From Seed to Tree: When a Meeting Leads to Meaningful Action

Seed to Treeby Noa Yovel Maoz

We often talk about planting seeds to foster meaningful philanthropic collaborations.

At the Gandyr Foundation, where I am a board member, we know that is much more than a metaphor. For us, it began with a chance meeting at the 2008 Jewish Funders Network conference in Jerusalem, which included a “speed dating” session for donors and foundations.

To encourage philanthropists and organizations who shared similar interests to “go steady,” JFN promised a $10,000 grant to any new collaboration, with the condition that each partner pledged to invest $5,000. That’s when I met Sigal Yaniv Feller, Executive Director of the Green Environment Fund (GEF). We agreed to create an initiative that connects youth development, a field in which Gandyr is active, and environmental causes promoted by GEF.

Gandyr had never worked on environmental projects before, but we were intrigued by the possibilities. Soon after, Gandyr waded further into the environmental arena when JFN and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund inaugurated a matching grant initiative in 2009 for Israeli environmental programs. We applied for a $25,000 matching grant to develop environmental programs in Shahaf Communities, which are groups of young adults who live together and work with residents in the areas they live in to reduce the social, economic and cultural gaps that divide Israeli society.

We felt Shahaf was an ideal vehicle to promote sustainability initiatives in Israel, everything from promoting recycling to water conservation. Our application was approved and the program received a total of $50,000 through the matching grant initiative.

The matching grant initiative and Shahaf were a great fit. Shahaf developed change agents in communities. Rather than have a municipality work top down and dictate a plan of action, residents had an active hand in deciding how to develop a public space for such uses as a community garden or building a small park. By having an ownership stake in the solution, residents were empowered and thus more motivated to take on other environmental projects. All of a sudden, using energy-saving light bulbs or taking steps to conserve precious water resources wasn’t such a big ask.

The matching grant also helped us get the government’s attention. We showed the ministries for Health and Environmental Protection the results of a successful program that injected sustainability into the Israeli conversation. It was no coincidence that the government’s sustainability budget in 2012 of 1.8 million shekels ($510,000), was triple the amount from just two years earlier.

Gandyr continued funding Shahaf environmental programs for four years after the initial grant ended. It continues today without us. That’s the best part. The infrastructure has been developed, and now there is an enduring relationship with the government that ensures more reliable funding. Today, there are nearly 20 Shahaf communities with an environmental component. While the first ones were comprised of pluralistic secular Jews, four years later there were religious Jewish, Arab, Druze and other communities working passionately in this area. These communities will not only establish themselves as leaders in the sustainability field, we expect they will inspire others to follow suit.

Who would have believed that the seed planted in a JFN “speed date” would turn into a flagship sustainability program? We knew young adults, not the environment. But the matching grant initiative enabled us to exercise a new set of philanthropic muscles. For the funder and grantee, not to mention those Shahaf helps, it was a win-win.

At Gandyr, we have found that philanthropy is the best way to achieve the kind of collaboration that gets results. JFN was a significant strategic partner that provided the seeds. Then it was up to us to nurture them with a willingness to put aside the status quo.

Sometimes you just need a little push, which was provided by the matching grant initiative. As foundations, we must be attentive to opportunities on the ground. After all, that’s where the seeds are planted.

Noa Yovel Maoz is a board member at the Gandyr Foundation in Israel.

cross-posted on the Jewish Funders Network Blog

For more on The Gandyr Foundation see, Judith Yovel Recanati: “A Big Heart with a Woman Inside”.