Blair looks to grassroots groups to move Israel forward

Tony Blair believes that non-profit organizations can deliver services faster and more efficiently than the bureaucratic institutions of government.

blair smiles 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
blair smiles 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
"The best ideas and the most creative solutions are not from the civil service but from people influenced and motivated by what they see happening around them," said Tony Blair, Britain's former prime minister, in Beit Yehoshua on Wednesday, addressing the Sheatufim Conference on Philanthropy and Civil Society in Israel. Recognizing the ever-growing significance of the non-profit world in the development of society and the economy, Blair, while prime minister, introduced a new office to the cabinet in May 2006 when he announced the appointment of Ed Millband as Minister for the Third Sector. Since then, Blair has immersed himself in Third Sector activities, believing that non-profit organizations, unhampered by the constrictions of government, can deliver services more creatively, faster and more efficiently than the bureaucratic institutions of government. When he attended the 60th anniversary celebrations of the State of Israel on Mount Herzl, he said, he was struck by how society and the country in general were hugely influenced by the institutions of government, but more so by civic initiatives. "As Prime Minister I understood the vital importance of the third sector," he said, adding that in a sense he embodies what Sheatufim - Partnership - stands for in terms of the relationship between government, the business community and the third sector. As the representative of the Quartet, he has a quasi governmental position. He has started two foundations: one for disadvantaged children to give them access to basic sport and the other for religious interfaith dialogue. He's also run one or two businesses, so he was in an ideal position, he observed, to understand the interaction between the three sectors. Blair paid tribute to businessman Ronny Douek, who is the chairman of Sheatufim and who heads a number of other organizations dedicated to civic responsibility and social welfare. Blair said that the concept of social enterprise was personified by Douek, "who has gone from being a business entrepreneur to being a social entrepreneur." Although there are many things that are done in a much better way by the voluntary sector than the government could ever do, the third sector should not be a substitute for what the government properly has to do, insisted Blair. "It is important that the government should not shuffle off its responsibilities to the third sector." One of the things that Sheatufim is trying to overcome said Shlomo Dushi, the managing director of Sheatufim is the preponderance of duplication. "There is too much duplication and not enough cooperation," he said. Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, in praising the work of Sheatufim, said that this impressive, positive partnership will bring to Israel something that has been lacking for a long time. There had been debates about the third sector and its relationship to the government, he said, but until the creation of Sheatufim, there had been no proper platform with regulations and limitations.