Open Society Fellowship

There are presently no open calls for submissions.

Fellowship Guidelines

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.

A fellowship project might identify a problem that has not previously been recognized, develop new policy ideas to address familiar problems, or offer a new advocacy strategy. Fellows should take advantage of the considerable intellectual and logistical resources of the Open Society Foundations and expect to contribute meaningfully to the Foundations' thinking in return. Other factors considered by the selection committee are the applicant’s experience and profile, the topic of the project, and the proposed work product.

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 a deep understanding of their chosen subject area and a track record of professional accomplishment.

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 Topic of the Project

The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Among the Foundations' core areas of concern are human rights, government transparency, access to information, access to justice, the promotion of civil society and social inclusion. Project themes should cut across these broad areas of interest. Applicants are encouraged to explore this website to acquaint themselves with the panoply of themes and geographic areas that fall within the Foundations' purview.

What successful applicant projects share is a zeal for problem-solving, the confidence to test hypotheses against observed reality, and an impatience with conventional or clichéd thinking.

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.

Fellows may produce a variety of work products, including publications such as books, reports, or blogs; innovative public-education projects; or the launch of new campaigns or organizations. They may also engage in supporting activities such as hosting panel discussions, traveling to conferences, participating in policy debates, and aggressively promoting their ideas in public venues.

The Open Society Fellowship is open to funding projects that focus on "seeding" new campaigns or organizations. “Seeding” means conceptualizing, researching, planning, and laying the groundwork for a new organization or campaign. The fellowship will not provide direct operational support for the campaign or organization itself.

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. The proposal must also demonstrate rigorous and original thinking about how cultural expression can advance social change.

For cultural projects, we look for proposals that go beyond using a cultural format (such as theater) to present open society challenges, and search for applications that address the nexus of art and advocacy in a rigorous and original manner.

Application and Selection

Letters of Inquiry

As a first step, all potential applicants are required to submit a one to two page, single-spaced, letter of inquiry that outlines the topic of the project and proposed work product in accordance with the guidelines above, accompanied by a CV. This is the first stage in the application process. Letters of inquiry should address the following questions:

o    what is the central argument of your proposed project

o    who is/are the intended audience/s

o    why is now the time for this project

o    what are the potential outputs?

The letter of inquiry should be submitted here. All letters of inquiry must be submitted by January 4, 2016.

Letters of inquiry will be reviewed within 4-6 weeks. Inquiries showing promise will be invited to submit a full application. Unfortunately, we do not have the staff capacity to provide specific feedback on all inquiries. In general, we strongly discourage re-submitting letters of inquiry unless the proposed project develops in a significantly new direction or there are other substantial changes

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. Applicants for the full proposal may submit a project proposal or other materials in a language other than English, as long as they also submit an English translation. Certified translations are strongly recommended.

Fellowship 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, in New York, Washington, London, Brussels, or Budapest, or at a regional foundation. 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 pivotal political and social problems.

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. Most fellows spend a portion of their term in one or more Open Society Foundation offices. Fellows may work out of multiple offices during their term.

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 covers all associated costs.

Though most fellowship terms are for one year, the program will consider requests for shorter or longer duration. Slight preference is given to applications for full-time fellowships, but the program will consider applicants who can only work part-time on their projects. Once awarded, a fellowship term 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

Full-time fellows will receive a stipend of $80,000 or $100,000, depending on work experience, seniority, and current income. Stipends will be prorated for part-time 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.

All applicants who have submitted an inquiry will receive responses by February 1, 2016. Full proposals will be evaluated by early June 2016 and all applicants will subsequently receive a response.

The fellowship program considers applications subject to funding availability.

Contact Information

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