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George Soros is a self-made billionaire known for his investment savvy and his vast body of philanthropic work.
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Born in Budapest, Hungary, on August 12, 1930, George Soros fled the Nazis in the mid-1940s and moved to New York City in 1956, where he entered a life of finance. He began his renowned philanthropic efforts in 1979, and as of 2012 his lifetime giving amounts to more than $7 billion via his Open Society Foundations.
George Soros was born in Budapest, Hungary, on August 12, 1930. After surviving the Nazi invasion and occupation of Hungary in the early 1940s, Soros fled then-Communist-dominated Hungary in 1947 and made his way to England. There, at the London School of Economics, Soros began studying Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies, which explores the philosophy of science and serves as Popper’s critique of totalitarianism. The essential lesson the book imparted to Soros was that no ideology owns the truth, and that societies can flourish only when they operate freely and openly and maintain respect for individual rights—thoughts that would deeply influence Soros for the rest of his life.
Soros graduated in 1952, and in September 1956 he sailed to New York and took a job at Wall Street brokerage firm F.M. Mayer. After working for a few more firms, in 1973 Soros set up his own hedge fund (the Soros Fund, soon after renamed the Quantum Fund and later the Quantum Fund Endowment) with $12 million from investors. The fund, with Soros at the helm, found massive success through its various iterations, and as of March 2012, Soros, at 81 years of age, was listed as the 22nd richest person in the world, with a net worth estimated at $20 billion.
George Soros began his philanthropic activity in 1979, and he established the Open Society Foundations in 1984. The foundations fund a range of global initiatives “to advance justice, education, public health, business development and independent media.” The causes Soros helps with his foundations are numerous (the foundations’ list of activities goes on for 500 pages), but they include aiding in regions struck by natural disaster, establishing after-school programs in New York City, funding the arts, lending financial assistance to the Russian university system, fighting disease and combating “brain drain” in Eastern Europe.
While a towering figure in the philanthropic world, George Soros is also a provocative figure. Among his controversial positions are that he supports altering the United States’ “war on drugs” to avoid the current extent of criminalization, he was involved in and profited heavily from the U.K. currency crisis of 1992 (dubbed Black Wednesday), he has written several books on the looming collapse of the financial markets (and certain observers accuse him of manipulating the markets to reach his ends) and he has said that policies of the United States and Israel have given rise to global anti-Semitism.
Controversial or beloved, with his countless organizations (through which he shapes public policy and undertakes vast humanitarian projects), financial empire and the 12 books he’s written on subjects ranging from the war on terror to global capitalism, George Soros is an influential figure and a giant in finance and the realm of philanthropy.
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