George Soros, the Hungarian American immigrant who is now one of the wealthiest people on the planet, recently made a splash with the announcement of a major donation to his charitable foundation. In early October, Soros’s Open Society Foundation announced that it had received contributions from Soros’s fund totaling $18 billion–and another $2 billion is expected to be added in the next few years. With this move, Soros dropped from 20th to 59th on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people in the world. Given that the money will be used to promote causes that Soros holds dear to his heart, however, it is unlikely that the billionaire is lamenting its loss.
To better understand why Soros was willing to so easily part with such a massive fortune, it helps to understand more about his background. Most people only know the Soros of recent years, so their opinions are largely shaped by the way in which he is presented by the media. For liberals, Soros is a true hero; for conservatives, however, he is an absolute nightmare. Publications like Breitbart and Fox News devote considerable attention to the billionaire, as he actively fights against their best interests and has for many decades.
Although he’s one of the wealthiest people in the world today, with an estimated net worth of around $23 billion in 2017 prior to the large donation, Soros didn’t start out life with a silver spoon in his mouth–and that’s a bit of an understatement. Born in August 1930 in Budapest, Hungary, he was raised by parents who were essentially non-practicing Jews. When he was just 13, in 1944, Nazi Germany began occupying his home country. Jewish families like his were targeted. For example, Jewish children were pulled out of schools and not allowed to attend during the occupation.
Seeing that the situation was going from bad to worse, the Soros family started looking for ways to get out of Hungary. Ultimately, George had to pose as the Christian godson of a friend of the family who worked for the government at the time. By doing that, Soros was able to get out of Hungary. First, he went to England, where he remained for several years. While there, he attended the London School of Economics. He graduated from that school with a bachelor of science as well as a master of philosophy. Later, he’d use what he learned about philosophy to develop effective investment strategies.
The young Soros launched his career by taking various positions at merchant banks in England. After arriving in the U.S., he would take similar jobs there on Wall Street. He kept making forward progress in his career and was able to establish his first hedge fund, Double Eagle, in 1969. The very next year, using seed money that he had acquired through Double Eagle, Soros founded Soros Fund Management, his second hedge fund. This fund is still in existence today, and it was involved in the massive $18 billion donation to Open Society Foundations.
For a young man who had to flee his home country due to human rights violations, it is incredible to think that he quickly rose to such prominence over in America. It would also have made sense for the Hungarian American man to hoard his fortunes, as he had struggled so much early in life. However, his early experiences actually inspired him to make positive changes in the world. He saw that having money gave him great power–and he chose to use that power to promote causes like human rights, refugee relief and various liberal causes.
Although Soros had already done quite well for himself with the markets, it wasn’t until 1992 that he made a real splash on the worldwide scene. At the time, the British pound was massively overvalued, but many people didn’t believe it. Soros, however, felt otherwise and chose to bet heavily against the pound. In one fell swoop, the investor made a massive fortune. At the same time, many accused him of single-handedly ruining the Bank of England, which was a bit of an exaggeration but still not too far off the mark. By this time, Soros had already started his philanthropic efforts and was developing a reputation for being a major thorn in conservatives’ sides.
Soros and his organizations stayed fairly quiet in the U.S. during Barack Obama’s presidency, as there were many issues around the world on which to focus its attention during that time. Soros has always gone where help is needed most. In fact, his first charitable activities as owner and manager of Soros Fund Management was to provide scholarships to black South Africans who were at the time living under apartheid. During the Cold War, Soros and his organizations helped fund the purchase of photocopiers for Eastern Europeans to use to reprint banned materials.
Clearly, George Soros has become more and more comfortable about being the boogeyman of the right-wing element not just in the U.S. but around the world. In fact, protests were recently held against him in his native Hungary, where he is perceived as being far too liberal in his views. Upon learning about his massive donation to the Open Society Foundations, many figured that he was doing it to make a splash and to potentially avoid paying various taxes. While the latter may be true to some extent, he didn’t do this for dramatic impact. In fact, he has been quietly donating money to the organization for many years, averaging around $800 million to $900 million in donations per year.
Those donation amounts started increasing dramatically in recent years, and they culminated with the announcement in early October that Soros had now donated more than $18 billion to the Open Society Foundations. In doing that, he made the organization the second largest of its kind in the U.S.–only the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is larger. He also made history by making one of the largest transfers of wealth by a private donor to a single foundation.
When it became clear that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, Soros mobilized his foundation to try to stop him in his tracks. During the election cycle, Soros and his organization gave millions of dollars to Super PACs that were established to resist and defeat Trump. At the same time, Soros wagered upwards of $1 billion that Trump would lose. Without question, Soros lost a lot of money because of the election–but for him, that is the least his worries, as human rights violations and the like have risen since Trump took office.
As noted by Soros, the 2016 U.S. presidential election caused “dark forces to awaken” in the world. More than ever, big money controls the country. While most high net worth individuals strive to protect their wealth, George Soros is committed to using his to help others around the world. Over the next two years or so, the billionaire is expected to donate at least another $2 billion to the Open Society Foundations, bringing the total donation to more than $20 billion. With that kind of clout, it is hoped that the organization will make even bigger strides in the years to come.