Philanthropic philosophy

‘Breaking the mold of philanthropy’ – entrepreneur Eitan Neishlos shares his vision

Philanthropy shouldn’t just refer to donations of grand sums of money but a more accessible and sustainable approach of giving

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After the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia, entrepreneur Eitan Neishlos and the payments provider company he co-founded got to work repurposing their technology in order to help out with the crisis — a reflection of his philosophy that people’s skills and businesses can be drawn on to perform acts of philanthropy.

Resonance Australia provides financial services to retailers, but during the pandemic has also used its technology to help speed up the local COVID-19 testing process. Previously, people coming to be tested had to manually fill out paper forms and wait in long lines at drive-through testing stations. 

“That invites data corruption, that slows down processes, it’s arguably unhygienic as people are transferring documents amongst themselves and it’s very tedious and slow,” the Israeli-born, Australian corporate lawyer, businessman and philanthropist told Jewish Insider in a recent interview at his sea-side apartment in Tel Aviv, where he lives part-time. 

Resonance Australia used their electronic payment system technology to allow individuals to enter their information digitally, on their phones, while waiting to be swabbed, dramatically speeding up facilities’ testing processes while maintaining data accuracy and enabling a faster turnover of test results.

For Neishlos, 42, who lives in Sydney when not in Israel, Resonance Australia’s effort is a perfect example of out-of-the-box philanthropy.

Philanthropy shouldn’t just refer to donations of grand sums of money reserved for the rich — such as himself — he argues, but a more accessible and sustainable approach of giving.

“[There’s] a way of looking to your own skill sets, your own resources, your own business, your own job, whatever it might be, and actually providing a conscientious service,” Neishlos told JI, part of a philosophy he is now loudly touting as he seeks to cultivate a new generation of philanthropists. “This for me is breaking the mold of philanthropy. My call to action to people is to do something, and if someone can’t write a check, if someone can’t give of their own personal time, maybe they can look to their business or maybe they can look to their skill set.”

Time, he suggests as an example, is a valuable resource that people can give in addition to or in place of money. Neishlos does not dismiss the traditional “impactful and powerful” form of philanthropy — writing a check — but wants people to think beyond that. “Don’t fix something that isn’t broken, but I think there are a lot of limitations to that. And so I think we then have to look at further resources that we might have. And that’s often our skills. It’s often the work that we do, it’s often our businesses,” he said.

Neishlos’ own experiences in fintech and the banking world —particularly working in developing countries — taught him that investment isn’t just about financial profit, but involves a social conscience.

Spending time in developing countries such as Venezuela, Peru and Nepal, where he was heavily involved in projects surrounding the subject of financial inclusion, Neishlos said, exposed him to complex societal issues.

He was forced to tackle the question of how to bring the unbanked into the banking world. “And so that was, in a way, a very important touch point into philanthropy,” Neishlos said.

Neishlos recounted a recent investment he made in the Moala Boxing Academy in New South Wales, founded by Tongan boxing champion Lomalito Moala and his wife Ayfer. After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the Sydney academy was run out of a garage because they weren’t able to get any other premises.

Neishlos has a background in martial arts, having been trained by Chinese trainer Li Ming in South Africa, who became one of his core mentors, teaching him discipline in a way that he said both helped prepare him for life and hammered home the message of doing things for more than financial reward. 

Neishlos’s goal at the Moala Boxing Academy was to provide mentorship to help train underprivileged young adults, including running free boot camps for young women as well as female empowerment classes.

“The government, for example, was funding a lot of swimming, we wanted to also promote boxing because we think that boxing is very good for leadership skills and discipline and taking kids out of impoverished areas,” Neishlos explained. Some of the classes they run are for free and others for a fee, depending on the financial situation of the students.

“I’m very proud that out of that garage, we trained one of Australia’s Olympic champions,” Neishlos said, referring to Paulo Aokuso, 24, who competed in the men’s light heavyweight event at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“We put a lot of time and effort into him. And we spent a lot of time with his family and we brought the family (from Brisbane to Sydney) together to boost the morale and to send him to the Olympics. It was an incredible experience.” 

Neishlos revealed that one of the largest sports brands in Australia had recently endorsed the academy, but couldn’t yet disclose the company’s name.

The company, Neishlos said, will provide a space for the academy — allowing the school to move from a garage to a location covering hundreds of square feet.

“Their brand association is huge, their endorsement of what we’re doing is huge,” he enthused. “And I think a lot of powerful things will emerge. If we were able to train an Olympian in a garage, imagine what we’ll be able to get out of that.”

Another pillar of philanthropy, as Neishlos sees it, is aggregation and the collective power of giving. The entrepreneur has long been involved with the Australian branch of the Jewish National Fund, and more specifically with JNF Future, which targets Jewish young adults in Australia. Several years ago, Neishlos attended a gala dinner, where he match-funded any donations made by the young adults for Ach Gadol, the Big Brother Organization for Lone Soldiers. 

The event later sparked debate among Neishlos and some of the young adults who had attended. “They were very proud of what they did, but they were concerned that it was an ad hoc event and what could be done beyond that,” Neishlos recalled.

“And so I was preaching my ethos of sustainable annuity income. And the answer was sort of right in front of me when I was looking at these 20 young Jewish potential leaders. And we realized that we can do more by collective giving.” 

What followed was the creation of JNF Future’s Generation Chai project, through which every participant donates $18 a month. The beneficiary of the project, chosen by the young adults, is Roim Rahok, or Looking Ahead, an Israeli organization that trains young adults on the autism spectrum in professions required by the IDF and the civilian market.

The project was launched in the first quarter of 2021 and garnered hundreds of sign-ups. The project’s leaders now seek to reach thousands. “And if we can export that model, which I hope we will be able to… then maybe even possibly millions of dollars will be raised.” Neishlos said. 

This project ticks all of what Neishlos calls his “philanthropic boxes”: aggregation; sustainable annuity charitable income; identifying leaders amongst the young adult community; Jewish continuity and the connection to the State of Israel. 

The latter is heavily inspired by Neishlos’ own family, whom he describes as very Zionist, holding strong to that value even though the family moved from Haifa to Pretoria, South Africa, when Neishlos was a year old, due to his father’s work at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

His parents had both made aliya from the former Soviet Union. His late grandmother, whom he called “Babuksha Tamara,” was a Holocaust survivor and Neishlos’s ”ultimate inspiration and mentor.” Her story, he explained, is a driver for many of his present-day activities.

Tamara Ziserman, née Kantorovich, was saved by a Christian family, the Khodosevichs, who hid her in their basement in Belarus when she was 11, after the rest of her family had been murdered in a massacre. Ziserman was eventually captured by the Nazis and taken to a labor camp in Prussia, before escaping with some Russian soldiers. Peotr and Yanina Khodosevich were later arrested and executed, along with their three-year-old daughter Antonina, for their role in the resistance. Today they are commemorated at Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. 

Neishlos found inspiration in much of his grandmother’s story: by how she survived; by the Khodosevich family acting as upstanders rather than bystanders; and by her strong connection to the state of Israel.

“She spent most of her life making sure that the Khodosevich family were recognized at Yad Vashem, which might seem trivial to some people, but it was a mammoth undertaking. And she always made sure that there was a strong connection to the State of Israel. And I think that’s how we have Jewish continuity. And I think it’s very important,” Neishlos said.

His grandmother’s story was an inspiration for his involvement in non-profit organization Courage to Care, of which he is chairman. Courage to Care, an outreach program of B’nai B’rith Australia, aims to inform Australians of the dangers of prejudice and discrimination.

“What we do is we try to address one of the most alarming issues for our community today, which is antisemitism. But beyond antisemitism, we’re trying to address all forms of racism, all forms of bigotry, even bullying. It’s a full spectrum,” Neishlos said.

Neishlos still remembers his first time at a Holocaust museum as a young boy in South Africa, where he learned the concept of “never forget.” 

“Over and above that what’s important is changing people’s behavior. So it’s one thing to say, ‘never forget,’ it’s another thing to ensure that people will not be bystanders, but that they rather be upstanders,” Neishlos said. 

“If you witness antisemitism, or racism or bigotry against any denomination, the gay community — whatever the community is — we hope that people will still stand up against it,” he continued.

To achieve behavioral change, Neishlos believes that educating students at the right age is key; Courage to Care predominantly targets high school students in years nine and ten.

The organization works with 17 Holocaust survivors and sets up exhibitions for schools as well as for workplaces. Teachers and psychologists have worked with them to finesse the program. 

The survivors share their rescue and survival stories and explain how they were suported by others, highlighting the power of the individual to make a difference by standing up to prejudice and discrimination. Tailored education programs include audiovisual components, survivor stories, facilitated workshops and experiential learning processes.

Over the past 20 years, the organization has reached 200,000 young adults, according to Neishlos, and case studies and feedback of the programs have shown them to be highly successful.

“And we’ve got a lot of written communication from students. I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” he said, touching the skin of his arm, “where they tell you stories — they will actually say, ‘I used to be racist, or I used to be this way, I used to be that and I’m not anymore.’”

Neishlos feels he is undertaking the effort for his late grandmother.

“I really think that we have to deal with rising antisemitism around the world. And now I think there is a real opening around the world, to acceptance and tolerance, these are now important, profound themes. And I think we can push them through now. I think we can actually not just talk about it, I think there is a strong enough movement to bring that kind of behavioral change. So we’re working very hard on that,” Neishlos said, mentioning technologies and partnerships that he is beginning to introduce in order to further that goal.

The organization has a three-year strategy plan through which it intends to scale up its message and to reach over a million students in New South Wales. 

Drawing from his experience in the payment business where he learned how to create and export models, Courage to Care aims to expand its outreach nationally and eventually to other countries too. 

“I think we have the solution to antisemitism, bigotry and racism — and I want to export it,” Neishlos said, true to his entrepreneurial roots.