Established in 2000, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) was the third Foundation in Africa founded by the investor and philanthropist George Soros, who in 1993, created the Open Society Institute (OSI) as a private operating and grant-making Foundation. It was formed after the Open Society Foundation for South Africa founded in Cape Town in 1993, and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa set up at Johannesburg in 1998. Subsequently, the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA) was launched in 2005.
Since inauguration in late 2000, OSIWA has supported and advocated for the promotion of open society values in West Africa. OSIWA’s goal is to promote open societies in West Africa, societies where democracy, good governance, the rule of law, basic freedoms, and widespread civic participation prevail. OSIWA has supported programme work to achieve this mission in 18 countries, comprising the fifteen members of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), and three additional countries (Cameroon, Chad and Mauritania).
OSIWA’s work initially focused on providing grant support and implementing internally generated initiatives through partners and then began to shift to include pro-active advocacy for policy reform. OSIWA’s niche has been building capacity and creating space for participation by West African civil society and government institutions through support to catalytic and innovative initiatives as well as advocating for the core ideals of open society.
In the past, OSIWA’s programs have operated around four thematic pillars, which are Governance; Law, Justice and Human Rights; Health and Development; and Information Technology, Communication & Media. The foundation has also developed special initiatives to address emerging issues outside of these core areas, and to support other cross cutting issues that may need a global strategic response. The core of OSIWA’s interventions has been built around promoting, strengthening and working towards ensuring credibility in the governance process by promoting transparency and accountability. The Foundation, therefore, pursues efforts to identify avenues for building the capacity of both public institutions and civil society to ensure good governance. OSIWA’s intervention strategies are at three levels: sub-regional based initiatives built around the ECOWAS to cover the countries under its mandate, working mainly at the policy level; using multi-country interventions that cover initiatives across a number of countries, with emphasis on the need to share experiences and address issues of various levels of similarities; initiatives that are supported within a single country or local council, and generally meant to serve as pilot cases for duplication in other countries and local communities, within and outside the area. The sub-regional and multi-country foci have given OSIWA the leverage to widen its program reach to all the countries in the sub-region.
OSIWA has now transitioned to an ‘Outcome’ approach. This was as a result of a long process of reorganization, involving its partners and abroad range of stakeholders, to reposition the foundation, improve programming and its impact. At present, its interventions include the following: strengthened democratic institutions, processes and structures; reduced levels of impunity; enhanced citizenship and public participation in decision-making; enhanced protection of groups exposed to discrimination; and improved equity and transparency in the management of resources. Its geographic focus is now in nine countries in West Africa, namely, Benin - Côte d'Ivoire - Ghana - Guinea - Liberia - Niger - Nigeria - Senegal - Sierra Leone.