Courage Prize Recipients
George Soros, who has dedicated his life to promoting the values of open society, human rights, and transparency around the world, is the 2019 recipient of The Ridenhour Courage Prize.
Soros is the founder and chair of Soros Fund Management LLC and the Open Society Foundations. Born in Budapest in 1930, he survived the Nazi occupation during World War II and fled communist-dominated Hungary in 1947 for England, where he graduated from the London School of Economics. In 1956 he emigrated to the United States, where he founded and managed a successful investment fund. Soros used his fortune to create the Open Society Foundations, a network of foundations, partners, and projects currently operating in more than 100 countries.
The committee praised Soros as “a penetrating thinker, creative philanthropist, and visionary whose four decades of courageous commitment to a just and open society are unparalleled. George Soros paved the way for others to follow in criminal justice reform, advocacy for the world’s most vulnerable populations, and the strengthening of democratic systems and governments around the world. Our country and our world have immeasurably benefited from his life’s work.”
Soros began his philanthropy in 1979, providing scholarships to black South Africans under apartheid, as well as Eastern European dissidents, to study abroad. In 1984, he established his foundation in Hungary to help break the communist party’s grip on information. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he increased support for democracy, and for open societies in former Soviet territories. He created the Central European University as a space for critical thinking, then a foreign concept at most universities in the former Communist bloc. With the Cold War over, he continued his engagement in Eastern Europe, and gradually expanded his philanthropy to the United States, Africa, Latin America, and Asia, supporting and promoting more accountable, transparent, and democratic societies.
“At a time when the core values of open society are under assault around the world, I am honored to receive the Ridenhour Courage Prize,” Soros said. “I deeply appreciate this opportunity to help elevate the essential role government accountability plays in our democracy.”
Having donated more than $32 billion to fund his foundations’ efforts, Soros is one of the world’s foremost philanthropists. For two generations he has been at the forefront of supporting the rights of marginalized communities, individuals across the globe fighting for freedom of expression, accountable government, and societies that promote justice and equality. He was one of the early prominent voices to criticize the war on drugs as “arguably more harmful than the drug problem itself,” and he helped to kick-start America’s medical marijuana movement. In the early 2000s, he became a vocal backer of same-sex marriage efforts.
In recent years, Soros has been vilified by authoritarian regimes and national populists around the world, and his efforts to support open societies and democratic values are increasingly under attack. Many of the issues that Soros has had the courage to take on are those for which a complete solution may never emerge. What has remained constant throughout his philanthropy is his commitment to fighting the world’s most intractable problems.