Kenyan Binaifer Nowrojee named president of Open Society

A Kenyan has been named president of the Sh3.48 trillion ($25 billion) Open Society Foundations, the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice.

Ms Binaifer Nowrojee, who was announced on Monday, will take over from Briton Mark Malloch-Brown, who is stepping down in June this year.

Ms Nowrojee, who is the daughter of Senior Counsel Pheroze Nowrojee, is credited with playing a pivotal role in orchestrating a significant strategic and structural realignment of Open Society to enhance its capacity to effect change in a rapidly evolving global landscape.

“With more than three decades of experience, Ms Nowrojee navigates politically sensitive environments to drive meaningful change,” said the statement released on Monday.

She previously held key positions at the Open Society Foundations, including vice president for programs on the executive leadership team, director of the East Africa Foundation, regional director for Asia Pacific, and vice president for organisational transformation.

She has played a central role in orchestrating a significant strategic and structural realignment of Open Society, enhancing its capacity to effect change in a rapidly evolving global landscape.

Ms Nowrojee holds a JD from Columbia Law School and an LLM from Harvard Law School, underscoring her strong academic foundation and expertise in international law and human rights.

With her wealth of experience and unwavering commitment, she is well equipped to lead the Open Society Foundations into a new era of impactful and transformative change,” the statement said.

“Her strategic leadership spans national, regional and international levels and includes policy research, campaigning, grantmaking, litigation and investment,” it added.

She brings deep expertise in Africa and Asia, where she has led advocacy initiatives to promote social justice and equality.

Prior to joining the foundation, which works in more than 120 countries around the world, Ms Nowrojee was legal counsel at Human Rights Watch and a staff attorney at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

She has worked extensively on the prosecution of sexual violence under international law and testified as an expert witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Her commitment to advancing justice also extends to academia, where she has served as a lecturer at Harvard Law School and has been awarded a Carr Center Fellowship.

In her acceptance speech, she expressed her gratitude for being considered for the top job.

“I am Kenyan, of Indian origin, and have lived and worked in Kenya, Tanzania, Singapore, the UK and the US,” she said, adding that much of her professional life has focused on pushing international tribunals to deliver justice to victims of sexual violence in conflict.

She said she was honoured to be appointed as the next President of this remarkable organisation. “I have learned so much under Mark’s leadership, and I want to express my deep appreciation to him for leading our network through this challenging period,” she said.

“I accepted this position because I know that at its best, Open Society is an inspiring place to work,” Ms Nowrojee added.

She noted that the philanthropic organisation has been privileged to support extraordinary leaders and organisations around the world who are speaking out against injustice, challenging discriminatory norms, disrupting unjust systems and making the world a better place.

Ms Nowrojee pledged to remain committed to the values of an open society and to follow founder and billionaire George Soro’s vision of critical thinking, local knowledge and risk-taking.

“I was fortunate enough to accompany George and Tamiko Soros on their travels and then to support Alex on many of his travels through Asia, including to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.

“I share these details to give you an insight into the fabric I am cut from. It is a fabric woven with the threads of commitment, integrity and a deep-seated belief in the transformative power of our work,” she said.

Even as we support each other to restore the health and vitality of the organisation,” she said, “it is time for us to redouble our commitment to the important work we are here to do.

She joined the organisation in 2004 after a decade at Human Rights Watch, where she focused on rights on the African continent, women’s rights, and refugee rights.

The leadership change comes after years of layoffs as the organisation transitions to a new operating model.

“My appointment comes after you and our partners have seen a lot of change. We have endured a prolonged period of disruption, and this has not come without pain and loss, as many of you have said goodbye to colleagues and ended relationships with long-time grantees,” she said.

“I invite you to join me in working towards our shared vision of a more just and compassionate world,” she added.


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