New $2 Million Ideas Fund: Competing to be a Soros “Ideas Entrepreneur” Fellowship


George Soros Steve Clemons TWN.png
Barack Obama has said that “Washington is the place where good ideas go to die.”
I have to agree with him in part that the ideas industry in Washington and the public policy field in general tends to be risk-averse and more comfortable with policy-retreading than policy-innovation. I think that Obama overstates the case as some of his best advisors — Karen Kornbluh in particular who serves as his Senate staff policy director — are knighted members of the ideas industry in Washington. Kornbluh is a close chum and was a colleague at the New America Foundation.
She is now no doubt going to get razzed by others on the campaign as to why I don’t “behave.” Note to Obama campaign — my praise for Kornbluh and many others in your camp is entirely driven by my own calculations and ego — not hers or theirs.
But seriously, the New America Foundation works hard at being an institution that takes a pragmatic, innovative, creative look at policy problems. Sometimes we at New America succeed — and like any truly risk-taking institution, sometimes we flamboyantly belly-flop.
There is a new fund now announced today to help trigger policy entrepreneurship — and I strongly applaud this effort.
George Soros has just announced the creation of a $2 million war chest at the Open Society Institute to help trigger some risk-taking and entrepreneurship among scholars, journalists, and activists working on “national security; citizenship, membership and marginalization; authoritarianism; and new strategies and tools for advocacy.”
Part of being an ideas entrepreneur is differentiating one’s work in an extremely crowded marketplace. The “noise” in the field sometimes makes it difficult to separate the great ideas from the mundane. And many have vested interests in perpetuating old frameworks, old power relationships, old bargains — but ideas entrepreneurs, the best ones, simply walk through the walls, at least intellectually if not politically.
I believe we are at a discontinuous moment in American and world history and what we do tomorrow is less and less determined by what we did yesterday.
Creativity funds — money to help smart people take risks, even for a year — are vital to our times, and I think that this kind of investment in tomorrow’s ideas and policy infrastructure is vital today.
— Steve Clemons


6 comments on “New $2 Million Ideas Fund: Competing to be a Soros “Ideas Entrepreneur” Fellowship

  1. Zathras says:

    I expect $2 million would make a difference for some people. Mostly for the people getting the money, but still.
    I would certainly not expect Steve Clemons to call George Soros cheap. Let’s just say that I work in the nonprofit world too, and there are a number of people I would never, ever call cheap, either. If Steve wants to call them cheap, on the other hand, that’s his business.
    I have nothing against rich people, or very rich people, but the raw numbers of philanthropy don’t impress me all that much. People with as much money as Soros who give some of it away are doing no more than they are supposed to, and I just don’t see his oft-stated concern for the future of American democracy backed up with anything close to what one would expect from someone with his resources.


  2. arthurdecco says:

    I certainly didn’t mean to suggest Mr. Soros was cheap. In fact, I didn’t. What I did say was 2 million dollars won’t come close to being enough money to fund a program like this. Not if it’s to have any effect in this world.
    Perhaps if he focused on fewer issues, he’d be able to make a more effective cash contribution to this one.
    Btw, Mr. Clemons, thanks for filling me in on what a large lump of money he’s spreading around. Can you also tell me your source for that information? (I luv backup.)


  3. Steven Clemons says:

    Zathras/Arthurdecco — Sorry, I can’t leave your notes
    unresponded to. George Soros “donates” more than $500 million a
    year out of his pocket to global issues — including climate change,
    democracy development, poverty relief, disease remediation in
    Africa, etc.
    The last thing I’d call Soros is cheap. I’m glad he’s committed $2
    million to this arena of think tanks and policy ideas. And that is a
    lot in this business – enough to make a difference.
    But sorry — not cheap. That’s completely offbase in my view.
    best regards,
    Steve Clemons


  4. arthurdecco says:

    Zathras is correct. Two million dollars is chump change. I know people who spend two million dollars to build garages for their cars.
    I wonder how many hundreds of millions of dollars the mighty right has “invested” in their noise machines.


  5. Zathras says:

    Forgive me for putting it this way, but I’ve always thought that for someone who makes so much of his commitment to democracy, George Soros is just cheap.
    $2 million in his world is peanuts. Risk taking and entrepeneurship among journalists and activists? So what? To put some weight behind his words, what Soros would need to do is buy a major newspaper in a large American city, hire a bunch of journalists other papers are dropping to cut costs, and set up some foreign bureaus in places the major print outlets have withdrawn from for the same reason.
    It wouldn’t really matter which paper or which city (though improving a major daily’s local coverage in a city like Detroit or Miami would win much goodwill). The paper would cost a lot to buy, and would hemorhage money for years; it might never break even. But what’s money for, anyway? If American democracy really is degraded by underfunded, cautious, entertainment-oriented media, surely someone who has the money to spend and is really serious about democracy should be willing to use the one to promote the other, and not just by throwing around some loose change to miscellaneous institutes and foundations.
    Soros is the object of a lot of vituperation from Americans who dislike his dislike of George Bush, along with some adulation from people associated with organizations that have either gotten money from him in the past or hope to in the future. I’m not really in either category, but flatter myself that I know a mismatch between words and deeds when I see it.


  6. Carroll says:

    Good idea.
    But when are they going to realize that the poeple that need to be educated on government are the ones that won’t be reading or seeing their ideas or work? The ones that only latch on to whatever soundbite they last heard on cable talk shows?
    If they want to find ways to empower the citizens and have a real democracy they need to reach lower…to the Joe Blows who know something is wrong but don’t know exactly what happened, and how, and who did it, and why, so they blame it on which ever party instead of understanding the whole system’s failures.


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