NEW YORK—As COVID-19 continues to devastate communities around the world, the Open Society Foundations today announced $70 million in global investments, focused on providing immediate relief for vulnerable communities and pushing back against government encroachment on political freedoms.
The new commitment supports work by an array of local partners in Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and North Africa. This follows on an initial emergency funding package of $130 million announced in April, bringing the total Open Society investment to combat COVID-19 around the world to $200 million.
Open Society’s funding will include support to organizations helping those hit hardest by the pandemic, including refugees, domestic and care workers, and others left behind by inadequate government responses. The support will also strengthen humanitarian responses in countries from El Salvador to Myanmar, support credible reporting on the crisis by independent media in local languages, and promote access to accurate information about public health and community safety.
“COVID-19 continues to ravage countries around the world, hitting hardest in communities with the least resources as a result of prolonged and entrenched inequities,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations. “Too often, governments are slow to act in this pandemic, to protect those who need it most, and this pattern of inaction is longstanding. We see the terrible toll this virus has taken and are redoubling our efforts to help the global community adapt, and to seize this moment for change.”
The regional funding plans reflect an intensive ground-up effort by Open Society’s local national and regional foundations to identify priority goals, recognizing that in addition to the health care crisis, oppressive lockdown measures and economic shutdowns are causing as much hardship as the virus itself. The plans also reflect a response to the way that the pandemic is highlighting and aggravating preexisting racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequalities across the globe.
Both Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, have become centers of the pandemic, with numbers rising in several countries. Open Society’s regional strategy focuses on countering populist narratives and authoritarian power grabs in Brazil and El Salvador, as well as addressing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on populations already experiencing structural inequalities, such as women, people of African descent, residents of favelas and peripheral communities, and indigenous peoples.
In Asia, meanwhile, much of Open Society’s support will strengthen informal worker organizing to demand protection now and into the future. Using a multi-country approach, Open Society will advance workers’ collective influence on global supply chains and in sectors that rely on large numbers of informal and migrant labor, such as domestic workers and those in the hospitality, construction, and garment industries.
In the Middle East and North Africa region, Open Society will support urgent humanitarian relief and advocacy for access to critical services for refugees; internally displaced persons; and migrants in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. Open Society will also contribute to longer-term work on conflict accountability, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the protection of refugees and migrants’ rights. This will complement Open Society’s efforts in the region to respond to the economic impact of the pandemic, with a focus on informal workers and access to public services, as well as tracking and countering rising authoritarianism under the cover of COVID-19.
On the African continent, Open Society is taking a long-term, systemic approach to protection and transformational recovery, investing in individuals, initiatives, and institutions working to uphold constitutionalism, human rights, the rule of law, and democracy as well as transparency and accountability. Open Society is also investing in actors who are seizing the opportunity to advance social policy, financed through debt restructuring for social service delivery and social protection.
Finally, in Eurasia, a key area of work will involve supporting local media partners that are countering disinformation and disseminating evidence-based investigations to their growing audiences.
This latest set of investments also includes $14.9 million that will support global campaigns focused around countering authoritarianism, promoting economic justice, and advancing digital democracy.
In addition to the COVID-19 response, Open Society is continuing its support for independent civil society groups around the world that are already responding to pandemic-related issues in their particular fields.
The initial $130 million package announced in April centered on support for those most at risk, including informal, low-wage, and gig economy workers; refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers; disadvantaged groups such as the Roma in Europe; homeless people; frontline health workers and caregivers; and detained and incarcerated individuals.
It included $37 million for initiatives to support workers and their families in New York City, home to Open Society’s largest office, and $12 million will contribute to emergency relief for vulnerable workers in numerous other U.S. cities and states.