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A guide for Soros' vision Director: Diana L. Morris will use her expertise, drawn from places as far-flung as Africa to the back streets of Baltimore, to help define George Soros' philanthropic operation.


Growing up in Altoona, Pa., Diana L. Morris looked beyond the Alleghenies, and a global view began taking shape.

Her resulting concern for "the marginalized people of the world" extends beyond the fad phrase, the Pennsylvania burgher background, the cultural anthropology courses at Smith College and the training in law.

The director of the new Baltimore office of billionaire philanthropist George Soros remembers the many African refugees she met when she worked for the Ford Foundation in its human rights and social justice program in Africa.

"The camps are filled with women and children people are fearful health is poor family members are dead children have no schooling," she recounted. "We try to help." In Morris' global view, Baltimore is a place where many people are marginalized even though it has no refugee camps.

"We feel for the human dignity of the dispossessed," she said, speaking for herself and Soros' Open Society Institute (OSI), which last week announced it would spend $25 million in Baltimore in the next five years.

The institute, which has operations in Eastern Europe, southern Africa, Haiti and the United States, may have learned lessons applicable to Baltimore on how to improve health, safety, economic security and education.

Said Gara LaMarche, to whom Morris will report in his role as OSI director of U.S. programs: "We are fortunate to find in Diana Morris someone who knows the community and the issues well and is committed to Open Society principles."

Until last week, she worked in Baltimore for the Blaustein Philanthropic Group of seven family foundations and a corporate giving program, serving as executive director for the past five years.

Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said, "Diana is perfect for this job because of her vision on different levels," referring to Morris' experience in foundations, her national and international experience and her work with other nonprofit organizations.

Goering cited Morris' "courage" in providing funds and backing for the ACLU's reform campaign to improve education for poor Baltimore children while she was at Blaustein.

Goering also pointed to the confidence of colleagues in Morris, ,, who was re-elected recently as president of the 64-member Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers.

Morris, 44, of Lutherville credits her late father, Arther, a small businessman, and her mother, Charlotte, a volunteer, with nudging her toward the less fortunate. Her traveling grandparents fed her curiosity about other cultures. She yearned to see what lay beyond Altoona.

After graduation from Smith College, where among other things she said she studied the travails of different peoples, she studied law at Boston and New York universities, slipping in a year of anthropology midway through at Princeton University.

Trip to India

After law school graduation, she took a 10-week trip to India, where she said she was deeply impressed by the dynamics of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim cultures living side by side, exhibiting their rich cultures and supporting community affairs.

Morris returned and was admitted to the bar but never practiced private law. She immediately began working as a legal adviser to the Bureau of Refugee Affairs in the U.S. Department of State.

She left the job after two years, partly from discomfort with the Haitian interdiction program of the early 1980s. She objected to the U.S. Coast Guard stopping boats on the high seas and returning refugees to Haiti after abbreviated hearings.

Morris worked for almost 10 years at the Ford Foundation, the first five years on refugee and migrant rights, the last years on rights of women, children, refugees and legal services.

She took frequent trips abroad, mainly to Africa and Europe. On a trip to the Mexican border, she heard a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) official, Peter Shiras, talk about his specialty, refugee camps in Central America. A few years later, she met him again in New York. He didn't remember her. She remembered him. A romance began. Marriage followed in 1987.

So did their reassignments to Africa with their respective agencies. She helped oversee Ford-funded programs in Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

Morris and her husband have two daughters -- Tess, 6, and Chloe, 4. She works four days a week because she wants to know her children and they, her, during their formative years. The family of four makes frequent visits to museums, the zoo, and other cultural opportunities in Baltimore.

One of her favorite authors is Jonathan Kozol for "his books aimed at improving children's lives and for inspiring others to follow suit." A role model is Susan Beresford, Ford Foundation president, for her "wonderful intellect, curiosity, organizational skills and desire to communicate well."

Morris and Shiras have remained veterans in nonprofit work.

They moved to Baltimore seven years ago when he was put in charge of all African programs for CRS, which is based here.

Shiras has become a vice president and director of public policy initiatives for the Washington-based Independent Sector, which promotes charities nationally.

Morris' job at the Blaustein group took her to Israel, where about $3 million from the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation was spent to support better relations between Arabs and Jews, religious pluralism among Jews and women's rights.

Another $5 million from the Blaustein Philanthropic Group was funneled through The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore to other projects in Israel.

Working together

She was among many Baltimore nonprofit organization leaders to greet institute officials who have visited here since fall to explore the idea of making a major social effort here.

"The thing snowballed," Morris said. "I was pleased when they sought me, and Soros hired me. I am very excited about this opportunity."

Finding useful, practical solutions to old problems is the challenge Soros has faced when directing his millions to solve social programs in Eastern Europe, Morris said. And it is the opportunity the institute faces here.

"Soros is an entrepreneur; he's interested in results," said Morris. "He's made a difference with his 24 national foundations and his two regional institutes, in Budapest and New York. He's willing to take risks on new approaches and learn from proven successes. He listens to staff.

"Above all, he wants local groups to make the decisions on programs, debate the pros and cons and find what works."

LaMarche, Morris' boss, said New York officials would collaborate with Morris to form a board of local people who would work with area groups to set priorities for improving opportunity in Baltimore.

By early next year, she said, the board of working directors will be chosen and will begin making the most important decisions -- how most of the $25 million will be spent in Baltimore.

Despite Soros' well-known, controversial interest in new treatments for drug abuse, Morris contended that it didn't follow that most of the $25 million announced for Baltimore would necessarily be spent on drug treatment.

"It is highly likely that some anti-drug programs and some economic development programs would be developed, and it's possible that there will be education programs," Morris said. The New York office of the institute has already said it will give $2 million to Baltimore for the city to provide appropriate care for drug addicts seeking medical attention.

Morris laid out a rough schedule for "The Open Society Institute-Baltimore" in the next half year.

After a Maine vacation this month with her family, she expects in September to set up an office in Baltimore. She will hire an assistant and an economic development officer, making a staff of three at the outset. She declined to disclose her salary.

Consultants may be hired for some studies. Small exploratory grants may be made. She will visit institute specialists in New York City headquarters, and they will visit here.

"I'll talk with many people here," she said. "We'll have a better idea early next year what's going to happen."

Institute grants

The Open Society Institute, through its New York office at 888 Seventh Ave., has already made grants to Baltimore projects. They include:

Matthew Loscalzo, director, Oncology Social Work, Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, $125,000;

Dr. Timothy J. Keay, Department of Family Medicine, Geriatric Division, University of Maryland, School of Medicine, $76,500;

House of Ruth, 2201 Argonne Drive, $62,273;

Greater Baltimore Committee, $60,000, for a "community court" to seek reform of offenders of misdemeanor crimes through treatment programs and community service;

Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD), 2521 N. Charles St., $25,000;

Light Street Housing Corp., 809 Light St., $13,500;

Nancy Hutton, The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Pediatric HIV / AIDS program, an amount to be awarded.

Pub Date: 8/10/97

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