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New $25m Fund for SA civil society groups working to advance constitutionalism

Resource type: News

The Atlantic Philanthropies |


Joint statement from the Open Society Foundations, the Ford Foundation
and The Atlantic Philanthropies

Cape Town Today the Open Society Foundations, the Ford Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies announced the launch of a joint fund to support organisations promoting and advancing constitutionalism in South Africa, to mark the first 20 years of South African democracy.

The three contributing foundations, each of which has decades of experience working in South Africa, and which ordinarily support civil society organisations, the local philanthropic community and also government, will provide a collective $25 million to South African organisations whose purpose is to advance a democratic and open society.

Twenty years after the adoption of the South African Constitution, described as the world’s most progressive, South Africa still has many challenges. Delivering on the civil, political and socio-economic aspirations embedded in that Constitution requires a society that is transparent, open, non-discriminatory and operates according to the highest standards of Constitutional accountability.

Responding to these challenges, and recognising the significant innovative and leadership role that South African civil society organisations play in both articulating these challenges and providing appropriate responses rooted in the rule of law, the three foundations will, in implementing the Constitutionalism Fund, rely extensively on an independent local Selection Panel, chaired by former Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro. The Panel will advise the foundations on allocating resources from the Constitutionalism Fund to South African organisations that meet the criteria of the Fund.

Commenting on the launch of the Constitutionalism Fund, Justice Mokgoro said, “The establishment of this Fund, which will support a vibrant civil society working to protect and advance our Constitution is important to every person living in South Africa. Our Constitution sits at the very heart of our democracy, setting out the values and principles which we have chosen as a country to live by. We also know that South Africa’s long term stability and the progressive realisation of those rights and values depends on the maintenance and promotion of the rule of law and key constitutional institutions. The next decade is likely to prove pivotal in the context of our evolving political democratic landscape and thus the Fund has the potential to play an important role in responding to our needs.”

The Selection Panel members also include Aubrey Matshiqi, Senior Political Associate at the Centre for Policy Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Business;  and Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director for the Foundation for Human Rights and a former Commissioner at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Chris Stone, President of the Open Society Foundations, said, “An active, representative civil society is crucial for advancing democracy, human rights and social justice in South Africa.  On the 20th year of our philanthropic presence in South Africa, we are very excited to be part of the development and implementation of this much-needed Constitutionalism Fund. It will help address the need for sustainable financial support, as well as assist with building a second and transformed layer of leadership in South Africa’s legal and other organisations that reflect the society that they serve. Ultimately, at issue here is strengthening the sector’s longer term sustainability and success.”

Christopher G. Oechsli, President and CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies echoed this sentiment. He said, “Through our work, over the last twenty years in South Africa, we have seen the value of civil society in advancing and upholding rights and justice. We are proud to be helping to fulfil the promise of a Constitution that is a model for other democratic societies worldwide, and that reflects the aspirations of all South Africans.”

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, said, “For sixty years, the Ford Foundation has supported civil society organisations in South Africa in their quest to make the promise of democracy a reality. Twenty years into democracy, the country faces new opportunities and also fresh challenges. Through this Constitutionalism Fund, we are proud to renew our long-term commitment to the continuing struggle for fairness and equality in South Africa. The Fund is anchored in the belief that the people of South Africa can advance their own aspirations for equality and justice and deliver a society premised on their country’s progressive and profoundly humane Constitution.”

Walker and Stone both noted that the Ford Foundation and OSF contributions to the Constitutionalism Fund were in addition to their on-going grant making from their South African offices.

How the Constitutionalism Fund will work

Beneficiary organisations will be selected based on their ability to significantly advance constitutionalism. The Constitutionalism Fund will provide support over three to four funding cycles within a period of ten years.

In each funding cycle, the Selection Panel will identify beneficiaries and forward its choices to the donors for final ratification.

Factors that will be considered for eligibility will include:

  • prospects for advancing constitutionalism and the durability of any advances made
  • strong leadership, a commitment and a plan to specifically address racial and gender transformation at a senior managerial and leadership level
  • innovative ideas for advancing constitutionalism beyond conventional strategies and tactics
  • the ability to partner and collaborate with other civil society organisations and social movements that work to advance constitutionalism
  • effective and transparent financial management
  • independent governance and oversight structures
  • effective evaluation mechanisms
  • the ability to use the Fund’s support to enhance organisational capacity and/or address long-term sustainability.

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For further information, please contact:

Dani Cohen, Prolog Consulting 082 897 0443/


Note to editors:

About the Open Society Foundations

The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people.

Working in every part of the world, the Open Society Foundations place a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalized communities. Open Society does more than give away money. We use a range of tools including advocacy, litigation, and research to help support open societies around the world.

Open Society was founded by George Soros, who began his philanthropy in 1979 by giving scholarships to black South African students during Apartheid.

Open Society established its first country foundation in Hungary in 1984, and throughout 1980s and 1990s, focused on countries in the Soviet Bloc making the transition to democracy. Open Society expanded its reach globally during the 1990s, and now we work in over 100 countries in every region of the world including in South Africa since 1993.

About the Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, non-profit grant-making organization working around the world.  For more than 75 years it has supported courageous people on the frontlines of social change, guided by its global mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement.  The foundation has worked in Southern Africa for more than 60 years, with an office in Johannesburg since 1994, and its efforts are led by and for Southern Africans. It operates on the belief that social transformation means investing in people, strengthening the ability of local people to advance their own aspirations for dignity, justice and equality.

About Atlantic Philanthropies

The Atlantic Philanthropies is a limited life foundation dedicated to bringing about lasting change in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. In over two decades of work in South Africa, Atlantic has invested over $355 million to promote reconciliation; improve the health of the most vulnerable and marginalised; expand access to higher education;  and advance human rights, justice and dignity by fulfilling the promise of the democratic Constitution.  Atlantic will make its final grants by the end of 2016.  For more about Atlantic’s work in South Africa, go to: