Charity to change the shape of the world: Gail Counsell examines the generosity of a politically motivated market shaker

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AS the personal wealth of George Soros has burgeoned, so have his philanthropic interests. Over the past 13 years he has given around dollars 100m to a range of causes; this year and next he is pledged to fork out a further dollars 250m. Work increasingly takes a back seat; he now spends barely 10 per cent of the year at his fund manager's desk. Much of his time is instead spent in Eastern Europe, preaching the gospel of free market democracy.

His chief headline-grabbing gift came last December, with the donation of dollars 50m to humanitarian relief in Bosnia, though his later decision to suspend the unallocated portion of the money - in view of the international community's failure to tackle the Bosnian problem - received rather less publicity.

At the time he said: 'What is going on in Bosnia today is genocide. I feel it particularly strongly because as a Hungarian Jew, I was myself a potential victim of the holocaust. My heart goes out to the people who are being raped, pillaged and murdered just because they are Moslems. I am privileged in having more money than most. I am doing what I can and everybody else should do something.'

Yet Bosnia is atypical of the type of cause he usually supports. Most of his activities are politically orientated. He seems driven by a desire to influence the global course of events, rather than just a desire to alleviate suffering.

Bill McAllister, responsible for masterminding his Eastern European foundations, has said: 'George isn't about charity. He's about creating the political structures that will make possible a more effective way of people organising themselves. But if you ask for money for the starving, he'd say no.'

Much more characteristic was his decision to donate dollars 100m to the support of Soviet science. The money will be directed at keeping Russian scientists busy - a move aimed simultaneously at preventing the loss of a unique resource and deterring the provision of cheap research for the war machines of Libya and Iraq.

But the East was always central to his interests, and the collapse of the Soviet bloc has given him the opportunity to exercise influence on a grand scale. Since 1984, Soros has ploughed more than dollars 100m into a network of 18 foundations spanning central and eastern Europe. Their aim is to assist emerging democracies with the restructuring and running of their economies and their political and educational systems. 'Well-used, your dollar can go a lot further in the East,' he has observed.