“I’m not a great admirer of metrics and other efforts to quantify impact. My view is that the best way to measure impact is to periodically seek independent judgements from people who are immensely knowledgeable about a particular field or region or activity.”
At the end of June Aryeh Neier will relinquish his role as president and CEO of the Open Society Institute (OSI) after 19 years. Caroline Hartnell talked to him about the spread and development of OSI’s initiatives, what lies in store for the countries of the Middle East and North Africa following last year’s uprisings, what he sees as his greatest achievement and biggest regret, and the challenges that will face his successor.
Since the creation of the first foundation in Hungary in 1984, OSI has created a plethora of entities and initiatives and you now work in over 70 countries. Does this amount to a single, coherent strategy for creating open and free societies, or is that missing the point about a decentralized approach?
I don’t think you can create an open society in different parts of the world by pursuing a single strategy. Our approach is to delegate a larger amount of responsibility to people on the ground in different parts of the world than is characteristic of other donor institutions. Take Central Asia, for example. I don’t think we see any prospect in the near term of being able to create or help create open societies in the countries of that region, so it’s important to adopt a very long-term strategy there and an aspect of that strategy is providing substantial support for higher education. Among other things, we are a major supporter of the American University of Central Asia, which is located in Kyrgyzstan. We believe that if the region is going to create open societies, it will be because there are well-educated people there who are exposed to different points of view and who will take the lead in creating open societies.