Good Deeds Day-Kulanana Launched in Israel

by Shlomit De Vries and Mike Prashker

The Ted Arison Family Foundation and Merchavim – The Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel, have recently launched a new initiative called “Good Deeds Day-Kulanana”.

Our goal is to strengthen the fabric of Israeli society by encouraging cooperation between Israel’s different and far too often divided communities. The urgency of this task is increasingly well-understood with research indicating that Israel’s “social cohesion” is among the lowest among OECD and EU countries.

The initiative – aiming to combine and leverage our different strengths – is an extension of two of our flagship projects; “Good Deeds Day” (run by Ruach Tova) and “Kulanana“, run by Merchavim. Over its first five years, “Good Deeds Day-Kulanana” aims to engage 400 Israeli NGO, business and government agencies – and through them some one million Israeli citizens – in on-going and sustainable “society building” projects to improve inter-group relations and strengthen the cohesion of Israeli society.

Our first 18 “Good Deeds Day-Kulanana” NGO partner projects are already underway and will be celebrated this coming “Good Deeds Day”, on 11th March. By way of example, one of our partners, Ecommunity, an environmental social venture employing disabled residents of Northern Israel is engaging hundreds of school students in the twin issues of the environment and disabilities. A process of work-shops and site-visits will reach a peak on “Good Deeds Day” when students will act on everything they have learned and collect “high-tech waste” to donate to Ecommunity . If all goes to plan such processes of “doing good together”, will eventually continue from one “Good Deeds Day” to the next.

Overall, our change-strategy attempts to address what we and many others have identified as a major obstacle to making effective change. Namely; how can we work together to solve social problems that are simply too big, complex and costly for any of us to reasonably expect to solve alone?

Israel is blessed with a robust civil society and many outstanding change-making individuals and agencies. But these – a faithful reflection of our “sectorial” society – tend to live and work separately. The result is that lots of good people work “tirelessly” at cross-purposes, leading to a great deal of frustration, exhaustion and wasted intellectual, social and economic capital.

While “Good Deeds Day-Kulanana” is still in its formative stages, three distinct kinds of intended cooperation have been identified, each with its own set of challenges:

1. Sustainable cooperation between implementing agencies across issues, communities and methodological divides. This is tough anywhere, but in Israel, characterized by low levels of inter-group familiarity and fierce competition for resources, all the more so. To try to address this, “Good Deeds Day-Kulanana” aims to invest significant energies in building what Robert Putnam called “bridging-capital”; basically trust between estranged communities. Like Putnam, we think it is essential that citizens who generally live and work separately hold meaningful and respectful conversations about their shared civic future.

2. The establishment of a broad and collaborative Israeli and international funding-community that accommodates and serves the diverse missions of its partners.

It is of course also well-known among philanthropic investors that more can be achieved through cooperation. But once again, this is easier said than done.

We envisage the establishment of a “flexible funding-community” with multiple entry points. While, by definition, everyone will share the strategic goal of strengthening Israeli society, each investor will remain focused on their areas of expertise and funding priorities. We hope – for example – that an investor focused on disabilities will view “Good Deeds Day-Kulanana” as an effective vehicle to amplify this issue across other communities, where attitudes and access to the disabled urgently need to change.

As part of this process, we envisage greater communication and connectedness between funders who individually are bound to invest in specific issues and communities; but are collectively – as investors in Israel’s civil society – often at cross-purposes.

3. Increased understanding and cooperation between implementing agencies and funders:

The parallel planets inhabited by funders and implementing agencies are the stuff of third sector legend. Even as we truly aspire to serve common goals, our communities, conversations, sensitivities are often distinct and contrary. It is for this reason that both our communities rightly value “safe spaces” where we can share our mutual frustrations, separately.

As co-authors of this piece, we easily agreed we cannot count the times that we have each enquired if representatives of the “other community” will be “in the room” at a scheduled meeting. We do this for the exact same reason, to prepare ourselves to speak and act differently in their presence.

As the “odd-couple” initiators of “Good Deeds Day-Kulanana”, – a family foundation and an implementing agency – we are keenly aware of this built-in tension – between ourselves, within this initiative and across the entire “third sector”. Together with the perceived win-win benefits of our own cooperation, combining the respective powers of separate change-platforms and distinctive capacities, we believe that a more open discourse between what are in reality distinct sub-sectors of the “third sector” – grant-makers and grantees – is long overdue.

In conclusion, while we know that the scope of cooperation we aim to forge through “Good Deeds Day-Kulanana” is ambitious, we believe it is essential to making the scale of change to which we aspire for Israel. But that is exactly the point; effective cooperation where it has not previously existed is in essence both the aim and the means of this undertaking.

Shlomit De Vries is CEO at the Ted Arison Family Foundation and Mike Prashker is Founder and CEO at Merchavim – The Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel.