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History of OSF Prague

Open Society Fund Prague was founded in the Czech Republic in 1992. It was one of several foundations established by American investor and philanthropist George Soros in Central and Eastern Europe in order to promote the region’s transformation from communism to an open and democratic society.

1992 – 1993: Beginnings

OSF’s beginnings in the Czech Republic were not easy. At the time, George Soros and several Czech intellectuals came up with the idea of founding a Central European University in Prague, but they ran into a lack of interest on the part of then-Prime Minister Václav Klaus and his government, as well as opposition from Prague’s existing universities. In the end, Soros decided to move the headquarters of the Central European University to Budapest. As a result, OSF faced significantly more difficult conditions than Soros’s other foundations in the region – in the beginning, the organization consisted of nothing more than an office that was in charge of running two international programs: internships for Czech managers and the East East: Partnership Beyond Borders program, which continues to operate to this day and which facilitates the exchange of experiences among the countries of the former communist bloc.

1994 – 2004: Greatest expansion

In 1994, OSF became a fully-fledged Soros foundation, participating fully in the international programs of the Open Society Foundations network. These programs focused on education, culture, public health, and other social issues.

In the area of education, OSF provided a wide range of scholarships, collaborated with the Central European University in Budapest, and supported youth initiatives such as school newspapers, debates, and programs aimed at involving young people into public life in their hometowns or regions. OSF also launched the Step by Step alternative education program, which emphasizes taking an individual approach to each child and family, integrated learning, and cooperation between the school, family, and municipality. Dozens of kindergartens and primary schools participated in the program. Successful schools received a “model school” certificate. Their teachers, teaching assistants, and coordinators subsequently gave lectures at continuing education courses for teachers, and the classrooms served as methodological centers for teachers and students from teaching schools. Step by Step exists to this day as an independent non-profit organization.

In the area of culture, OSF has supported international exchange programs, has helped publish books, cultural magazines, and translations of important social science publications into Czech, and promotes performances and live art. In 1994, the Soros Center for Contemporary Arts (SCCA) – which had been founded in December 1992 as part of a network of similar centers in seventeen other Central and Eastern European countries – became a part of OSF. SCCA promoted contemporary visual arts and its integration into the European and international art worlds. It also operated a library, documented and exhibited contemporary art, and organized artists’ residencies. In 1997, SCCA became independent, and today it operates under the name Foundation and Center for Contemporary Arts.

When it comes to public health, OSF has helped non-governmental and doctors’ organizations in the Czech Republic participate in international initiatives, for instance in the areas of drug prevention, palliative care, and head injuries. The foundation also helped finance Czech doctors’ regular participation in international programs such as the Salzburg Cornell Seminar series of post-graduate educational seminars for healthcare professionals. Doctors’ participation in the seminars continues to be supported by the Committee of Good Will – Olga Havel Foundation.

OSF’s cooperation with Open Society Foundations has been beneficial not only to OSF, but also and above all to the recipients of the foundation’s support. In addition to funding, Open Society Foundations also provided know-how, experience, and the knowledge and expert advice of our American and European colleagues. Most OSF programs have provided long-term financial support and advisory services, thus contributing to the establishment of numerous new non-profit organizations. These include Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking, which promotes the teaching of critical thinking and writing at schools, and Aperio – Healthy Parenting Association, which in the late 1990s succeeded in introducing new attitudes to birthing and parenting and helped stimulate extensive discussion of these issues within society. OSF also initiated the founding of the Multicultural Center Prague, which is engaged in issues related to the coexistence of different cultures and socio-cultural groups, and which takes official positions on the Czech government’s immigration policies. Most of these organizations continue to exist and to cooperate with the foundation, although they no longer receive OSF funding.

By successfully participating in Open Society Foundations programs, OSF eventually was able to realize its own programs. For example, OSF spent several years working with the International Institute for Marketing, Communications and Entrepreneurship in order to support the “Communicating Town” project, which increased openness in government and promoted better communications between institutions and the public. Another long-term OSF project was the Open Museum Gates program, which promoted model examples of cooperation between museums and local communities. The program provided grants and educational seminars for museum staff focused on creating the museum’s public relations strategy, how to present the museum’s collections to different groups of visitors, or how to collaborate with schools. The program also involved the publication of a comprehensive publication entitled “Open Museum Gates.”

The years since 1994 have been a highly successful period in the life of OSF. The foundation launched several new programs, took part in international activities, and provided long-term support to numerous non-governmental organizations, thus significantly contributing to their continued existence. OSF also received financial resources from the Foundation Investment Fund, and soon became the largest Czech foundation in terms of the amount of disbursed funding.

In 1997, OSF founded the Open Society, p.b.c., through which it originally realized several of its own projects and with which it continues to cooperate closely to this day. OSF is also one of the founding members of the Czech Donors Forum.

2004: OSF’s transformation following EU accession

In 2004, OSF’s operations were affected by the Czech Republic’s accession to the European Union. George Soros and Open Society Foundations decided to reduce their financial support for foundations in countries that joined the EU, doing so on the assumption that new member countries would receive sufficient funding for developing their societies. In addition, they reasoned, EU accession was proof that these countries had reached a certain level of development.

OSF managed to successfully transform itself. It halted funding for those programs that it assumed would receive financing from the EU or from other sources. Examples include scholarship programs, community development grants, internet access for non-profit organizations, the publishing of books and cultural magazines, and public health programs. On the other hand, OSF retained funding for programs that required independent sources of financing in order to stay afloat. One example is the Transparency and Public Accountability program, which provides funding for civic watchdog initiatives that keep an eye on public institutions, help to reduce corruption, and increase transparency.

OSF’s largest sponsor remains George Soros through Open Society Foundations, but OSF increasingly receives funding from other sources. Between 1992 and 2011, OSF distributed 1.2 billion crowns of funding for more than 9,200 NGO projects.

Organizations founded by OSF or that were founded as part of our programs:

Aperio – Healthy Parenting Association

Debate Clubs’ Association Czech Republic

Forum 50 %

Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking

Multicultural Center Prague

Foundation and Center for Contemporary Arts

HESTIA National Volunteer Centre

Open Society, p.b.c.

Step by Step

Slovak-Czech Women’s Fund