Empowering the Jewish entrepreneurs

I would like to suggest that if the State of Israel and the Jewish people are seeking a new and exciting horizon for global cooperation then the more out-of-the-box the better.

Pupils at a school in Kiryat Gat learn about Diaspora communities around the world with guest teachers from New York’s Yeshiva University. (photo credit: YESHIVA UNIVERSITY)
Pupils at a school in Kiryat Gat learn about Diaspora communities around the world with guest teachers from New York’s Yeshiva University.
(photo credit: YESHIVA UNIVERSITY)
There is an important debate being conducted by representatives of the government of Israel, the Jewish Agency and the Jewish world. The hoped-for outcome is a new initiative to be jointly funded by the government and Jewish philanthropists in order “to inspire and empower Jews individually and collectively to be committed Jews, connected to Israel and engaged citizens of the world.” In order to achieve this, new directions for engagement will be created to meet the seemingly daunting task of securing the Jewish people’s future in the Diaspora and strengthening their connections to Israel.
To date institutional, governmental and private participants have worked together to create a governance structure and the beginnings of programmatic ideas that would fulfill the mission. The last public document released as a result of global brainstorming along with work done behind the scenes describes certain areas that could lead us to the next stage, which should be the confirmation of a governance structure, as yet to be presented in public, and approval at cabinet level to move forward, expected to happen in the coming weeks.
Tucked in toward the back of the proposal is a suggestion that funds be set aside for a venture capital-style model in order to generate part of the programming and content for the initiative. Much of the rest of the proposal thus far has a somewhat similar feel to it, including immersive Jewish programming, short and long trips to Israel, etc.
As someone who grew up within the ideology of youth movement, which has undoubtedly fundamentally impacted my life, I have a great sympathy and will continue to advocate for the tools (summer camps, emissaries, trips to Israel etc.) that have worked thus far, to be strengthened and improved. This should me an evolutionary move, which with the application of more business discipline can be made more successful and indeed importantly more cost effective for the Jewish people. There is much to be said on this topic, but for another day.
I would like to suggest that if the State of Israel and the Jewish people are seeking a new and exciting horizon for global cooperation then the more out-of-thebox the better. This does not mean, as some have suggested, that a move away from particular to universal values is necessary. I would be dead against this move, and as a proud citizen of Israel this would undermine my Zionist principles. However there are many exciting new ventures being tried across the Jewish world that are taking core Jewish values and applying them in innovative new contexts.
One just has to look at the plethora of incubator- style initiatives in play to understand the wealth of new ideas that are out there. In Israel the ROI Community is one such initiative, and The Joshua Venture Group and the Natan Fund in the US being others.
What are the common denominators within these types of programs and how can we adapt the model to suit the World Jewish Initiative? The most important factor in this model is that the agenda is driven primarily by those on the ground who have taken the enormous step of creating their “Jewish start-up.” As a philanthropist I would love to invest in the most passionate person involved with education, social action, Jewish culture, advocacy etc.
The best entrepreneurs are the ones who have a combination of passion, understanding of their market and impact, and the ability to make things happen.
This includes team building, and of no less importance fund raising. This is true in business and it is no less true in the non-profit world.
What then would be the role of this new initiative if the ideas are going to come from the ground up? I would suggest a number of key roles, that can be uniquely fulfilled by the great institutions of the Jewish people, whether the Jewish Agency or the government.
In the same way as a fund would, they will define overall strategy, develop a “portfolio” approach, measure success (having defined per venture what success looks like) and then over time allocate additional, and perhaps really significant funds to the new ventures that have proven successful and can be scaled up. In addition, the knowledge of existing ventures, both in Israel and the Diaspora, could be uniquely leveraged by acting as a conduit for joint venturing with the start-ups.
To the extent that the philanthropists seek it, one could even have sub-funds dedicated to specific areas of interest. Some philanthropists like to invest in education, whereas other like capacity building. Some will be interested in developing links between Israel and the Diaspora where others will be dedicated to “tikkun olam” (healing the world).
The initiative will have the ability to connect great entrepreneurs with passionate philanthropists, giving both sides the opportunity to enjoy the skills and experience of the other. In 2014 partnering and leverage is the name of the game and the initiative can act as the bridge between 2,000 years of Diaspora experience and 66 years of the Jewish state, the Jewish people’s most successful start-up. Both sides have much to contribute to this, and this may the perfect opportunity to give it a try.
There are some incredible success stories, both within Jewish philanthropy and grass-roots social entrepreneurs.
The initiative can grasp the challenge of making this a global Jewish effort, but in order to do so the conversation has to express confidence in the bottom-up approach empowering the start-up nation as it applies to new Jewish initiatives around the world.
Finding the best of breed in Jewish entrepreneurship is an idea that we can be very excited about and I urge those making the decisions to have the confidence to back those who have the passion to make it happen.
The author is chairman of Gesher. Gesher is dedicated to the creation of dialogue and understanding between different parts of Israeli society. Daniel is also co-chair of the Friends of World Bnei Akiva.