Younger Soros Tries to Learn From Father’s Giving

Though he’s following the philanthropic path established by his family, Alexander G. Soros is looking to take risks to support unpopular causes.

Mr. Soros, 25 years old, is a full-time student pursuing a Ph.D. in history at University of California, Berkeley. He says his knowledge of and interest in philanthropy was honed over the dinner table in conversations with his father, billionaire hedge-fund manager and philanthropist George Soros.

Philanthropy, jokes Mr. Soros, is “in many respects, more the family business than the actual family business, which I think is a good thing.” Mr. Soros believes that if you have the ability to give back, it’s a duty as well as a luxury. “At least that’s the way I was raised by my parents,” he says.

Organizations that support the concepts of an open society, justice and minority rights are dear to the younger Mr. Soros. He says that’s he’s not interested in the “sexy” philanthropic areas of health or technology.

“Those are non-controversial things that a lot of people will do,” he says, adding that charities that “err on the side of more risky are definitely appealing.”

Mr. Soros recently made his first major philanthropic contribution with a gift of $250,000 to Jewish Funds for Justice, a New York-based social and economic justice organization. Mr. Soros is a member of the organization’s board.

The decision to support the organization is, in part, personal. “I identify very strongly as being Jewish, but my Jewish identity is wrapped up in universal values of social justice,” says Mr. Soros. “What’s good about Jewish Funds for Justice is that it sees as its role as a Jewish organization the strength of American society as a whole.”

As he begins to chart his philanthropic path, Mr. Soros is signing up for various causes and learning along the way. In addition to becoming involved with his father’s Open Society Foundations, Mr. Soros has joined the board of Global Witness, a London-based organization that focuses on corruption involving natural resources.

He also recently hosted a party in support of Seeds of Africa, an education organization for children in Ethiopia. Beyond that, he says he supports culture and educational causes.

Still, Mr. Soros is choosing to put his time and giving toward progressive causes that might not have widespread support.

“Who’s going to do the unpopular stuff like dealing with issues of drugs and prisons,” says Mr. Soros. “I’m much more interested in doing things that are more experimental and controversial because I think they could have the greatest impact. My dad’s view was always instead of building a hospital in a war-ravaged area, why not try and make peace or solve the actual problem.”