[Spotlight is a new, occasional blog series, prepared by the Jewish Funders Network – highlighting their members and the work they do.]
By Seth Chalmer & Merav Fine
Philanthropic leadership is about choices. Do you want more certainty or more innovation? More control or a broader partnership?
Dr. Ronit Amit, Executive Director of the GANDYR Foundation, knows there aren’t “right” answers to questions like this – just different goals and different circumstances in which different answers are required. Nothing illustrates the need to consider such questions intentionally better than “Working Together: The Intersectoral Initiative for Integrating Young Adults into the Workforce,” a government initiative which GANDYR has joined.
A partnership between Israel’s government, business, and philanthropic sectors, Working Together originated in a tri-sector roundtable, led by the prime minister’s office, of which Ronit was co-chair. The roundtable had 34 participants from the three sectors, all willing to take joint responsibility and work together toward the goal of gainful long-term employment for young adults at risk.
Over 110,000 at-risk young adults are unemployed in Israel, Ronit explains, while at the same time employers in Israel have openings for 63,000 employees every day. The disconnect comes from a host of problems – the same problems that make young adults “at-risk” – including lack of education and skills, lack of family support, and more obstacles that prevent these youths from stepping into open jobs.
Facing a problem as large (within the Israeli population) as this, says Ronit, “We can’t do it alone. You need to make sure you have enough partners, and the right partners.”
Getting the right philanthropic partners is important for much more than just raising enough matching funds. (The government, business, and philanthropists all have to put an agreed amount on the table for this initiative.) GANDYR saw it as critical to ensure that the philanthropic sector had enough influence at the roundtable. “We need to influence the government to do it in the right way,” she says. In a partnership with government like this, “The NGOs need to agree on mutual goals to negotiate with the government, to ensure that the program’s execution will meet professional standards identified by the NGOs, so that the program won’t just be doing the same thing the government has always done.”
Philanthropic leaders also have the capacity to bring in the business sector. “We speak their language,” says Ronit, who herself came out of the high-tech business sector before beginning to work in nonprofits and philanthropy. “Right now there is very limited success in government working together with business” regarding social change.
“Working Together” is in its pilot stage, operating at the regional level, but if the evaluation process built into the initiative determines that the program is effective for participants, and leads to sufficient social ROI for the government, the program will (hopefully) scale up to the national level. The potential for that kind of broad-based and large-scale impact is exactly why the tri-sector process – and, especially, the involvement of government – is so appropriate for this issue.
But working with government isn’t appropriate for every cause. In pursuing civic social involvement of young adults, for example, GANDYR steers clear of government involvement. The foundation funds young adult-led programs around the country, but, Ronit cautions, “We know if we want these young adults to be leaders and advocates, they need to be independent,” without government money to make them beholden to the government’s needs. Just as some issues require government intervention, others require civil society to stand on its own. “That’s part of living in a democracy.”
Moving forward, GANDYR is willing to explore many different models and platforms in order to serve its mission of promoting Israeli civil society, and the integration of Israeli youth into society. One of the biggest lessons Ronit has learned in 11 years at GANDYR, she says, is that “you have to be moderate” in your expectations. “We can only enable processes,” she explains. “We are not the primary actors in the field, and we have to understand our place.”
Process is often overlooked in favor of immediate goals, Ronit notes, and philanthropists would do well to give more attention to nonprofit infrastructure. “Invest in the field,” she advises. “Projects cannot be managed well if they don’t have strong infrastructure.” Patience is equally important, she says. “You always need to take a breath and know that if you want to make change, you need to be patient.”
Cross-posted on the Jewish Funders Network Blog