Shattering the ivory ceiling

Marc Rich Foundation foundation's managing director in Israel, Avner Azulay, explains the philosophy of 'investing in' rather than 'giving'.

July 22, 2009 22:25
Shattering the ivory ceiling

Marc Rich Foundation winners 248.88. (photo credit: Dani Machlis/BGU)

Closely connected with all of Israel's universities, the Marc Rich Foundation for Education, Culture and Welfare enjoys a special long-term relationship with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where it launched - and still continues - some of its most significant projects. Last month the foundation made history with the launch of the Women's Forum, an idea conceived by the university's president, Prof. Rivka Carmi, to provide support for women in academia to be used for research, scientific conferences and equipment. "This was the first forum of its type and the model has spread to all other Israeli universities," says Avner Azulay, the foundation's managing director and member of the university's Board of Governors. "This program is breaking the glass ceiling." Under the auspices of the forum, 15 grants to promising young women researchers were made and another six to more established faculty members to advance their position for "contributing to the advancement of the status of women researchers in academia." At the ceremony launching the fund, Carmi, who made history herself when she became the country's first female university president, noted that "this is recognition of the special circumstances and needs of women researchers in the early years of their career before they receive tenure, therein providing BGU with the tools to develop this essential population. "The percentage of women studying for undergraduate and graduate degrees is equal at universities worldwide," she continued. "However, the percentage of women members of the academic faculty is much lower than that of men. At the entrance level, 30 percent of the faculty are women. This gradually drops to about 10% at the rank of full professor." Carmi thanked the Rich Foundation for taking up this important challenge. "The foundation was at the forefront of the movement to bring Israeli researchers 'home' with the creation of the very successful Rich Initiative for Excellence in the Negev and is now taking the initiative to improve the status of women in academia," she said. ACCORDING TO Azulay, the Marc Rich Foundation operates according to a philosophy of "investing in," rather than gift-giving to, worthy projects and causes. He explains that the fund was among the first, if not the first philanthropic organization in Israel to grant support for the development of a reasonable long-term business plan. In keeping with this perspective, it requests additional funding sources by applicants and requires that NGOs be run by professionals. Not speaking in terms of gifts, giveaways or donations, the foundation describes investments like any other business venture. "Over the years, the foundation has evolved into a more focused, professional philanthropy, based on concrete issues in its areas of concentration. We invest the bulk of our funds in human resources to promote excellence, creativity and social mobility," says Azulay. "This has proven the most efficient way to achieve our goals." For more than two decades, the foundation has sought to promote educational and cultural activities internationally and improve the lives of the disadvantaged. Since its inception, it has allocated more than $135 million to approximately 4,000 projects and individuals engaged in nonprofit work throughout the world. In the sphere of higher education, the foundation usually narrows its investment to long-term, multiyear programs such as PhD fellowships and other scholarship programs in areas of education, science and social welfare, disciplines which other philanthropies do not commonly support. Also, the foundation holds that the best thing a philanthropic organization can do is to pick up the slack: to give to those areas in which the government won't contribute. The MA in public administration program is a major foundation-initiated and financed project that pioneered at BGU. Started in 1995, the initial course was based on a program at Harvard University. There, 10 to 20 mid-career senior civil servants attend yearly and then return to their jobs. The BGU model is similar, but with modifications, as it is intended for people who are at the beginning of their careers in civil service, not mid-career. It also mandated that these classes be comprised of a large percentage of women and minority students. The BGU public administration course took off, and the foundation has since repeated it in every Israeli university, but with a twist. At Tel Aviv University, the course, which continued for two classes, covered management of cultural institutions and art administration. Regarding diversity of students, the same rules applied. At the University of Haifa, the Rich Foundation applied the BGU paradigm to an MA program in public administration and regional management. Most students were from the North and were divided evenly between Jewish and Arab mayors and heads of regional councils. Two classes graduated. ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL offshoot of the Rich Foundation-BGU union is the executive MA program, which has been running for 10 years now. Those in the program are required to invest a day and a half of classroom time per week. "We take people only from the periphery, from northern or southern Israel," says Azulay, "And we make sure that all different types of people are represented: at least 50% must be women, and students from different ethnic and religious backgrounds must be included as well." The foundation also gives scholarships to individuals who study nonprofit management or administration. "We can't spend on every individual. If we reach managers of NGOs and social services, we enhance the level of manpower, which in turn improves the quality of life. Resources are better allocated this way," says Azulay, adding that this program has been so successful it is has been "cloned" in every Israeli college. Good management is the common thread joining these programs. "We cannot reach every individual who needs support, but can upgrade the level of those who manage educational, cultural and social welfare programs," says Azulay. "This way, all the target populations benefit." The investments of the Rich Foundation are not always apparent to the eye. For generally they lie not in buildings or equipment, but in human beings. For example, to reverse the country's brain drain, the foundation started a program of repatriation for scientists. The program now runs at BGU and other universities. Through it, the foundation funds six - from among 10 times as many applicants - scientists who want to return after working abroad for 10 years or more. For Avner Azulay, working with BGU is a refreshing experience. "When you invest in the southern region of the country, you feel you are pioneering and are serving the most diverse population."

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