my job

i’d like to take a few minutes to talk about my job.  i would like to do this, because in some quarters i work at a pretty controvertial place, and for a pretty controvertial person.  i work for george soros, at his foundation in midtown new york.  i work in the scholarships department, which means that i administer money to students to go to college.  i bring this up because a lot of people don’t like george soros.  he sees no problems with making billions off the markets and then giving away hundreds of millions each year to people and organizations around the world.  he also does a lot of personal funding on the political side.  OSI’s not involved with any of his donations or political stuff, because we’re a tax-exempt organization and have lobbying restrictions.  trust me, the government (particularly this administration) is watching us pretty closely. 

i’m posting two different ways in which we’ve been publicized lately, one by bill o’reilly *his craziness* and one in Forbes magazine.  personally, i think the work we do is pretty good.  but that’s just me.

 Here’s Bill.  (it’s about a 10 minute clip but totally worth watching, especially for the flow chart).

And here’s the Forbes article:
On The Cover/Top Stories

Burma‘s Billionaires
David Serchuk 04.23.07

George Soros spends $2 million a year trying to pave the way for democracy in
Burma. It’s a tricky operation. Naturally, the head of his Burma Project is banned in
Burma, where ruthless military dictatorships have ruled for decades. And Soros is unwelcome in neighboring Thailand, home to 2 million refugees who have fled
Burma. What’s more,
Thailand won’t recognize these people as refugees, making them that much harder to help.

Thailand blamed Soros and his hedge fund for setting off the Asian financial crisis in July 1997, which started when the Thai baht plummeted. He’s been so demonized there that some potential grant recipients have shied away from the Burma Project, unwilling to be associated with it. “Some get a little nervous to publicly have our support,” says Maureen Aung-Thwin, who heads the project out of a

Fifth Avenue

office in
New York. And Soros himself hasn’t set foot in the country in years. In 2001 he canceled a planned speech in
Bangkok because of the threat of protests.So how does the Burma Project handle these obstacles? It keeps a very low profile, employing just a few people on the ground in
Thailand, says Aung-Thwin. Instead of directly running all of its projects in Thailand, it contributes to some 100 groups each year and offers scores of academic scholarships to Burmese who might someday play a role in a democratic Burma. She says the Burma Project keeps its recipients at arm’s length and makes sure they’re also getting funds from other organizations. The result: Few Thais even know the Burma Project exists. “We just don’t want to give any reason for attracting negative attention to [the recipients’] work,” she says. “In case somebody feels like scapegoating Mr. Soros, they’ve got other people’s funding, so it’s not a problem.” (Soros declined to comment.)

Burma has been in the news this year, and once again the difficulty of the project’s task is being highlighted. In January, for just the second time, the UN Security Council held briefings on Burma, and then the U.S. and the U.K. introduced a resolution calling on
Burma to free its political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi; begin a transition to democracy; and cease military attacks against civilians. But China, Russia and
South Africa blocked it. Just days later Burma granted
China oil-and-gas exploration rights. “Those are pretty formidable allies for the Burmese junta, to have both Russia and
China protecting them,” says Aung-Thwin. “But we’re not daunted.”
Soros’ interest in
Burma goes back to the fall of 1987. Millions of Burmese had taken to the streets to protest the regime’s decision to replace the nation’s currency, wiping out much of people’s savings. Halfway around the world, Soros took notice. He had made a fortune as a money manager (FORBES puts his wealth today at $8.5 billion) and was beginning to dabble in political causes. In 1984 he began helping the opposition in his native
Hungary by selling copying machines to cultural groups and funding dissidents with the proceeds. “George looked around to people and said, ‘What do we do?'” says Aung-Thwin. “He asked, ‘Why don’t we do a scholarship? You guys decide which four recipients.'”
Then in the summer of 1988, after months of demonstrations, the Burmese military struck back, slaughtering 3,000 unarmed protesters. Their movement crushed, tens of thousands of students and members of ethnic minorities began flooding across the Burma-Thailand border. Suddenly the need was much greater than four scholarships. So Soros launched the Burma Project in 1994. Some 30% of its money goes to education programs and university scholarships, the rest to grants for groups working on Burmese causes. Recipients include the Alternate Asean Network on Burma, which issues reports on Burma; the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma,
Burma’s government-in-exile; and the Computer Network Training Program, which teaches computer skills in the refugee camps.
In the lingo of the nonprofit world, the Burma Project puts its money into “capacity building.” This means that rather than provide food or water, it seeks to foster the economic, legal and media skills needed to run a country. One reason? It’s cheaper. “Relief work [such as supplying food and health care] requires vast resources that not even Mr. Soros has,” says Debbie Stothard, head of the Alternate Asean Network. Instead her group aims to raise the refugees’ level of economic literacy and show them how to get their message out in the media. That means teaching about banking, taxation and how natural resources affect trade, for example, while also showing how governments can raise loans to finance development.One star pupil of Stothard’s is Charm Tong, a 25-year-old advocate for the Shan minority in
Burma who’s met with President George W. Bush and spoken to the UN. “We’re always trying to build the new leaders; we call it the future of Burma,” says Aung-Thwin, who was born in Burma but raised in
Another priority is teaching English. David Mathieson, the
Burma consultant for Human Rights Watch, has taught English to refugees in the camps and believes that English proficiency among the refugees is much greater than among the Thai population.
Sometimes the Burma Project’s support is more administrative than educational, as shown by its work with the National Coalition Government. Elected in 1990 but never installed, the shadow government cools its heels in an office outside
Washington, D.C. paid for by Soros at a cost of $85,000 a year. When it comes to policy, however, the project gives little advice, says Bo Hla-Tint, a “government” minister. Instead it listens to the ministers’ needs and makes introductions if they want to create alliances.
But one piece of advice Hla-Tint has for the Burma Project is that it should direct some of the energy spent educating young people toward older Burmese. Specifically, he says, his peers need more guidance on what they should do if they were to gain power. “We need a lot of expertise to work with us,” he says. “Otherwise, some people say, the Burmese movement is reaching nowhere.”Another criticism is that the project endorses economic sanctions against
Burma. Aung-Thwin explained why before the U.S. House of Representatives on June 10, 2003: “Sanctions offer economic, but also moral pressure, which is crucial for the Burmese, who need to know the world is on their side.”
One dissenter is Thant Myint-U, author of The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma. Myint-U, a Burma scholar and grandson of U Thant, the Burmese former secretary general of the UN, argues that after decades of war
Burma needs more than just regime change; it needs to be rebuilt. “Isolating one of the most isolated countries in the world … is both counterproductive and dangerous,” he writes.
But the project hasn’t come in for any of the attacks that Soros got for his role in eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell. For example, in a 1997 article FORBES portrayed his efforts to reshape politics there as meddlesome and leftist. Initiatives such as those, as with the Burma Project, fall under Soros’ Open Society Institute.After 13 years of grants, scholarships and lobbying, is the Burma Project any closer to a liberated
Burma? Evidence would say no. Last year 10,000 more refugees arrived in Thailand from Burma, and the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a nonprofit that monitors the border, noted that due to “the systemic violation of human rights in eastern
Burma, it is unlikely that the population of the camps will decrease significantly in 2007.” It adds: “Hopes for political change in
Burma look as bleak as ever.”
So what is Aung-Thwin to do? Instead of measuring progress toward a new government, she charts the development of her grantees. “The individuals we’ve supported, what do they continue to do?” she asks. “Do they go into nongovernmental organizational work after they have American citizenship? How many go back to
Thailand to work with compatriots and with refugees? That’s one of the ways that gratifies us.” After all, maybe democracy can’t be bought. But it’s still not a bad investment.


2 Responses to “my job”

  1. that clears things up a little. by the way, can i have a scholarship? 🙂

  2. no you can’t. 🙂

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