Collaborative Funding in Israel Through a Gender Lens:
Key Lessons Learned

Photo courtesy Jewish Women’s Funding Network.

By Hamutal Gouri and Tuti B. Scott

Aviva is a preschool teacher’s aide in Jerusalem. Despite being an experienced and dedicated professional who educates and cares for those most precious to us, she is employed only as a contracted worker earning low wages with no job security.

Aviva is not alone. Her reality is that of tens of thousands of women in caring professions who, more often than not, are poor working women. But Aviva and her peers are also members of local labor union chapters and therefore are also social leaders with years of activist experience. These women are fighting for their human rights while working in what are often abusive and underpaid employment settings.

The Coalition for Direct Employment is comprised of 30 labor rights and civil society organizations, and Itach-Ma’aki Women Lawyers for Social Justice are working closely with Aviva and her peers to enact policies and practices that seek to improve the working conditions and rights of women in a precarious, often openly gender-hostile labor market. This work is supported by the Jewish Women’s Funding Network (JWFN) through a collaborative two-year grant designed to address contracted labor in Israel through a gender lens. JWFN is a collaborative of 25 member organizations engaged in social change philanthropy through advocacy and grantmaking to change the world for women and girls in the United States and in Israel. The group has collectively awarded nearly $33 million in grants, holds over $40 million in assets, and boasts over 2000 members, donors, and trustees.

The first JWFN collaborative grant in Israel kicked off in 2013 and was instrumental in the establishment of Shutafot, a coalition of 15 feminist organizations that worked to advance women’s rights and active participation, with a focus on economic and labor rights. The decision to come together as a funding collaborative in support of coalition building in Israel was an expression of JWFN’s commitment to continue strengthening Israel’s vibrant feminist arena. In 2017, two of the JWFN member funds, National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and the Dafna Fund, co-sponsored groundbreaking field action research designed to celebrate and make visible the achievements of Israeli feminist and women’s organizations over the past 15 years, as well as to chart a new direction forward for potentially greater collective impact.

The research report, “Past Achievements and Future Directions of Women’s and Feminist Organizations in Israel” by Dr. Nancy Strichman, was published on March 8th 2018 on International Women’s Day in a public conference that brought together women leaders from Israel, U.S., and Australia. The report shows that JWFN members were right about their hypothesis when it came to supporting feminist work in Israel: “Women’s and feminist organizations have had notable success over the years in impacting the public discourse and shaping public policies on topics from domestic violence and political representation to gender sensitive budget analysis and women’s economic empowerment” (Dr. Strichman).

While women in Israel – and indeed around the world – have a long way to go to reach full equality, in the uphill battle for gender equality, we must pause from time to time, appreciate the work we have done and draw valuable lessons from it for the future.

In the six years that the JWFN has supported collaborative grantmaking in Israel, it has made it a priority to understand the the social, economic, cultural, and political factors that comprise the backdrop of life for women and girls in contemporary Israeli society.

Through this effort, a body of knowledge has emerged regarding effective gender lens philanthropy and organizing. For JWFN, the seven lessons we have learned are the following:

1. Our values must be aligned with our giving.

The values of JWFN are clear and articulated in our documents, shared across learning platforms, and accentuated verbally at all of our gatherings: a. Tikkun Olam Repairing the World; b. Justice; c. Acts of Kindness; and d. Compassion. We have seen that when we align these Jewish values with feminist funding practices centered around power, dialogue, and listening to expert leaders and activists on the ground, we have a greater impact. To optimize social impact, we are learning that we must constantly ask how our actions and priorities benefit ALL women and girls, especially those who are under-resourced and who most often are not at the table when policy is being shaped.

2. We must speak up, invite new voices, and promote dialogue.

Our role as funders and civil society activist leaders is to be agents of change, and as changemakers we must lead boldly and shape public discourse through meetings with elected officials and those seeking office, penning op-ed pieces and position papers, social media – any way we can make our voices as well as the concerns and solutions of our sisters and allies heard. Quite often women’s rights and gender equality are pushed aside for the sake of what leaders perceive as more urgent and critical issues. For example, the recent election campaign in Israel, which focused to a great degree on the single issue of military security, has once again buried the issues of women’s safety and security, education, welfare, and health.

Gaining more representation in the public sphere is also directly tied to our ability to promote and create an audience. Finding people who want to learn or participate in positive systemic change is a result of numerous factors, some within our control and some not. It is critical to develop compelling, viable theories of change along with effective strategy and execution plans; to collect, analyze, and share relevant data; to listen attentively to the stories of people whose lives are different from our own; to organize and build cohesive communities; to secure financial resources; and to build human capital. Together we can navigate the maze of bureaucracy and develop healthy working relationships with public officials and other allies, share real stories, and harness the power of social media.

3. Collaborative structures are critical, agility is vital.

When JWFN approved its inaugural grant in January 2017 to support a two-year program to promote the rights of women in contracted labor, our grantee partners submitted a detailed plan of action complete with a solid theory of change and well-defined strategies designed to engage local and national policymakers and elected officials. However, JWFN leaders learned that we still needed to be nimble and creative as we identified unexpected windows of opportunity. As funders, we should expect this same agility, responsiveness, and creativity from our partners. We must continue to demonstrate this organizational flexibility ourselves.

On a related point, there are always factors out of our control. The on-the-ground reality in Israel frequently creates such expected developments. From out of cycle national elections to yet another escalation in the violent conflict, to frequent criminal investigations against senior official – each of these factors, and sometimes all of them simultaneously, have far reaching effects on public discourse. These events draw attention to what is deemed as crucial in the eyes of political leaders, pundits, and the media. It is equally critical that we remain flexible to be able to invest in work that brings a gender lens front and center.

4. Shared capital is built through shared commitments and real partnerships.

In 1990, the Women’s Funding Network defined social change as, “One where systemic change is slow and incremental.” In the uphill battle for social justice, leaders like Aviva find their resilience and tenacity through the passion, depth of knowledge, and shared commitments of collective work. Intentionally collaborative work makes it possible for these leaders and their many supporters to make their voices heard, tap into collective wisdom, listen to different voices, work together in new ways, and incorporate diverse perspectives.

As a funding collaborative supporting a partnership comprised of dozens of organizations, there were three circles of partners to engage: JWFN network in the U.S.; grantee partners in Israel; and a joint U.S.-Israeli cultural exchange and learning program. Developing inclusive and effective mechanisms for shared decision-making and joint leadership across these groups took persistence, diligence, and connectivity. To be able to truly “walk the talk,” genuine partnerships were critical. Working relationships required and will continue to require effective and careful communication, especially when these are transatlantic and the opportunity for human face to face interaction is sporadic at best.

5. Multimember coalitions own greater social capital to leverage for good.

In a philanthropic arena increasingly preoccupied with return on investment, it is important to evaluate all models for effectiveness. Over the past six years we have learned that collaborative efforts of funders and organizations on the ground yield sustainable results in multiple ways, all related to building many different forms of capital – financial, impact, social, and human. Social capital is critical when advocating for policy reform, development of new services, and/or allocation of public resources.

As a group with a larger footprint and shared vision, a multi-member coalition is better positioned to apply for substantial grants from state agencies, both local and international. However, collaborative efforts are not only about doing more and better; they nurture and bring forward new initiatives because they are inclusive and they create a shared space for many voices. Lastly, they are a platform for mutual support, shared learning, and the outpouring of otherwise unknown collective knowledge.

That said, raising long term financial capital for collaborations is harder to come by and requires funders to value the time it takes to build trust and respect. As we know from Mark Kramer and John Kania’s Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Collective Impact,” funding a “backbone” or a coordinator to support a collaboration is essential. The backbone is a commitment to a central hub where members of a collaborative can be supported on capacity-building and have human capital to deliver on their shared vision. Additionally, the coordinator can provide moral and tactical support when the work gets difficult – a given with intentional, collaborative social justice work.

6. Participatory processes help us create a shared theory of change.

We believe and have seen that participatory group processes create a healthy larger ecosystem, while leaders stay mindful of the time it takes to build and maintain relationships and create the conditions for synergy. As funders, we can encourage meaningful collaborative efforts by designing non-competitive, participatory processes into the work. This is what JWFN did in its second collaborative grantmaking cycle in Israel. The topic, promoting the rights of women in abusive employment, was chosen following several rigorous, on-the-ground work planning sessions including learning, dialogue, and Q&A sessions with women in the thick of the issue day-to-day as well as professionals from more than 30 organizations from across three continents.

For example, we experimented with a non-competitive democratic voting process for the network. Instead of issuing a call for proposals, we invited all relevant players in the field to come together and submit a joint proposal. This was not an easy process for JWFN members as it meant relinquishing the ability to choose from several proposals. For our grantee partners this meant having to partner with JWFN to negotiate an agreed upon statement of purpose, theory of change, and strategies for action while resolving any differences and finding points of agreement regarding all of the above.

7. Evaluation is first and foremost a feedback loop for shared learning.

Quite often, both funders and grantee organizations perceive evaluation reports as a “scorecard” or “test” rather than a teaching moment. But when grantees think of evaluation as a judgment tool or a prerequisite for renewed funding, they typically have a hard time working openly and candidly with an external evaluation expert. This prevents important learning from taking place.

For these reasons, in every aspect of a funding relationship, honest communication is vital. If evaluation is going to be used for the purpose of continued funding, this must be made explicit. If evaluation is to be used for learning, growth, and development, this also must be indicated clearly. As we defined the role of the “evaluator” on this project, we invited funders and grantees to work together to identify talent and decide jointly. The evaluation model we adopted was a “hybrid” blending observational research and analysis by the specialist with capacity-building and mentoring designed to help grantee partners develop internal mechanisms for collecting, documenting, analyzing and making sense of quantitative and qualitative data.

8. Cross-cultural storytelling matters stories propel the work forward.

While it is often challenging to share stories across language and/or cultural differences and to create safe spaces for women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and life experiences, every community, organization, network/movement needs stories to move them forward. This means storytelling must be designed into collective processes so that individuals have multiple opportunities to share their lived experiences with colleagues and fellow leaders who are eager to listen. Storytelling is particularly vital for international funding initiatives as it serves as the glue that binds together staff and lay leaders in the U.S. with organizational leaders, activists, and beneficiaries in Israel. Learning through stories while being culturally aware with our language is a process that doesn’t end. We must continue to create opportunities for this kind of storytelling long past the end of a grant and its reporting phase.

Very often the stories of success and challenges are lost in robust periodical reports. Moreover, organizations and networks are dynamic, living organisms. People leave as others join at different points in time, and the shared story and institutional memory is at risk of becoming fragmented or misrepresented. That is why, in our second collaborative funding cycle in Israel, we decided to set aside some funds specifically for storytelling. We know this investment in time and creativity will help facts, actions, and data come to life in more meaningful ways and in turn, will serve the work as well as the broader humanity of sisterhood.

In summary, practicing any combination of these eight themes and “lessons learned” will strengthen the work we do as grantmakers, conveners, and collaborative partners who are committed to doing intentional social change work. We need deep investment in systems change with long-term funding commitments, and we must continue to model and share best practices for organizing around our values.

This piece is authored by Hamutal Gouri, former Executive Director of the Dafna Fund, Israel’s first and only feminist fund, and founder of Consult4good: consulting, training and storytelling for Social Change, with support from Tuti B. Scott, gender justice leader and producer and facilitator for JWFN community learnings, with deep appreciation and recognition of those who brought us all together.

The JWFN was established thanks to the vision of its founder, Barbara Dobkin, a prominent leader in global feminist philanthropy, and Nancy Schwartz-Sternoff, who served as the network coordinator until her passing in January 2019. The vision and passion of our founding mothers and their relentless commitment to building an active movement of Jewish women funders and leaders was and still is a major driving force in our activism. Their commitment continues to push us to come together in new ways and sets the bar for our current and future endeavors. Nancy’s passing was a huge personal loss for so many of us who loved and appreciated her, and we are committed to preserve and continue her legacy of feminist generosity, wisdom, and faith. Nancy believed in the power of the JWFN to make this world a better place for women and girls. Funding with an intentional gender lens and being gender activists who use our voices proudly is at the core of this legacy. We are grateful to all the member funds and their professional and lay leadership who live this legacy daily.