Last week we tracked down Michael Davidson, the global recruitment lead for the Open Society Foundations (OSF), whilst on one of his increasingly frequent visits to Berlin. OSF is one of the world’s largest philanthropic organisations. Since its inception, its founder, George Soros, has invested over $32 Billion of his private wealth to fund their work in over 100 countries. As somebody who survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary, despite being part of a Jewish family, Soros’s main mission is to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people.
Normally Michael is based in New York, but for the last few weeks he has been a regular visitor to Berlin. Why? Because OSF has just moved its European hub office from Budapest to Berlin. Bad news for Budapest but great news for Berlin, which suddenly has a big new non-profit employer on the scene - and one which is looking for both German and English-speaking employees. And, as we found out, it is an organisation that is working very, very hard to nurture a diverse workforce, so things are definitely looking up for everybody.
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Michael, tell us about the move from Budapest to Berlin.
We are super excited to be here! Budapest is a wonderful city, with wonderful people, but the repressive political context made it impossible for us to stay. We have to put the safety of our staff and grantees as our top priority and as soon as it became clear that their safety was at risk, we took the difficult decision to move. Berlin was an obvious alternative, it is an open, diverse city in the center of Europe. Berlin is also a hub for Germany’s non-profit and philanthropic scene and attracts a lot of great talent from all over the world. In fact some of our staff in other countries are already starting to enquire as to whether they can move here too!
We had around 100 people working in Budapest. 80 of them are now based here - we have temporary space at WeWork in Potsdamer Platz. We aim to grow the team here. By the end of 2019 we expect to have around 150 people based out of Berlin so it will be a steep growth curve.
So you will be busy recruiting. What roles will you be filling?
We are a grantmaking organisation so most of the roles are for grantmakers and in administration. Grantmakers make up the bulk of our staff - these are people who need to have substantive expertise in one of our speciality areas, such as public health, women’s rights or Roma. Our work with Roma community is a feature of our grant-making and advocacy legacy in Europe. When looking to recruit grantmakers we also like to look for people who have lived experience, so if we take the example of Roma, we would seek to recruit people from this community if possible. Same, for example, with our work with LBGT grantees.
Learn more about OSF's work here.
In fact diversity is one of our key priorities in terms of our recruiting strategy and training. We work really hard to make sure that we have women equally represented across all levels. Recently we have been doing a lot of work with organisations working with disabled people to ensure that we are an inclusive and accessible employer. In London we recently did a great internship scheme with the Leonard Cheshire Disability Trust. When it comes to creating a truly diverse organisation you first need to create the inclusive environment and then recruit accordingly, not the other way around.
All staff across our offices get training in recognising and mitigating for bias in recruiting. I recently did a week long workshop on this with our team in Dakar. Diversity is something that we take extremely seriously. I will be looking for partner organisations in Germany that can help me find diverse candidates beyond the typical applicants that often make up the bulk of non-profit organisations. In Germany, one group that we would particularly like to recruit from are the refugees living here.
What else will you be looking for when recruiting for the new roles?
Currently we have very few Germans on the team, so we will want to redress that and ensure that we recruit people with local knowledge and understanding. English is our working language, however. Generally we look for people who have a background in non-profits i.e. those who have been dependent on funders, so that we can mitigate the power dynamics involved in funding. It is important, as a funder, to understand what it is like to be on the other side. For certain roles experience in the corporate sector will also be important.
What makes OSF different to other non-profit organisations?
We are very lucky to be a very well funded organisation. This means that we can take a very long term view on things and work on issues that others cannot. We can also be experimental and take risks in a way that other organisations cannot afford to do. So we will often fund several competing approaches towards the same issue - some might call this A/B testing. That means that we have a very broad portfolio of grantees - from large organisations like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch right down to very small grassroots organisations in communities around the world.
We are a truly global organisation, and we strongly believe in collaboration and work hard to encourage knowledge-sharing. So the opportunity for travel, and generally interacting with staff and grantees from around the world on a daily basis is something that a lot of our staff are excited about. I spend around 6 months of the year on the road. From Berlin to Dakar.
As a large organisation that values excellence, we want to provide a working environment that is conducive to bringing out the best in people. For us that means being flexible, allowing for personal time and a healthy work-life balance, and building a meaningful workplace community. We provide the space and time for our staff to come together on a regular basis - whether that is for a 5K run or a cooking class. Let’s just say, we are definitely not a 9 to 5 clock-watching kind of organisation.
After 5 years of service, every member of staff gets the opportunity to apply for a 4 month paid sabbatical, during which they work on a project, which they themselves have designed and that is in line with the goals of the organisation. And every year 15 members of staff get to spend 2 weeks or so with a grantee to go and learn “on the ground” about the real needs of the people with whom they work. Last year one of my own team applied for this opportunity, I helped her with the application, and she got it! She was able to travel to Colombia which was a once in a lifetime opportunity. That was a really special moment for me too, as her manager.
Interested in joining Open Society Foundations in Berlin? Check out their recruitment pages here. And keep track of the tbd* jobs board and jobs newsletter, where all their up-coming jobs will be featured.
This article is part of an ongoing series presented in collaboration with the Open Society Foundations. In this series, we shed light on some of the most pressing global challenges and the work that is being done to address them. For more stories like this, go here.