The $25 billion international network of foundations started by George Soros is shuttering offices around the world as it prepares to cut more than 40% of its staff.
(Bloomberg) — The $25 billion international network of foundations started by George Soros is shuttering offices around the world as it prepares to cut more than 40% of its staff.
Employees of the Open Society Foundations’ Africa operations received correspondence last week detailing the next steps of the process, which includes closing half a dozen offices on the continent in addition to its Baltimore and Barcelona locations, according to a copy of the emails seen by Bloomberg.
“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,” Binaifer Nowrojee, OSF’s vice president of programs, said in one of the emails. “We no longer have the bandwidth to operate multiple small offices, and thus the decision to further reduce our locations.”
The hedge fund titan’s charity doles out more than $1 billion in grants annually, including over $100 million in Africa. The locations where OSF will no longer have staff include Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kampala, Uganda; Cape Town; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Abuja, Nigeria; and Freetown, Sierra Leone, according to an email from Africa Executive Director Muthoni Wanyeki. Offices in Nairobi, Kenya; Dakar, Senegal; and Johannesburg will remain open.
“I’m very sorry that it’s turned out this way,” Wanyeki wrote to staff in an email seen by Bloomberg. “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,” she added, saying the changes aren’t what leadership “committed to two years ago.”
The Barcelona and Baltimore closures were announced earlier this year and the Africa offices “have been in varying stages of transition to close or merge into one regional entity” since 2021, an OSF spokesperson said in an email. Many of the satellite offices are set to close by the end of 2023, the spokesperson added.
The emails to staff come after Inside Philanthropy reported in July that OSF had removed more than a dozen offices across Africa and Asia from a list on its website.
OSF is now in the hands of Soros’ 37-year-old son Alex, who became the organization’s chairman in December 2022 and was announced as official successor to his father in June.
The nonprofit is going through restructuring for the second time in three years in an attempt to make it more “nimble,” according to a September interview with Mark Malloch-Brown, the foundations’ president. After the changes, OSF will have fewer than 500 people on payroll, compared with almost 1,700 in 2021.
Read More: Soros Son’s New Shakeup Puts $25 Billion Philanthropy on Hold
Part of the restructuring plan involves shifting priorities from due diligence before grants are made to a bigger focus on the impact the gifts have, which will require a smaller staff, Malloch-Brown said.
“The huge bureaucratic process preceded the grant and then it was much lighter thereafter,” he said in a September interview. “We’re reversing that balance.”
Staffing reductions will hit hardest those who do active work like grant making, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Programming staff outside the US is being cut to about 150 people from 450, the people said, asking not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak. US programming will remain in place until after next year’s presidential election, one of the people said.
An OSF spokesperson declined to comment on specific numbers until labor “negotiations are completed.”
The charity, which operates on five continents, will also use a new “opportunity” model of operations, though which opportunities they’ll focus on is unclear. Employees affected by the cuts in Africa are invited to apply to roles “within their jurisdiction,” according to the email from Nowrojee. “You would be expected to move and would also be responsible for your own relocation,” Wanyeki wrote.
In August, OSF sent grantees a note saying it “will largely terminate funding within the European Union, and further funding will be extremely limited.”
At a conference in Austria later that month, Alex Soros challenged reports that this represented a scaling back of the nonprofit’s work on the continent.
“It’s news to me that OSF is leaving Europe,” he said. “It was reported in various outlets that that’s the case but we’re simply changing our strategy.”
A few days later, a Politico editorial he wrote was published with the title “No Soros retreat from Europe.”
(Adds details of staff cuts in 12th paragraph.)
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