By Netanel Afek
As an Israeli child raised in foster care in Cleveland during my high-school years, I met a lot of generous people. “You’re from Israel!” they exclaimed “let me know if you need anything.” They meant money, of course. One especially kind soul actually bought me shoes after he saw me walking in Sandals in the winter. I can’t blame him, of course, but that kind gesture made me feel more disadvantaged than I ever felt in my life.
I didn’t need money then. I needed friends, community, and love. Thankfully, the Cleveland community was able to deliver all those and more. My teachers acted as role models way beyond the classroom. My friends’ parents went way beyond their duties to help me feel at home. Yes, money was important to make sure I don’t live in the streets, but much more than that, the community provided me with good people who taught me how to become a kind and caring human being.
Confusing the end with the means is nothing new to us. The Jewish people confused Moses with a golden calf already 3,500 years ago. They needed a leader to teach them Torah, but instead threw their money in the fire and worshiped what came out. In the 70’s, when Israel needed to repair its broken neighborhoods, it asked for money which came willingly, but barely helped. In many ways, we are still repeating that mistake.
This week was Giving Tuesday, and as we all well know and experience, Israeli NGOs raised campaigns for funds, and justly so. After investing billions in the commercial market over the past weekend, there’s a strong case for investing in the social market as well. But while many Israeli NGOs and charities asked for your money, ask yourselves if money is what they really need, and consider how much more you actually have to offer.
Our biggest treasure is our human capital. It has always been. Instead of sending money abroad, why not send ambassadors? What if we invest in people, who can teach, train, and empower with love and care, and then send them off to do field work abroad? What if you were able to send an ambassador who could tell your story, take all the tools you want and more, create personal relationships with people, and deliver scalable, long term results? Wouldn’t that be a much better investment for your money once they came back to you having gained valuable experience overseas?
This isn’t a dream. More and more Israeli organizations, movements, fellowships and NGOs are open to accept these ambassadors in their field. Pilots are already taking place in a number of Israeli cities. So next time you are asked for your money, ask yourself – can I give them something much better instead?
Netanel Afek is Izrael Experience CEO, a Mandel graduate and a fellow at the Reut Group.