Open Society Institute—Baltimore

Chapin Hall Center for Children (University of Chicago)



The Open Society Institute (OSI), a private operating and grantmaking foundation, works around the world to “shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal, and social reform.” OSI began its United States programs in 1996 and in 1998 it selected Baltimore, Maryland, as its only U.S. “field office” or laboratory in which to develop and test strategies for addressing the economic, social, and political conditions that constrain opportunity for millions of people in urban centers across the country. OSI–Baltimore was launched as a five-year program, but was later extended for three more years, with an annual budget of about $7 million. During these eight years, OSI took on some of Baltimore’s toughest social and economic challenges like drug addiction, poor student outcomes, and reintegration of ex-offenders into the community. Recognizing the impact that OSI was having and the significant return on the Foundation’s investment, George Soros offered to provide an additional $10 million challenge if business and civic leaders, foundations, and generous individuals would invest $20 million to continue the work in Baltimore. The momentum created by the Foundation’s work to date, coupled with a compelling unfinished agenda, convinced OSI–Baltimore’s board and staff to continue its work for at least another five years. As a result, the Foundation has mounted a $20 million fundraising campaign to match the challenge presented by George Soros.
For several years, Chapin Hall has been working with a group of foundations that have an uncommon approach to their philanthropic mission. These foundations are applying many of the principles identified as key for foundations attempting to promote positive community change. We have dubbed their operating style embedded philanthropy because what distinguishes them from conventional philanthropies is an unusually intimate and enduring engagement with the communities in which they live and work. A long-term, place-based commitment is the first criterion for embedded philanthropy. A second criterion is a commitment to direct and ongoing community engagement and relationships with a range of community actors. Thirdly, embedded funders don’t think of these relationships as incidental or secondary aspects of their community work; they constitute the very means and method through which embedded funders do philanthropy. Finally, whether or not monetary grants are part of an embedded funder’s approach, their community engagement and change efforts consist of a good deal more than grant-making. Beyond these four defining features, embedded funders tend to share several other characteristics: an unusually flexible and adaptive approach to their work; a high tolerance for uncertainty; an emphasis on respect and reciprocity in their approach to community relationships; and a willingness to sacrifice a measure of the power and authority that foundations ordinarily possess. In a philanthropic climate of growing eagerness for new perspectives and departures, embedded philanthropy deserves greater attention from the wider philanthropic community. Its distinctive operating approach offers novel insights and leverage on the challenges and dilemmas faced by all philanthropic foundations.



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