Shedding a light on teens in distress, NGO takes a new gender-sensitive approach

Elem's CEO Inbal Dor Kerbel is aiming for a 50-50 gender balance among her staff both in the boardroom and in the field.

A homeless man lies on the street. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A homeless man lies on the street.
In 2015, Elem, an NGO specializing in helping youth in distress served some 20,000 people, 80% of whom were male.
When Inbal Dor Kerbel took on the role as CEO shortly after, she knew something wasn’t right and decided it was time to do something.
Elem prides itself on working with youth in distress across all sectors of Israeli life including the haredi, Arab, secular, and the LGBT community, however, the majority of the people Elem reached were males.
Since Kerbel took on the role of CEO in 2015, her focus is gender sensitivity and reaching out to females both on the ground and in the boardroom.
Inbal Dor Kerbel, Elem CEO (courtesy)Inbal Dor Kerbel, Elem CEO (courtesy)
Working with Elem over the past 14 years, Kerbel has a strong background in education and has worked extensively in the organizations vocational and job training programs.
“For the past two years as CEO, I have been working on this ‘Two Year Plan’ centered around the theme of ‘gender sensitivity’, Kerbel told The Jerusalem Post.
This approach is reaching out to uncover thousands of “hidden” youth in distress including some who are homeless and working in prostitution.
Last year, Elem opened its second 24/7 shelter specifically for teenagers and young women ages 14 to 26 in Jerusalem – the first being located in Tel Aviv.
Working with the Labor and Social Services Ministry, the shelter takes in victims of physical and sexual abuse.
“We have 40 volunteers at the shelter where these girls can have a free place to stay, a place to eat and a place to receive psychological and medical help,” Kerbel said.
By reaching out to more at-risk females, Kerbel is changing Elem to fulfill her vision: “All of our facilities from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat are ‘gender sensitive’ – if we have a youth center, there will be one day specifically for girls. All of the facilities are now adhering to a more gender sensitive atmosphere, from the interior design to the colors we use, we want to ensure we are welcoming to both males and females.”
As a result, in 2017, Elem served some 27,000 at-risk youth – some 7,000 of whom were females. In order to keep up with this demand, Kerbel wants more females working in Elem – in the boardroom and in the field: “I am making a real effort to make things 50-50.”
“Two years ago, two-thirds of the staff were males, today, we are getting very close to reaching the 50-50 goal,” she said.“So I am looking for strong and professional women from a variety of sectors – some from social work, and some from the business sector.
“Women are crucial to balancing out the male majority since women generally see things in the long term and view things more in-depth compared to men,” Kerbel said.
She also said that “women bring more sensitivity and this balance is needed to change the voice and the tone of the organization which will help more at-risk youth.”
As a result, Kerbel noted that “women and especially young girls are starting to speak louder and we are dealing with more cases of sexual abuse and harassment and sometimes things even worse than that.”
As Israel’s homeless youth increases, particularly in Jerusalem where the number is nearing 200, Kerbel said: “We are not scared that this number is growing because they were there all along... We didn’t have the right glasses on to really see how big this problem is, now the light is finally shining on this and we are confronting it head on.”
Working alongside the Jerusalem Municipality, Kerbel, lauded the efforts of the city’s mayor. “Nir Barkat is really on this, he is talking very sincerely about this issue and the city is really working at it,” she said.
“Jerusalem is facing this issue with a lot of courage and the fact that they are offering so many solutions will definitely make this number decrease.”