"There's definitely a community connection that's happening here," Hess said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Nayana Davis contributed to this article.
Investing in change
Here are four hallmarks of OSI in Baltimore:
•OSI seeks to eliminate injustice and poverty by focusing on four core issues: improving education, confronting drug addiction, reducing incarceration and growing an advocacy network.
•Working with partners across Baltimore, OSI documents measurable change in city institutions, such as suspensions in city schools, which peaked in 2008 at 25,000 and has dropped to less than 8,000.
•OSI has financed nearly 150 Community Fellowships for projects such as the Griot's Eye, a youth leadership program that travels annually to Ghana and Ethiopia.
•Soros, through the Open Society Foundations, has provided $90 million to the Baltimore office; the local office has raised an additional $28 million.
As Open Society Institute celebrates its 15th anniversary in Baltimore, founder and chairman George Soros and local director Diana Morris discuss the impact the social experiment has had on the city. Soros was interviewed over the phone from Budapest, Hungary. Morris was interviewed at OSI's Baltimore office.
Q: What successes has OSI led since 1998?
Soros: From my perspective, actually, one of the greatest successes has been in improving the school attendance and completion in Baltimore. ... That's a very difficult task because the current legislation actually creates a perverse incentive for principals to get rid of troublemakers in the school by actually putting them into the juvenile justice systems. Once they are there, their future is very endangered. We are waging a nationwide campaign to change that.
Q: Why did you select Baltimore for this investment?
Soros: We felt it is the city [with] the biggest problems and the most potential to actually improve the situation. … Those were the criteria that led us to Baltimore and particularly the drug problem and the inner-city problem that qualified Baltimore, as well as the potential for improvement in the city administration and mobilizing civic engagement in Baltimore.
Q: How does OSI work with partners to accomplish its objectives?
Morris: We realize that you need to work at a lot of different levels. It's very important for government to be a partner. But it's also important to have people within the community understanding the issues and working with you. So we talk a lot about partnerships. We're not going to do any of this alone.
Q: What does OSI want for Baltimore's future?
Morris: The "O" stands for optimism. We are optimistic about the future. We do have high standards for not just the children, but frankly how the adults in these various systems are going to behave. There is a lot of adult responsibility as part of the equation.
Q: Why focus this investment on the U.S. rather than another country where problems may be more pronounced?
Soros: The democratic institutions are not functioning the way they did for the ... 200-odd years of its history, so our concern is to make them function once again the way they did, and hopefully better.