Open Society Fellowship

The Open Society Fellowship supports individuals seeking innovative and unconventional approaches to fundamental open society challenges. The fellowship funds work that will enrich public understanding of those challenges and stimulate far-reaching and probing conversations within the Open Society Foundations and in the world.

Starting in 2016, the Open Society Fellowship will only accept applications relevant to specific statements (which can be found on the grants page). New statements will be announced periodically. Applicants are invited to dispute, substantiate, or otherwise engage with the statements in their proposals. Once chosen, fellows will work on projects of their own design and passion. At the same time, they are expected to take advantage of the considerable intellectual and logistical resources of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and contribute meaningfully to the Foundations’ thinking. Fellows will also have opportunities to collaborate with one another as a cohort. It is hoped that the fellowship will not only nurture theoretical debate but also bring about policy change and reform.

The Applicant

The Open Society Fellowship chooses its fellows from a diverse pool of applicants that includes journalists, activists, academics, and practitioners in a variety of fields. Applicants should possess and demonstrate a deep understanding of the major themes embedded within the statement for which they wish to apply and be willing to serve in a cohort of fellows with diverse occupational, geographic, and ideological profiles. The fellowship seeks “idea entrepreneurs” from across the world who are ready to challenge conventional wisdom. Successful applicants will be eager to exploit the many resources offered by the Open Society Foundations and be prepared to engage constructively with our global network. Ideal fellows are specialists who can see beyond the parochialisms of their field and possess the tenacity to complete a project of exceptional merit. The fellowship program only accepts individual applications.

The Work Product

Successful projects should push the boundaries of current thinking and carry lessons that can be applied to a variety of settings. Applicants should carefully consider the impact they want their work to have and the audiences they wish to reach. They should then think creatively about the activities and work products that will reach these audiences most effectively.

Open Society fellows produce work outputs of their own choosing, such as a books, journalistic or academic articles, art projects, a series of convenings, etc. In addition, fellowship cohorts may develop a joint work product of some sort. Fellowship staff will assist cohorts in brainstorming possible outputs if needed.

The fellowship will not fund the production of a documentary film. However, projects involving pre-production research and development and post-production advocacy and outreach efforts conducted by a single person will be considered. For all cultural projects, including documentary film, the proposal must also demonstrate rigorous and original thinking about how cultural expression can address the challenges embedded in the given statement.

Application and Selection

Letters of Inquiry

Applicants are required to submit a one- to two page, single-spaced, letter of inquiry that outlines the topic of the project, proposed work product, and relevance to the statements above. A CV should accompany the letter of inquiry with a CV.

Letters of inquiry should address the following questions:

  • What is the central argument of your proposed project as it relates to the statement?
  • How does your project advance or challenge current thinking?
  • Who is/are the intended audience/s?
  • What are the potential work products?

The letter of inquiry should be submitted here. Letters of inquiry will be reviewed within 6 weeks. Inquiries showing promise will be invited to submit a full proposal. Unfortunately, we do not have the staff capacity to provide specific feedback on all inquiries. In general, we strongly discourage re-submitting unsuccessful letters of inquiry.

Full Proposals

Once a letter of inquiry has been reviewed, the applicant may be invited to submit a full proposal. Those invited to apply may receive some feedback before being asked to submit a full proposal.

The program strongly encourages applicants to submit only electronic supporting materials. However, if applicants have hard copy materials that they feel are essential to the evaluation of their project, they can list these at the end of the project proposal. Fellowship staff will reach out to applicants should it be necessary to review these materials. Full proposals may be submitted in a language other than English as long as they are accompanied by an English translation. Certified translations are strongly recommended.

Program staff evaluate applications in consultation with Foundation colleagues and outside experts. Reviewers consider whether the applicant’s background, track record, and depth of expertise give reason to believe that the project will be successfully completed and whether the applicant offers persuasive evidence that the fellowship project will significantly inform and challenge the Open Society community.

Fellowship Expectations

At the heart of the fellowship are the Open Society Foundations themselves. Fellows are invited to join the rich and diverse Foundations community, a global network of activists and institutions dedicated to defending civil society and improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable citizens.

Fellows are expected to take full advantage of the Foundations’ expansive reach and work to bring new people and fresh ideas into the organization’s ambit. The program anticipates that most fellows will spend a portion of their fellowship term at one of the organization’s main offices or at a national and regional foundation, though flexibility may be granted for shorter term fellows. While in residence, they are strongly encouraged to organize and participate in conferences and program events and may be asked to run a seminar involving Foundations staff and outside colleagues. Ultimately, fellows should sharpen the organization’s thinking, question its assumptions, and broaden its understanding of the pivotal political and social problems posed by a given statement. In order to facilitate these interactions, proficiency in spoken English is required.

Fellowship Placement and Term

The fellowship considers applicants from all parts of the world. Fellows who wish to work on their project in a country in which they do not have citizenship must satisfy and comply with applicable visa requirements. The fellowship program will help fellows obtain necessary visas and will cover all associated costs.

Fellowships are granted for one year, six months, and, in a small number of cases, for three months. Fellowship staff will work with fellows to assemble cohorts around a given statement to coordinate their work.

Once awarded, a fellowship can begin whenever the fellow chooses, in consultation with fellowship staff. The program encourages submissions from applicants with families and will work with fellows to devise a schedule that meets their needs and the program’s expectations.

Fellowship Support

One year fellows will receive a stipend of $80,000 or $100,000, depending on work experience, seniority, and current income. Stipends will be prorated for shorter term fellows. The stipend does not necessarily equal the applicant’s current salary. In certain cases, fellows will receive additional financial support to enable them to meet the residency expectation.

In most cases, the program will advise fellows on ways to communicate their work to a broader audience and influence current debates. Staff also work to integrate fellows into the networks of individual and organizational partners and grantees.

In addition to the stipend, fellows will receive a project budget. That budget may include expenses such as travel (including airfare and hotel), visa costs, part-time research assistance, conference fees and health insurance. Fellowship expenses should not include operational or programmatic costs, such as employees and physical infrastructure. The purpose of the fellowship is to support individual fellows; therefore the program will only cover individual expenses.

The fellowship does not fund enrollment for degree or non-degree study at academic institutions, including dissertation research.

Please note that under federal tax rules applicable to U.S. private foundations, the Open Society Foundations cannot support lobbying activities. Projects that include lobbying activities will not be funded.

A small number of full proposals will be selected as finalists. These finalists are considered by an outside selection committee, which meets twice a year.

The fellowship program considers applications subject to funding availability.

Contact Information

For more information please contact: OSFellows@opensocietyfoundations.org..

Letter of inquiry

Applicants are required to submit a one- to two page, single-spaced, letter of inquiry that outlines the topic of the project, proposed work product, and relevance to the statements above. A CV should accompany the letter of inquiry with a CV.

Letters of inquiry should address the following questions:

  • What is the central argument of your proposed project as it relates to the statement?
  • How does your project advance or challenge current thinking?
  • Who is/are the intended audience/s?
  • What are the potential work products?

The deadline to submit is: September 7, 2016. Applicants will receive a response by: October 1, 2016. 

Inquiries showing promise will be invited to submit a full proposal. Unfortunately, we do not have the staff capacity to provide specific feedback on all inquiries. In general, we strongly discourage re-submitting unsuccessful letters of inquiry.