By Charlene Seidle
“We cannot predict the future. We can only invent it.” Predictions of any sort do seem somewhat naive these days with the pace of change faster than ever. But what if we could take some of the best assets that the Jewish community already has in hand and revamp them? Could we invent the 2018 that will meet head-on the tectonic shifts taking shape in our society?
In at least some areas, I believe we can. Here are five headlines I’d love to read at the end of 2018 and ideas of how to get there.
1. #MeToo catalyzes Jewish female funders to the forefront of transformation.
For years, we’ve been talking about the generational transfer of wealth coming and how much of that wealth will be controlled by women. This transfer is now very much underway. Women will control at least $22 trillion of personal wealth in the USA by 2020. At the same time, we are in the midst of a societal awakening regarding gender equity; systems that block women from advancement; sexual harassment; and sexual violence. The Jewish community is far from immune to any of these conditions. According to the recent Leading Edge survey, while two-thirds of Jewish communal employee respondents were female, 70% of the organizations they work for are headed by men. And stories abound about the harassment and demeaning treatment of women, especially young women, by donors and leaders of some of our most esteemed Jewish organizations. 2018 must be the year that the Jewish community takes a zero tolerance approach to these shameful, inequitable behaviors and builds on #MeToo to drive meaningful change.
Our community is so fortunate to have strong, visionary Jewish female philanthropists and foundation leaders who can lead a movement to ensure that grantees model fair, transparent and compelling work cultures. This includes enforcing clear policies that ban sexual harassment; address related “subtle” behaviors that demean women; mandate gender pay equity; enact family friendly policies; and resist systems – however well-meaning – that perpetuate male-dominated leadership. Moreover, we can use our voices to bring the conversation past those who are white and privileged, amplifying the voices and needs of economically vulnerable women, women of color and others who have gone largely unnoticed in the cacophony of #MeToo.
Looking further, less than seven percent of foundation giving nationwide supports women and girls and two percent of funding goes to combat gender-based violence. But the Jewish community has a powerful advantage: the scores of Jewish women’s foundations in cities across North America which often evaluate needs of Jewish women and girls in their communities. Their findings can give us a head start. They are local resources just waiting to be deployed.
2. Natural disaster systemic relief strategies force a marathon into a sprint.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are donated annually for relief in natural and humanitarian disasters. Just in the second half of 2017, giving to natural disaster is predicted to outpace the amount for all of 2016. The Jewish history of communal giving and infrastructure uniquely positions us to quickly raise dollars and distribute them locally for short-term relief. Additionally, Israeli innovation is increasingly being used to help address the world’s problems especially when it comes to natural resource management and disaster relief.
Benjamin Franklin famously said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Unfortunately, we’re realizing a third certainty: natural disasters will recur in 2018, and will be increasingly devastating. Just as with other issue areas, funders will want to identify systemic change strategies that address the root causes of why natural disasters happen – including climate change, competition for scarcer resources, and ineffective investment in mid-term relief and infrastructure development. Jewish disaster relief infrastructure including Israeli innovation is incredibly well-positioned to get out in front of this interest and consider forming a Jewishly inspired effort similar to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. An audacious social change movement with the strength needed for a sprint and the stamina needed for a marathon could result.
3. Coalitions of funders, powered by “stock pickers,” become an increasingly important engine of change.
The Jewish organized philanthropy community enjoys tremendous expertise and knowledge in change strategies to address specific large-scale local, national and international social goals. If we are truly going to achieve the much-touted collective impact, 2018 should make those resources accessible to other funders, especially individual donors who lack infrastructure and staffing. Jewish community foundations in many cities are also important resources for philanthropic trends and community needs. Both private foundations and community foundations are well-positioned and well-qualified to serve as dynamic centers of data and demographics that partner with individual donors in making informed philanthropic decisions.
In October, The New York Times wrote about Blue Meridian Partners (BMP), a philanthropic fund created by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which aims to invest $1 billion in nonprofit organizations working on issues affecting poor children. BMP is a mega-example of a private foundation working side by side with individual donors and other funders to achieve specific social goals. The donors access the accumulated knowledge of the fully-staffed private foundation to inform the investments of the fund. As one of the individual donor partners said in the article: “They’re the stock pickers. They bring the ideas and the organizations. We all talk together about the potential and evaluate them. So far there’s been a remarkable consensus.” It’s time for organized philanthropy to invert the canopy and let others in.
4. A focus on outcome rather than tactic pushes new types of Jewish–inspired impacts to the forefront – across generations.
Much has been written about the enthusiasm of millennials for causes over organizations and their desire for impact above any specific kind of tactic. Yet I’ve observed philanthropists and social change activists of many ages (not just millennials) emphasizing desired outcomes and employing a spectrum of tools to accomplish their end goals. In 2018, it is likely that the changes in the tax code will only accelerate these trends, and already those who make such projections are portending that charitable donations will fall by about $13 billion next year as a consequence of the tax bill.
Those who care about Jewish life must look more closely at multiple strategies to achieve change and engage community members in 2018. Impact investing – that is investments made in companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return – is one such trend. There has been a fair amount of talk in the Jewish community about this topic. 2018 will be the year where we see more action. The transformative power of impact investing remains to be seen, but there are organizations like JLens already leading in the space.
However, the toolbox must include more than just impact investing. Initiatives that combine social capital with financial capital like crowdfunding and giving circles; support and help accelerate for-benefit businesses; convene journalists, educators, artists and other influencer activists are just some of the creative tools that will drive forward meaningful social change in 2018 and beyond.
5. Jewish stakeholders finally catch on that as we are bemoaning the ever–shrinking tent of Jewish life, we are actually the chief shrinkers.
An article in eJewishPhilanthropy from December 27, 2017 (though it read like it should have been dated 50 years prior!) written by an Israeli government official bemoans an existential crisis in the American Jewish community. “For the first time in history the vast majority of Jews face a daunting choice: to remain Jewish or disregard it. Most are opting out,” he claims. Besides the fact that the author doesn’t offer any data to back up this remarkable claim, the tone of the article is as familiar as it is histrionic and reflects a deep disconnection to reality.
Luckily, such dated and dramatic warnings are being replaced by positive opportunities to meet our constituents where they are, in innovative ways that resonate with their needs and interests. Judaism is our competitive advantage, and 2018 is the year to use Jewish wisdom to its full and vibrant extent. This will not happen by drawing lines in the sand, but rather by being radically welcoming and giving people of all interests and backgrounds the chance to produce, consume, revive for themselves, speak up, speak out and “pray with their feet.” If we don’t, the existential crisis will not be their rejection of all that’s righteous, but rather the dire loss of talent that the Jewish community will suffer through our rejection of those who don’t look and feel exactly like “we” do (whoever “we” is these days).
Just one example of many that I’m encouraged by: growing interest by funders in learning more from Jews of Color, their experiences, their voices, the diverse perspectives and narratives they bring. The Steinhardt Social Research Institute’s American Jewish Population Project reports that 11% of Jews in the United States are Jews of Color with an additional approximately 10% of Arab or North African descent. That’s more than 20% of the total population which means that, if we were fully inclusive, Jewish convenings like the GA, URJ Biennial, Jewish Funders Network and others would include scores of non-white Jews. What an opportunity to form new friendships and benefit from the diverse experiences which contribute to innovation and reinvention in lasting ways.
We’ve all had enough of existential crises. Let’s create the future we want in 2018 by candidly assessing the core competencies of our community. Let’s adapt, revive and update them, and make 2018 the year of bold Jewish philanthropic vision and action.
Charlene Seidle is Executive Vice President of Leichtag Foundation, a private independent foundation based in Encinitas, California which stimulates social and economic entrepreneurship and supports talent and renewal in coastal North San Diego County and Jerusalem.