Post 8: On Vision: ISRAEL 15 Vision as a Possible Framework for Philanthropy

[eJP note: This post, by Gidi Grinstein, was originally published on May 13, 2008, as part of a series on Philanthropy in Israel. With this year’s Jewish Funders Network conference taking place in Israel, we thought it would be timely to rerun the series.]

The ISRAEL 15 Vision aims to place Israel among the fifteen most developed nations in terms of quality of life within fifteen years. This vision is an example of a possible useful framework and context for refocusing Diaspora Jewish philanthropy in Israel as it strives to increase its impact in Israel.

The ISRAEL 15 Vision requires leapfrogging Israel’s socioeconomic performance. Such a leap happens when a nation sustains out-of-the-ordinary growth for a prolonged period (See my post “Leapfrogging or Growth? The Differences”.) This is what China has experienced in recent years and other countries such as Ireland, Finland, Singapore and even Israel went through in the course of the past few decades.

The traditional approach to development views the process of economic growth as largely top-down. Hence, it is driven by a small group of high-level academics, politicians and bureaucrats, mostly from or in the field of economics.

The new approach understands rapid growth to be a process driven as much by bottom-up mobilization of key sectors of society. In other words, for a nation to leap it needs the right kind of macroeconomic policies, as well as for growth and development to become ‘national obsessions’ that drive the actions and ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the government, business and nonprofit sectors, as well as of individual households. For Israelis and world Jewry the references are powerful. In the past we have come together for immigration absorption, redemption of the land or making the desert bloom.

Who are the key sectors of Israeli society in this context? The list would include mayors and municipal governments, nonprofits, businesses and business people, philanthropists and career civil servants.

My argument is that world Jewry can also become a key player in Israeli society if it focuses its resources on catalyzing rapid growth and development. What could its role be? Following are a few examples.

First, history teaches us that all nations that leapt were very creative in exhausting their unique potential. Singapore thrived on its location as a gateway between east and west while Ireland leveraged its association with the European Union. I believe that Israel’s vastly untapped economic potential is its being part of the Jewish world wide web. I also believe that a challenge of the coming decades will be to build a global network of economic and business relationships that are mutually beneficial yet critically important for Israel’s economic growth and development.

Second, philanthropists can play a critical role in promoting better management and higher productivity in the nonprofit sector (click here for post no. 12 on institution building and management). The significance of this point extends beyond ‘bigger bang for the philanthropic buck’. About 85% of Israel’s labor force is in the low-tech sector, which suffers from low productivity compared to developed countries (USA’s low-tech productivity is 50% higher!). As productivity is highly correlated with income, its rise is critical for Israel’s wellbeing. The governmental and nonprofit sectors represent an estimated two thirds of the Israeli economy! They are almost entirely low-tech. Hence, improving their productivity is essential for the ISRAEL 15 Vision and Diaspora Jewish philanthropy is in an excellent position to influence some of the key sectors here, primarily municipalities and nonprofits.

Finally, philanthropists may choose to funnel more funds to nonprofits and social entrepreneurs that are dedicated to promoting growth and development and to improving the quality of life of all Israelis. Examples of such organizations include those that provide micro loans for businesses such as the Koret Israel Economic Development Funds or nonprofits that are dedicated to expanding labor force participation in the Haredi or Arab sectors.

As mentioned, the ISRAEL 15 Vision is one example of a framework that may be useful for driving priorities and actions of Diaspora Jewish philanthropy as it strives to increase its impact in Israel. Other useful frameworks may include a world class education system or resilient and thriving communities.

Adopting the ISRAEL 15 Vision as a framework does not mean that philanthropic projects should focus exclusively on productivity or economic growth. However, it does means that every dollar spent on any project – food security, better health services, education, academic research or reforming government – has to be leveraged towards greater productivity in Israel and by Israelis.

I believe that mobilizing towards a vision such as ISRAEL 15 is not only important for Israel but also for strengthening Israel-Diaspora relations and for Diaspora Jewish communities themselves. It will provide them with a new platform for strengthening their own communities.

Gidi Grinstein is the Founder and President of the Reut Institute.