Ambitions for society

Strengthening Israeli society through donations is the motto of the Matan Foundation, which is headed and managed by Ahuva Yanai.

Ahuva Yanai (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ahuva Yanai
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For 30 years Ahuva Yanai served in the IDF, where she held a number of highranking positions, such as public appeals officer and colonel. Throughout the years she has been involved in initiatives and entrepreneurial-social action.
In 2001, two years after leaving the army, Yanai began her work as CEO of Matan, a nonprofit organization that works to create a close cooperation between the business community and financial institutions in Israel and social and community-oriented organizations. Yanai was also on the board of trustees of Civil Leadership, the umbrella organization of the foundations and nonprofits in Israel and is involved in the three sectors that make up a democratic society: the public-government sector, the business sector and the civil sector.
Yanai is married, the mother of three and grandmother of four. She lives in Ramat Raziel in the Jerusalem Hills. In keeping with Independence Day, we thought it was fitting to shine the spotlight on her commendable work for the country.
What are the demands of your position?
As CEO of Matan-United Way, my job is not only to manage and lead Matan to success but also to construct a strong civil society as part of the success of Matan. This makes the scope of the position very wide. In order to succeed, we must prove that we encourage a culture of giving, as well as create the ways and means to make the investment. This means not only talking about influencing society but also developing skills for civil organizations. The scope of Matan’s work enables us to be leaders in the field of effective investment in the community.
What kinds of volunteer organizations exist in Israel and what is the state of the volunteer sector?
Over 30,000 nonprofit organizations are registered in Israel today. Of those, some 5,000 are authorized to give tax deductions to their donors. Matan pairs businesses with social organizations that deal with influencing and improving Israeli society, whether by creating solutions for those who can’t find them through the government or working to give voice to groups whose voices are usually not heard.
Do you encounter a spirit of volunteering among Israelis?
A spirit of volunteering must be an ongoing demand from ourselves as a society.
We do not excel in this sphere; but when it comes to practical volunteering, we are at a reasonable level. In regard to monetary contributions, we as a society and individuals have a long way to go.
At Matan, we often hear the phrase ‘Writing a check is easy.’ But when you look at the results, you understand the importance of monetary contribution and that we must give more. From the Americans I learned the term ‘hunger cycle.’ It is a cycle that most organizations that rely on donations or government funding are caught in.
Necessity is the mother invention, but the ongoing lack, the hunger cycle, is not a recipe for success. In Israel, the culture of giving has not yet been developed, but there is a change for the better taking place, and I am optimistic.
Which social objectives do they contribute to?
A survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics revealed that the contribution to issues of welfare was the largest proportion, over 40%. In our work with donors and businesses, a few causes stand out: equality and equal opportunity in education; children and youth at risk; supporting people with disabilities; and creating opportunities for those who want to break out of the poverty cycle.
What do businesses do for communities in Israel in comparison with what’s going on around the world?
Something that stood out in the CBS survey was that over 27% of philanthropic contributions in Israel come from businesses. This survey was the first of its kind, so we must observe developments over the years to understand the significance. I know for certain that the majority of businesses in Israel do not reach the US average, where contributions amount to 1% of revenue before taxes.
When we founded Matan 13 years ago, companies asked whether they should contribute. Today it is obvious that they do contribute, and this is a meaningful change that influences the magnitude of contributions, their quality and social effectiveness.
What is the civil sector in Israel?
The civil sector is essential in a democratic society. It allows every citizen who wants to organize and participate to do so in his or her own way. Civil participation allows every individual and collective voice to be heard, mostly those that are transparent as far as the government and the majority are concerned. In addition, the civil sector displays and develops therapeutic approaches and types of social services that are not found within the scope of the universal solutions provided by the government but exist as niche solutions for each unique person or group.
There are some examples of changes that took place from the grassroots and upwards, originating from social organizations that are now part of the public agenda of society in general and the government in particular. For example, social organizations have changed public awareness toward people with disabilities.
Another example is the subject of violence in general and domestic violence in particular. Thanks to a brave group of women who gave voice to the pain of the victims, shelters have been set up to protect victims of violence. The result was that the problem could no longer be swept under the rug.
The most important challenge is to organize social contribution in a way that stimulates mutual responsibility and civil participation for those not receiving adequate responses to their needs from the state. To meet this challenge, the social organizations must be able to remain sustainable in a world that does not always provide them security and stability. The challenge is living year after year with this sense of fragility and still attaining social achievements like the ones we encounter every day.
What does the day-to-day work at Matan look like?
At Matan, we encounter through businesses, private donors and social organizations the circle of effective contribution to the community. We have developed a toolbox that allows every business or person to invest in the community. We enable our partners to go from the consulting level to the practical level – the vision becomes a work plan, and the entire process is accompanied and monitored by Matan. Being part of the well established international organization The United Way, we are fortunate to have knowledgeable partners. We are certain that we can keep our promise to create with each person and business a way that they can contribute to the community. We make sure that the investment will yield social change for many thousands for whom these social programs are their only chance for improving their situation, creating a meaningful life and succeeding. This is Matan’s responsibility, as well as our great fulfillment.
What sets the “new philanthropy” apart?
It is measured not only by the amount of contribution or volunteer work but also by the level of involvement. The big challenge is being involved without becoming intrusive, which means not replacing the social management but strengthening it. The advanced philanthropist invests not only in financial resources but also in resources for strengthening the basis and financial security. This type of involvement truly brings an added value. This is the major advantage of the new philanthropy. It no longer deals with writing a check, along with a wish for the success of the organization. The check is backed by involvement which, in the right amount, adds about twice the value to the monetary contribution.
What is the role of the philanthropic sector as opposed to the role of government and civil society?
There is constant tension between the effort to define the range of responsibility of the government and the activity of society, which is an expression of our mutual responsibility. This is an ongoing discussion that will always help us fine tune the definitions. The government cannot respond fully to every need. The creativity and ability to organize that exist in society create the possibility to discover needs that are transparent. The social organizations have a responsibility in a democratic society to keep the possibility open for the active participation of every group or individual.
How do you experience your role?
I don’t regard my role at Matan as a normal job but as a social mission, obliging me to rally all my management skills and clear social vision of strengthening society by listening to the needs of the social organizations and fulfilling and ensuring contribution potential and effective investment in the community for every business, donor and fund. The fuel that drives me is the knowledge that behind these definitions are real people. Matan has the unique role of bringing together the various factors working for a better Israeli society, where there are options and opportunities for every individual.
What gives you satisfaction in your daily work?
My satisfaction varies from day to day because of the uniqueness of Matan. Meeting the many people whose lives we have managed to influence directly – that is the fuel of my daily routine.
I draw energy from meeting the thousands of volunteers at the workplaces, from meeting the management in the businesses and the private donors whose commitment is inspiring.
What are your short-term goals?
A turnover of NIS 50 million, thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of volunteer hours is hard to keep going and even harder to increase these days. The needs of the communities are on the rise, and so is our desire to expand our ability to help improve the lives of more and more people.
This is the goal for the short term and the long term. The biggest measurable challenge is to recruit more partners to invest in communities in Israel, of course, but also from outside Israel. Today, 97% of Matan’s turnover comes from Israeli businesses and individuals, and we hope to find partners abroad who would like a part of this Israeli success and, with them, to strengthen Israeli society. Together.