Tuesday, September 7, 2010


This morning George Soros's $100 million gift to Human Rights Watch was reported. When you look at where these mega-gifts go they are usually to large, well established and well funded higher education or health care organizations, worthy benefactions without doubt. But iconoclast as he is, Soros probably realizes that funding human rights, in which he has long been interested and has long supported, may carry more import than a gift to an already well endowed university or medical center with a development office larger than most state legislatures and a pool of upgradable prospects. It's "setting-out-the-buckets" fund raising.

But funding human rights is a hard slog. There are grim stories of outrages against individuals, families, clans and tragedy aplenty from Afghanistan to Zaire. However systemic efforts to counter egregious abuse are not well understood or effectively communicated. Moreover there are scores of organizations engaged in human rights initiatives. Some tend toward immediate relief or advocacy and all compete for essentially the same donor type.

In Soros's case it seems he wants to give away most of his money in his lifetime and it reminds me of a story. Some years ago I was meeting with a certified billionaire (though not in Soros's class) and he told me he had a problem. Of course I asked what the problem was. "Well." he said, "I want to give away all my money before I die. My problem is I don't know how long I'm going to live."

He's still with us. I occasionally see him on the Times Square-Grand Central shuttle.