Investing in Israel: Ahuva Yanai

Matan was one of the first organizations in Israel to discuss effective community investment and propose that business corporations need to engage in the community.

Ahuva Yanai, CEO of Matan-Investing In The Community  (photo credit: UNITED WAY ISRAEL)
Ahuva Yanai, CEO of Matan-Investing In The Community
(photo credit: UNITED WAY ISRAEL)
Ahuva Yanai is CEO of Matan–Investing In The Community (United Way Israel), leading the philanthropy and corporate responsibility areas in Israel for the last 20 years.
Matan was founded in 1997 as part of United Way International by Shari Arison, the head of the Ted Arison Family Foundation.
What can you say about 20 years of philanthropy in Israel? How do you see the transition from a financial investment/donation to a practical, effective contribution?
Matan was one of the first organizations in Israel to discuss effective community investment and propose that business corporations need to engage in the community. The beginning was far from simple, since both the businesses, as well as many of the private donors, have not yet understood the concept which today is common knowledge: the transition from social contribution to social responsibility.
Indeed, one of the goals we set for ourselves was to change misconceptions and work methods of the investors in the community, regardless of the sector. The field has grown significantly since then, as evident from the different terminology used today but which continues to evolve, to corporate investments that are made based on a broader perspective and through engagement with stakeholders. To date, we invested over 650 million shekels (about 184 million dollars) in the community and over 280,000 voluntary hours of employees and executives.
Early on, we established effective community investment as the basis for each activity and investment, harnessing as many stakeholders as possible to realize the social goals. Over the years, we have expanded our toolbox and created a broad knowledge base with the professional experience we have accumulated and the unrelenting quest for innovation and learning in this area, both in Israel and abroad.
Our extensive ties with international organizations are very instrumental in this respect. The main transformation that has taken place is the desire expressed by all community investors – corporate and individuals alike – to play an active role from decision-making to reporting and control.
One transformation yet to be completed is to regard community investment as a full-fledged profession. It is not yet accepted and clear in Israel that know-how, development, and measurement and assessment of social impact form an integral part that complements the emotional commitment, the mutual accountability and the social responsibility of us all. This challenge still needs to be overcome.
What changes have taken place in the social sector? Are the roles of social organizations changing, are their effects increasing, and what is the importance of civil society in Israel?
Democratic nations attach great importance to civil society. The role of the social organizations is to act as the voice of those who are absent from the public discourse, influence the priorities, and provide services that go beyond the solutions offered by the government. There is a very broad span of roles between advocacy and social responses. Often, the two need to be combined.
Israel’s civil society has changed profoundly over the past 15 years. While social organizations have been active even before the establishment of the State of Israel and deserve credit for numerous achievements, in recent years we see an acknowledgment by the civil society of its power to transform. We have learned to leverage agility and creativity in creating a social response and advancing social agendas, which are free of bureaucracy and cumbersome hierarchies.
In addition, the “Y” Generation is breathing new, fresh momentum to the social sphere. Young people who regard social activism as a means for self-realization are introducing novel ideas via innovative social initiatives. The social organizations too have realized that they have to excel in management and grow alongside the changing reality: to strike a balance between philanthropic funds, which are vital for the survival of the social organizations, while at the same time create independent sources for revenues, and build partnerships to charge forward with the social cause.
The new programs being developed need to be aligned with the times. The common denominator we see between the directors-general of social organizations we train, both old and new, experienced or novice, is the desire to learn, develop, and become leaders. Social activism is always a long road to take.
Is there a change in the investment in the community of businesses in Israel? What kind of projects do you offer businesses so they can feel how their investment is asking an impact?
As in the rest of the Western world, Israeli companies too have undergone a process. Today, corporate responsibility is discussed by most corporations as part of their commitment. They consider how the company could start a change in the community, bring in all the stakeholders, and review the community investment on an ongoing basis.
Like any process, this process too requires a change of stances, especially on the managerial levels. An analysis of corporate social investment shows that public companies are still far from the US average of 1% of the pre-tax earnings. Nonetheless, the rate has gone up from 1/5% to 1/3% over the past year alone. We are on an ascending course.
We work with dozens of business companies every year. In fact, we serve as a one-stop shop for every social investment. We offer a rich toolbox that lets the company realize its goals while making optimal use of the resources at its disposal from planning, through the definition of goals and metrics, to execution that achieves social impact.
The strategy and the connection with the community are custom-tailored for each business. For example, Israel Chemicals (ICL) has many Bedouin employees, since its factories are in the Negev. Together with them, we drafted a multi-annual program for protecting Bedouin children near the home to change the sad statistics of child deaths.
In addition to ICL, we mobilized BETEREM and Ajeec to the project and involved major community institutions to ensure success. We mobilized the First International Bank to support women-owned business in all sectors across Israel, with an emphasis on the geographic and economic periphery. We launched a collaboration between the Bank’s volunteers, managers, and community organizations to advance this important project. All projects are measured and assessed to ensure the social impact is clear and adapted as we go, if necessary. Today, we have the means to ensure that the business-community bond has the power to bring about change in social issues that are central to Israeli society.
What do you offer to private donors and foundations?
We provide individual donors and funds a professional infrastructure that allows the transformation of any philanthropic dream into a reality that generates change. We believe every philanthropic dream is possible, and every qualitative investment in the community is feasible.
Being a special fund of funds, we have developed an infrastructure for community investing early on, with strict standards and structured processes for need-mapping, due diligence, control, and assessment. We promise professional management to every donor or fund to ensure they collect a “social return.” We promise an added value to the donors and the community.
In order to achieve these goals, we walk the private donors from ideation through initiation and execution all the way to partnering with successful projects and combining all the possibilities to attain the goal. The large body of knowledge accumulated at Matan from hundreds of projects carried out throughout Israel provides us with a birds-eye view on every theme, and in-depth understanding, which we put at the disposal of the donors and the funds.
Tell me about the development of Israeli philanthropy from the start till now, and what to do you think has to be done that in a few years we can conclude that there has been a positive development in the investment process in the Israeli community?
Israeli philanthropy is amidst transformation. This transformation is evident in all sectors, within the donors and in the social organizations. Whereas individual and corporate philanthropists would have previously answered our requests with “we pay taxes, and it is the State’s responsibility to look after its citizens,” today we engage in a conversation on the tension between the role of the government and the role of society that cares for its members.
This discussion is at the heart of democracy. It allows many diversified voices to be heard and attempt to influence. Better than ever before, we understand today that we must influence the priorities of the government and the public agenda. We understand that philanthropy has special benefits: the decision-making process of the philanthropist is different. It is not required to comply with bureaucracy and is more flexible, creative, and innovative.
Philanthropy is also quicker to act. While a large part of Israeli philanthropy is involved in areas to which the government is responsible, its success is measured by the added value it succeeds in creating, the new solutions it implements, and the better service it provides. Social organizations are committed to excellence, and professional and innovative management practices. Philanthropic funds are critical for social organizations, which cannot exist without them.
Today, however, philanthropic funds are often used in new ways, trying to leverage what they already have and adopting new perspectives on “older” social issues so as to achieve the broadest social impact possible, preferably by bringing as many partners as possible to the “table of social investment.”
Two aspects will round up the major transformation that Israeli society is undergoing in its attitude to philanthropy. The first is that each one will regard it as their duty to invest a fair proportion of what they have in the community. The other is the continued evolution of the corporate responsibility concept, and making this commitment an integral part of the organizational core.
Together, these two changes will amplify the impact of independent philanthropy that is committed to the social strength of Israel.