At the end of the '80s, when Soviet communism collapsed, many of us argued that no task was more important than helping rebuild the societies left in its dust. Rebuilding has come a long way, but it's still early. The urgency remains.
Financier and philanthropist George Soros recognizes this, perhaps more clearly than most. Born in Hungary, a naturalized American, Soros has deep personal roots in the region.
His latest provision of aid for Russia - up to $500 million over the next three years - solidifies a commitment he has sustained for nearly two decades. Over the past three years alone, he spent some $260 million in Russia. In 1980, he was funding scholarships for the Eastern European dissidents shaking Stalinist society.
The areas of Russian life newly targeted by Soros are health care, education, and the retraining of military personnel. Millions will go to clean up Russia's pestilential prisons. Law schools will get new libraries. And helping thousands of former officers and soldiers find new work could defuse a social time bomb.
Soros's philanthropy is not without controversy. Some question his motives, since he's also a leading investor in privatized Russian businesses. In the US, he has drawn criticism for backing an overhaul of drug laws, including legalization.
But the importance of Soros's work in Russia defies criticism. He's filling in for the relative paucity of official aid from the US and others. It's an example few (Ted Turner excepted) could follow in quantity. But the quality of this philanthropy can inspire us all.