George Soros: Life and Work

George Soros was born in Hungary in 1930. He survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary from 1944 to 1945, during which 500,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered. This experience had, no doubt, shaped his ideology and informed his life’s work, which is philanthropy. The Jewish Soros and his family survived the occupation by procuring false documents supporting fake identities. His family also assisted other families in hiding their identities. Once the Communists began to govern Hungary, Soros gave up Budapest for London. There he worked as a train porter and a waiter in a nightclub to put himself through the London School of Economics. In 1956 he crossed the Atlantic to resettle in the United States.

Once in the US Soros began to work in banking, and in 1970 he started his hedge fund, Soros Fund Management. This fund quickly became one of the most successful funds in the world. After earning his fortune in business, Soros started the Open Society Foundations in 1979. This collection of projects, funds, foundations, and organizations all support the idea of an open society as defined by Karl Popper, who Soros studies at the London School of Economics. This idea that no society can prosper without democratic governance, individual freedoms, and freedom of expression is at the core of the Open Society Foundations’ philanthropic work.

In the early years of the Open Society Foundations, Soros focused the work mainly on the open trade of ideas in the Communist Eastern Bloc. The Open Society Foundations also awarded scholarships to students during apartheid in South Africa as an early project. Eventually, Soros began to expand his work to the United States and other countries. The Central European University was created after the fall of the Berlin Wall to encourage critical thinking. This was practically a revolutionary step as the idea of critical thinking was a foreign concept to the states in the former Soviet Union at the time.

As it expanded across the world, all of the Open Society Foundations work continued to focus on the ideas of transparency, accountable, and democratic societies. Soros was an early opponent of the war on drugs, stating that the war on drugs was, in fact, more harmful than the drug problem. He was also an early supporter of medical marijuana and has been a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage.

While the causes George Soros supports have been vast and varied over time, they all continue to promote the idea of a free and open democratic society. He has often championed difficult or losing causes openly. Soros would himself admit that many of these problems on his plate are difficult, complicated, and unlikely to have a simple solution in his lifetime. That does not discourage his work or, the work of the Open Society Foundations.

Learn more about his profile at Forbes.com