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Eastern Adventure

by Frances Pinter

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Frances Pinter with George Soros
George Soros with Frances Pinter


In the nineties, the Soros Foundation – Open Society Institute (now Open Society Foundations) – devoted half a billion dollars a year to the development of open societies and democracies around the world.
Alexander Yakovlev (left) advisor to Gorbachov and lead architect of the concepts glasnost and perestroika. Anatoly Yakovlev (right) first editor of Krugesvet, the first truly universal encyclopedia to come out of post-communist Russia online.

In the early 1990s George Soros invited me to set up and launch the Central European University Press. In addition I was asked to run a grant programme enabling post-communist countries to translate western classics in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

The Centre for Publishing Development at the Open Society Institute grew out of these early projects in the mid nineties in order to help transition countries develop their independent private publishing sectors.

A selection of projects:

  • Produced the initial business model and then launched EIFL – the world’s largest consortium of libraries – that was the first to deliver online a suite of journals (now totalling over 30,000) to transition and developing countries at affordable prices. Now an independent foundation Took on the role of Acting CEO for six months in 2002.
  • Founded the Translation Project; funding through a competitive tendering process, translations were published in partnership with hundreds of publishers in C&E Europe and the CIS, producing thousands of titles.
  • Through a variety of small grant schemes worked towards fostering the development of publishing in ‘small countries’ - increasing the viability of indigenous publishing.
  • Brought together booksellers of the former Yugoslavia and supported key businesses during and after the wars.
  • Established an Electronic Publishing Development Programme in 1996. Assisted with digitisation of content in support of education. This programme worked closely with the European Commission and ultimately unlocked over $100m to the benefit of joint East-West projects.
  • Founded the leading online encyclopedia in the Russian language.
  • Contributed to the establishment of the Pushkin Project, which effectively acts as a library supplier within Russia and the CIS, serving the needs of 5,500 libraries after the state distribution system had collapsed.
  • Ran training courses serving all thirty transition countries for publishers and booksellers in the areas of management, finance and marketing.
  • Established trade associations in countries such as Georgia and Mongolia.
  • Worked with The World Bank on numerous textbook projects.
  • Chaired the Hungarian Publishing Loan Program; training both publishers and banks to handle small loans and made low interest loans available.
  • Provided advisors to numerous countries on issues concerning publishing legislation.
  • Organised a multi-donor project for the reprinting of textbooks for schools just after the war in Kosovo.
  • Established an online database with comprehensive comparative information on publishing laws from 30 transition countries.
  • Enabled new ISBN agencies to be created in the new CIS countries, an absolute pre-requisite to join the international community of publishing.
  • Promoted the establishment of ‘Books in Print’ facilities in numerous countries, thus contributing to creating better purchasing tools within the book trade.
  • Helped set up new publishing training centers throughout the post-communist region.


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The Pushkin Project
A $50 million project providing Russian books to 5,000 Russian and 500 CIS libraries on a cost-sharing basis. 

Through this pioneering project book title information provision was automated and librarians were trained in fund-raising. 

A distribution chain was established across the former Soviet Republic at a time when the old networks had broken down.


"Frances Pinter developed a strong staff to which she provided outstanding leadership. She also oversaw the expenditure of a substantial budget with great care to ensure that our funds went as far as possible.

Above all, we prized her keen understanding of the way to use the publishing program she directed to advance the mission of our network of foundations.

As a consequence her work was greatly esteemed by my colleagues on the Board and staff of the Open Society Institute."

Aryeh Neier
Open Society Institute