The Open Society Foundations announced today that Christopher Stone, a Harvard professor and criminal-justice expert, has been chosen to lead the global network of philanthropies started by hedge-fund billionaire George Soros.
Mr. Stone, 55, will take over in July. He succeeds Aryeh Neier, who is retiring after 18 years as the foundation’s president.
Mr. Stone teaches at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and directs the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations. His research focuses on countries that are trying to make significant changes to their criminal-justice systems.
From 1994 to 2004, Mr. Stone was director of the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that seeks to improve justice systems in the United States and abroad. A graduate of Yale’s law school, he is the founder of the nonprofit Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, in New York.
Mr. Stone has served on the board of the Open Society Justice Initiative since 2004. It was at a board meeting that he first learned of Mr. Neier’s plans to retire.
Mr. Stone approached Mr. Neier after the meeting and said that, while he’d turned down past offers to lead foundations and big nonprofits, the top job at Open Society Foundations was one he wouldn’t pass up if given the opportunity.
“It’s the most interesting large global philanthropy today,” Mr. Stone said in an interview. He said the philanthropy’s structure, which draws on the knowledge of people in countries where it works, combined with Mr. Soros’s “courage” and willingness to admit mistakes makes Open Society a “particularly exciting and potentially really powerful place to work.”
With Mr. Soros, Mr. Stone will be exploring ways to unify the foundation’s staff and strategies. The sprawling philanthropy network has more than 40 offices and independent foundations worldwide. It gave out nearly $1-billion last year alone.
He plans to spend the next six months meeting with grantees and soliciting feedback.
Mr. Stone says he also hopes to play an active role in the world of professional philanthropy. He says that some of his best advice as a young nonprofit leader came from Margaret Mahoney, then-president of the Commonwealth Fund, and he has also turned to foundation leaders Michael Bailin, Susan Berresford, Jonathan Fanton, and Bradford Smith for advice.
In his new job, of course, Mr. Soros will be the biggest sounding board.
“The first leadership transition in any large organization is simultaneously unsettling and also a great opportunity,” says Mr. Stone. “George Soros is very eager to take advantage of that opportunity and it will be a great challenge, but an exciting one, to work with him on it.”
Read more: See what Mr. Soros told The Chronicle about how he is planning to shape the next generation of his giving.