Open Society FoundationsBillionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF) is committed to building “vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people,” according to the organization’s website. “We seek to strengthen the rule of law, respect for human rights, minorities and a diversity of opinions, democratically elected governments and a civil society that helps keep government power in check.”

Authoritarian governments, in which absolute power is held by a single dictator or ruling party, have been linked to an increase in poverty. To unveil the full impact of authoritarian government on poverty, the Human Development Report of the United Nations analyzed the condition of sub-Saharan Africa over the last 30 years. The study revealed authoritarian governments are more likely to become corrupted, have greater levels of violence than democracies and often favor the poverty of their citizens.

Conversely, open societies allow for freedom of belief, flexible social structure and availability of information. Citizens have a greater say in the running of their own countries and lives.

George Soros founded OSF in 1979 when he realized he had the funds and connections to make a real difference. By 1984, he had established his first foundation in Hungary, which involved the distribution of photocopiers in a bid to lessen the communist control on freedom of print. Within two decades, OSF had become active in all regions of the world.

Despite its positive aims, some countries have not welcomed OSF’s mission. In May 2015, Russia banned ‘undesirable’ foreign organizations that could compromise its constitutional order or national security. “The ‘undesirables’ law and its implementation have been a terrible blow for civic freedoms in Russia,” said Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

Despite resistance, OSF continues to grow by way of a two-part strategy. First, it operates the Central European University, where future political leaders can research and analyze new solutions to ensure that open societies remain stable. Students from more than 100 countries attend the university.

Second, current OSF president Christopher Stone created the New Executives Fund, a $2 million fund to start off nonprofit organizations that support education, social change and public health. Every year, two or three selected nonprofits receive two-year grants ranging from $25,000 to $250,000. This fund, as well as supporting worthy causes, has directed global attention toward OSF.

Making inroads to transforming authoritarian governments into open societies helps to reduce poverty and improve standards of living. OSF is committed to forming governments across the globe “where all people are free to participate fully in civic, economic and cultural life.”

Sarah Prellwitz

Sources: Philanthropy, HRW, Open Society Foundations 1, Open Society Foundations 2, Tide Global Learning
Photo: Google Images

Poverty in Belarus
Though poverty in Belarus has declined over time, the reduction in poverty is superficial – destitution still permeates throughout the nation. A significant contributor to this unyielding poverty is government-mandated wages that have outpaced productivity, a policy under which economic stability is nearly impossible.

Situated in lowlands speckled with forests, rivers and lakes, Belarus is landlocked Eastern European country bordered by both Russia and Ukraine. Formerly known as “White Russia,” Belarus has suffered and continues to suffer from economic hardships.


Poverty in Belarus: Implications and Solutions


Lonely Planet refers to Belarus as the “outcast” of Eastern Europe because rather than integrating with the rest of the continent, the nation is staunch in its effort to remain physically and politically isolated. For instance, rather than converting to a capitalist system, the tiny nation remains entrenched in a historical dictatorship, earning Belarus the title “the last dictatorship in Europe.”

However, Belarus’ economic model has fallen short of meeting the needs of its people. Although the rate of poverty in Belarus in one of the lowest in Europe, residents still grapple with squalor. For example, approximately 27.1% of Belarus residents have a per capita gross domestic product that falls below the poverty threshold. Additionally, 17.8% of these individuals also live below the minimum level required to sustain themselves.

In order to reduce income inequality within the population, Belarus has embarked on a set of reformative initiatives. For example, reforms in education, health and social benefits have taken place. However, these initiatives must be strengthened in order to truly sustain the needs of the nation.

Furthermore, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has undertaken a poverty reduction agenda in Belarus that consists of initiatives to bolster small businesses, thereby stimulating economic growth and expansion. Specifically, the UNDP endeavors to strengthen agricultural businesses in order to revitalize rural Belarus, an area of the nation that has been hit particularly hard by poverty.

These business initiatives are critical in not just Belarus, but in also other former Soviet territories that have not adapted well to the transition from collective farming to privatized farming. For instance, as part of its agenda, the UNDP has established the Rural Business Development Center outside the Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Development Center is the official location for the redevelopment of collective farms into competitive enterprises.

With the aid of the UNDP and the deepening of Belarus’ already-present reformative initiatives, the “outcast of Eastern Europe” holds the potential to reform itself into a more vibrant and economically-prosperous nation.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Info Please, Lonely Planet, Borgen Project
Photo: IFRC

Worst Dictators still alive

The worst dictators have a strange kind of fame. Many manage to escape widespread awareness until their regime turns irredeemably bloody or repressive. As a result of their bizarre behaviour and the extensive list of human rights violations committed under their rule, figures such as Idi Amin, Muammar Qaddafi and Kim Jong Il are now household names. Yet their notoriety grew at the end of their reigns, when their own people had revolted or their regime was nearing its final days. However, there are a number of dictators in the world in power today committing great crimes against their own people unchecked. Here are the top 5 worst dictators in the world.

1. Isias Afewerki, Eritrea

In power since 1993, Afewerki has plunged Eritrea into a living nightmare for its residents. Starting out, as many do, as an idealistic young revolutionary, Afewerki was chosen as the country’s first president after its liberation from Ethiopia. Yet after gaining the position, Afewerki essentially cut off democracy, with the country operating under a one party system and no free press. Interceptions from cables paint a desperate picture of the nation, as seen in the excerpt: ”Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea’s prisons are overflowing, and the country’s unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant.”

2. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan

Though he has been in power during comparatively good economic times, Omar al-Bashir has led Sudan to becoming one of the bloodiest and most conflicted countries in the region. Bashir was at the helm of the country during Sudan’s horrific genocide, which saw upward of 300,000 deaths, largely at the hands of militant groups that were said to have government support. He has been accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. The unceasing violent conflicts that characterized his reign ultimately led to South Sudan’s secession from the state. The new territory, however, quickly entered into war with Sudan over oil disputes and into yet another bloody conflict.

3. Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan

Ruling since 1989, Karimov’s term was first extended, and then he was reinstated in a sham election which was discounted entirely by watchdogs, against a political opponent who publicly admitted he himself had voted for Karimov. There is little to no religious or press freedom, with universities told not to train students in the realm of public issues. Brutal torture is seen as routine in the Uzbek judicial system, with Human Rights Watch expressing repeated concern over the accepted practices in Uzbek prisons. Karimov is still to call for an investigation into the Andijan massacre, where hundreds of people were killed. He also made international headlines in 2002 after evidence emerged that he had boiled one of his prisoners to death. Repeatedly named as one of ‘Parade’ magazine’s worst dictators, international rights groups have had great difficulty in breaching Uzbekistan’s borders and little success in implementing reforms.

4. Bashar Al-Assad, Syria

In a stunning display of irony, Syria’s blood-soaked dictator started his career in medicine and is a trained ophthalmologist. Inheriting power after his father and older brother died, Assad’s cruelty showed after the start of the Arab Spring. After a violent crackdown on not only rebels, but civilians, his government has no real way of restoring order and remaining in power, yet Assad stubbornly refuses to concede to any agreements. Many international leaders have called on Assad to recognize the reality of the Syrian rebellion and step down, with Britain even stating it would consider taking in Assad if it meant his departure from the state. Support from Iran and Russia, however, have strengthened the leader long enough to continue Syria’s endless and bloody war, with Assad himself showing no signs of remorse or weakening of resolve.

5. U Thein Sein, Myanmar

Thein Sein started on the right foot. His actions in opening up Myanmar garnered praise from Western leaders such as Barack Obama and Ban-Ki Moon and he was recently given a peace award from the International Crisis Group. This image sits uncomfortably with the Thein Sein of recent days. Having initially opened dialogue with Myanmar’s Aung Sang Suu Kyi, she was again recently threatened, as was a Democracy League operating in the country. He is also accused of blatantly ignoring a deepening crisis in his own country with the violent persecution of the Royingha Muslims. His actions in response to the crisis have attracted accusations of ethnic cleansing. In response, Thein Sein has recently spoken to the international press making clear that he is not afraid to use violence to maintain order, with the unsettling statement, “I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of the general public.”

Sources: Parade, HRW, Foreign Policy,  BBC
Photo: Atlanta Blackstar