Debate Programs Get $20 Million Boost on Campuses Worldwide

NEW YORK— As part of an ongoing effort to engage young people in policy issues critical to their future, the Open Society Foundations today announced $20 million in funding to strengthen debate programs around the world.

"Debate helps students develop critical thinking and public speaking skills and challenges them to consider global issues from a perspective other than their own,” said Noel Selegzi, director of the Youth Initiative at the Open Society Foundations, which houses the new Global Debates program.

“Debate is a key component to an open society and encourages new ideas, reasoned arguments, and open minds.”

The Foundations decided to launch Global Debates around the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks to help ensure that young people are taught the skills necessary to debate the public policy issues of our day. An unforeseen consequence of the U.S. “war on terror” was the stifling of public discussion and the free flow of information.

“Today’s undergraduates are the first to come of age in a post 9/11 world. Students around the world have few if any recollections of a time before the ‘war on terror,’” said Selegzi.  “Debate helps us recognize that public policy is best developed when the force of an argument, and not the argument of force, is most potent.”

 The Open Society Foundations will provide up to three years of funding to colleges, universities, and other educational institutions to integrate debate across disciplines. The International Debate Education Association will implement the programs and help the Open Society Foundations identify and provide support to grantees. 

Global Debates continues the Open Society Foundations’ long-standing commitment to providing young people with access to quality higher education. Grants will be available for institutions that have either very small debate programs or none at all. Grants will also be made to institutions seeking to promote public debates within the broader communities that they serve and to increase the capacity of young people from marginalized communities to engage in debates concerning controversial issues affecting their lives.  

Funding will also support the creation of educational materials; an online debate mentorship program; international debate tournaments and competitions; a Global Debate and Public Policy Challenge, which will bring together the world's best university debaters, policy makers, and academics to address an issue of global concern; and a series of Open Society Debates around the world that will address issues of global concern. 

Since 1993, the Open Society Foundations have worked to ensure that young people have opportunities to develop the ability to engage in open and informed debates on critical global issues of our time, including climate change, nuclear proliferation, and genocide.  

View a list of all grant opportunities from the Youth Initiative.

For questions regarding Global Debates grant applications, please contact Maryanne Olson at [email protected].


Active in more than 70 countries, the Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.