Gov't to establish body to promote closer ties with non-profit sector

The cabinet approved on Sunday the establishment of an office to improve cooperation between the state and the non-profit sector, and to provide a channel for social organizations to share information with both the government and socially concerned for-profit corporations. "The government is not meant to and certainly cannot succeed in doing everything alone," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in presenting the proposal to the weekly cabinet meeting. "This is a new chapter of relations between the state and the third sector," said Olmert, adding that charities, foundations, and voluntary and community groups were an invaluable part of society. The plan was approved with no objections. Gal Alon, adviser on strategic development in the Prime Minister's Office, told The Jerusalem Post that the new department, which will have a yearly budget of some NIS 2 million, was based on similar initiatives in the UK and Canada. "It is a new age of partnership between the three sectors [government, industry and NGOs]," said Alon, who will head the initiative until a professional staff is appointed. He said the new strategy was developed during two years of intensive research by the Prime Minister's Office and would include a regular "round table" meeting among government, NGO and corporate representatives concerned with social and civic issues. The department will also formulate a database of non-profits and work to increase volunteerism in society. "We welcome today's decision," Ron Sokolov, director of the Israel Civic Leadership Association, an umbrella organization for non-profits, told the Post. "This is the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel that the government has actually recognized the work of the third sector and has allowed for such an opportunity." According to Sokolov, there are more than 20,000 registered charities in Israel, with 10,000 currently active. A recent survey carried out by the Civic Leadership Association found that 59 percent of Israelis do not believe that the government can solve the socioeconomic problems facing the country. "Our inclusion in government activities will contribute to services above and beyond what the state currently provides," Sokolov said. He denied that advocating the out-sourcing of social welfare work to non-profits was an attempt by the state to avoid its responsibilities. "The government will be involved in developing policies, setting standards and providing training. It is only the actual work on the ground that will come from another source," said Sokolov. "This is the right way of utilizing the relationship with the third sector." He also said that lotteries and tenders put out by the government to hire non-profit organizations encouraged "healthy competition" among NGOs. Shlomo Loberbaum, director of non-profit organization Yad Sarah, which has more than 6,000 volunteers, also welcomed the new model of government-third sector cooperation. "The challenge now is to take the stronger points of the sector, pinpoint the areas that need immediate attention and work together to improve the quality of life for Israeli citizens in the areas of health, welfare and education," Loberbaum said.