among the key elements are: reliance on the rule of law, the existence of a democratically-elected government, a market economy, a strong civil society, respect for minorities and tolerance of divergent opinion. Mr. Soros is the sole funder of this philanthropic network on which he expends $350 million a year. The network's central offices are the Open Society Institutes in New York and Budapest. Apart from the 25 national foundations, the network has many regional and international programmes, which provide administrative, technical and financial support to the foundations and related organisations. The OSF-SA draws on some of these central resources, but as most of our activities are specific to South African circumstances, our interaction with the work of other foundations is limited.

The OSF-SA was founded in Cape Town in 1993 and is controlled by a South African Board of Trustees consisting of 14 people prominent in public life and chaired by Dr. Van Zyl Slabbert.

The OSF-SA was established in the conviction that the collapse of a closed apartheid society would not lead automatically to the emergence of an open society in South Africa. Given the vast array of different needs to be addressed in creating an open society in this country, the Board decided to focus our activities in particular programme areas, which they review regularly. These are outlined on the other side of this information sheet.

The OSF-SA receives a core budget of $6 million a year. However our budget is reviewed annually and is subject to revision and additions during the year. The Board pays close attention to keeping administrative and office costs low and to monitoring both our work and the work of the projects we support through external evaluation.

The Foundation has been operating mainly as a grant-making organisation. In addition we are increasingly initiating programmes which we believe meet clear needs - for example in community radio and in education. Before we do so, we consult widely, normally form advisory committees and draw upon the views of experts.

The OSF-SA focuses on sustainable change and on supporting activities as close to the point of delivery as possible. We also attempt to work closely, and in a supportive role, with those involved with the implementation of a particular project.

We do not provide for any activities outside South Africa. However, we are associated with an independent new initiative - OSISA (Open Society Initiative in Southern Africa) - which is investigating setting up foundations in the region.

Guidelines outlining how to apply to the OSF-SA for support appear over the page. Please feel free to contact the office for further information or to obtain a copy of the Annual Report on our activities.

OSF-SA supports work in the following areas

Education for local government

The major focus of our support has been on training in public management, local government and development skills. Support has gone to universities offering graduate and post-graduate courses, as well as certificated training in these skills. Support has also been given to NGOs which assist marginalised and rural communities in land rights and other struggles, and which provide training that will enable these communities to work with local government and other projects aimed at ensuring more equitable distribution of resources.

Media, with a focus on community radio

We support community radio stations with development and education missions, serving the needs and interests of disadvantaged communities. Our programme emphasises community ownership, control and participation at all levels of operations. Support includes seed funding and grants for capital equipment, training and programme production. We also seek to contribute to the development of an open and democratic media environment through support for organisations like Freedom of Expression Institute and Article 19.

Youth skills development, with a focus on training that leads to employment

This includes support for formal and non-formal education organisations which teach young adults skills for employment. Courses on entrepreneurship and small businesses are supported, as are environmental and leadership programmes.

Rural community development, with a focus on the empowerment of women

This is a national focus which aims to create opportunities for local economic development. The focus on women is in recognition of their importance in rural economies, and of the often marginal positions they occupy.

Education, with a focus on Mathematics, Science & Technology (MST)

We target maths, science and technology education at all levels. We are interested in commissioning the development of high-quality teaching and learning programmes in MST and expanding access to them. We support teacher development, materials provision, innovative teaching approaches, cluster school initiatives around MST, and distance education. Our support is focused in the Northern Province and Eastern Cape, but includes smaller, innovative projects in other provinces. We also support a pilot programme in holistic early childhood development.

Human rights, with a focus on the development of democratic principles

We support organisations who work in policy development or in practical ways with people or groups whose human rights are being infringed, or could be infringed. Examples include domestic abuse and sexual harassment, language policy, the environment, defence policy and women's rights. We also support some legal services and monitoring groups.

OSF-SA does not support work in the following areas

How to apply

The Open Society Foundation for South Africa is committed to promoting the values, institutions and practices of an open, civil and democratic society. It will work for a vigorous and autonomous civil society, not dominated by the state, in which minorities and divergent opinions are respected.


Norwich Oval, 1 Oakdale Rd, Newlands
P O Box 23161, Claremont 7735
Phone: 021 - 683 3489
Fax: 021 - 683 3550
Prof Michael Savage - Executive Director
Terrice Bassler - International Advisor: Education Programmes
Greg Cronje - Finance Officer
Ursula Hendricks - National Office Administrator
Sybil Dantu - Receptionist
Noma Kulu - Part-time Housekeeper
Programme Staff:
Dr John Volmink Director: Education Programmes: Mathematics, Science & Technology Initiative
Brenda Martin Office Manager: Education Programmes: Mathematics, Science & Technology Initiative
Jean Fairbairn Media Project Officer Noma Rangana Assistant Media Project Officer
Laurie Watson Project Officer


Braamfontein Centre, 23 Jorrisen Street, Braamfontein
Ph: 011 - 403 2950
Fax: 011 - 403 2708
Fatima Adam Senior Project Officer: Mathematics, Science & Technology Initiative - Northern Province
Kalie Naidoo Co-ordinator: Step-by-Step programme
Galida Kahn Office Administrator


All Saints Teacher Development Centre, 10 Queens Rd,
King Williams Town 5600.
Cellular ph: 082 57 66409
Ph: 0433 - 35101
Koleka Ntantiso Project Officer: Mathematics, Science & Technology Initiative - Eastern Cape

Board: Dr F van Zyl Slabbert (Chair), Ms Brigalia Bam, Mr Fikile Bam, Dr Alex Boraine, Mr G T Ferreira, Ms Mojanku Gumbi, Ms Leah Gcabashe, Mr Anthony Heard, Ms Rhoda Kadalie, Mr J B Magwaza, Mr Hans Middelmann, Mr Khehla Shubane, Mr Peter Sullivan, Ms Leah Tutu, Ms Helen Zille

Link to the Open Society Foundation for South Africa