The Israeli Spirit and Style of Corporate Giving

[This article is part of an overview on Philanthropy in Israel today.]

by Frayda Leibtag

In the first half of the twentieth century, before Israel was home to philanthropists and a plethora of nonprofit organizations, halutzim, pioneers, were the ultimate representation of commitment to the State of Israel. With blood, sweat and tears, they did the arduous and grimy work of building a state by ploughing fields, drying swamps and defending outposts. This Israeli ideal of getting involved on the front lines in a very hands-on way persists in the way that Israeli corporations are choosing to give back to society. Israeli companies are not just writing checks. They are inviting students into their offices and factories, volunteering in fields and classrooms and working to create a better future for Israel.

The share of Israeli corporations in philanthropy is 27 percent compared to 6 percent in the United States, according to a survey initiated by Committed to Give, and carried out by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics in cooperation with Yad Hanadiv. While impressive, these statistics do not reveal the unique spirit of Israeli corporate giving. Sixty percent of corporate donations from companies in Israel were in the form of non-monetary resources, while 40 percent of giving was in the form of cash donations, based on the 2013 Maala Index, which measures corporate giving in Israel. In comparison, the average global company provided 82 percent of its giving in financial resources, while 18 percent of contributions were provided in the form of non-cash resources, according to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy’s 2013 Giving in Numbers report.

“The balance in Israel between cash donations and giving of non-cash resources such as employee volunteer hours and in-kind donations is very different from what we see in the United States,” agreed Maala CEO Momo Mahadev. While the corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts of Israeli corporations are admirable, Mahadev cautioned that although volunteering is certainly important, there “is not enough of an understanding that in order to have a strong civil society and effective NGOS, there needs to be financial support as well.” What some view as an Israeli reluctance to donate money, however, may actually be a preference for engaging employees in a culture of giving back to society and a desire to effect tangible change.

Aleh, a project of Zionism 2000, creates partnerships between corporations and nonprofits that can benefit from the company’s expertise and resources. Aleh, asakim l’maan hakehilla, is the Hebrew acronym for “Business for the Community.” The project was created to strengthen the participation and influence of the business sector in the general community. In 2013, Aleh worked closely with 120 companies that invested NIS 14million in cash donations, and an additional NIS 7million of in-kind donations, in their partner social organizations. According to Project Manager Hila Ofir, “we do not use the term philanthropy because it is not just about giving money, but developing a culture of social responsibility within the company.”

“The desire to give back to society and the community came from the bottom-up, from individuals who wanted to get involved,” explained Ahuva Yanai, CEO of Matan – Investing in the Community, the Israeli affiliate of United Way. “As a result, the mode of thinking about CSR has changed. Rather than simply giving, companies are looking to make an effective investment that will make a difference in communities.”

At Netafim, the global leader in smart drip and micro-irrigation solutions, “We give because we believe in it. Everyone should be giving,” said CSR Manager Ofer Rimon. The Israeli corporation, which receives a platinum ranking from Maala for its corporate giving, has CSR projects that focus on sustainability. Scholastic assistance programs for youth-at-risk bring teens into Netafim’s factories to work with mentors every Wednesday. The company also funds and organizes workshops and seminars for entrepreneurs from the Negev and the Galil to help nurture small businesses and foster economic growth in Israel’s periphery. In March 2014, Netafim launched a project in partnership with JDC, Al-Qasemi College and the municipality of Baqa-El-Gharbia to plant gardens in 39 kindergartens in Baqa-El-Gharbia that will teach children about agriculture and sustainability. In 2013, 710 of Netafim’s 900 employees volunteered. “While we don’t market our corporate sustainability programs externally, we make a big deal about CSR within the company, including recognition awards for outstanding volunteers,” said Rimon.

Tmura, an organization founded in 2002 by Yadin Kaufmann, has overcome the supposed Israeli reluctance to donate money by asking Israeli start-ups to donate equity. “Most start-ups are strapped for funds and cannot be approached for cash donations. But every start-up has equity and people tend to be more generous,” said Kaufmann, a Founding Partner at Veritas Venture Partners and Co-Founder at Sadara Ventures. In their biggest exit to date, the Tmura Fund generated $1.5million for the community following the sale of Waze. A total of 324 companies have invested in Tmura and the organization has realized $9.5 million for Israeli nonprofits. According to Kaufmann, corporate philanthropy is “becoming a way of doing business here.” “There is much more awareness of the importance of companies getting involved in the broader community and sharing the wealth that they are building with those that are less fortunate. And when people know that their success will contribute to the wellbeing of less fortunate people, it is a strong motivator in recruiting and retaining employees,” he said.

At global hi-tech corporations such as Microsoft and SanDisk, both of which received platinum awards from Maala, CSR is part of the company mandate. Often, though, the Israeli branches and offices have unique local programs that take place exclusively in Israel. Microsoft’s R&D Center in Israel has their very own CSR department (termed “Citizenship” in Microsoft language) where “the focus is on technology education with strategic programs that aim to expose children in Israel to the world of hi-tech,” according to Dana Whol-Shoushan, Citizenship Program Manager at the R&D Center.

Through Microsoft Citizenship programs, elementary and junior high school students are learning to read code, teenage girls are meeting female role models from hi-tech companies and students from weak socioeconomic backgrounds are encountering the world of technology and being encouraged to dream big. Microsoft’s R&D Center is also working closely with the Ministry of Education to create an emphasis on coding and computer science in the STEM studies departments in Israeli schools, as well as carrying out teacher training to certify Israeli teachers to teach advanced level software engineering to high school students. For the past five years, the R&D Center has held an annual Give Campaign in partnership with Matan – Investing in the Community, which encourages employees to donate to local NGOs. Through the Microsoft matching program, each employee can receive up to 12,000 NIS in matching funds that is donated to their NGO of choice. In 2013, NIS 1.2million was donated to Israeli NGOs through the campaign (including matching funds from Microsoft).

For SanDisk Israel, community engagement and philanthropic support of charitable causes is a central value. While their annual giving activities include over NIS 1million in cash donations to nonprofits in Israel, SanDisk believes in instilling the values of giving in the company’s culture and creating an integrative experience for the giver and the beneficiary. To celebrate SanDisk’s 25th Anniversary in 2013, global CEO Sanjay Mehrotra launched “Celebration through Service,” a year-long volunteerism campaign with the goal of 100 percent employee participation, and over $1.65 million raised in volunteer and cash matching funds. The response from employees was so widespread, the company has made annual community engagement a permanent core program worldwide.
“Corporate giving is part of everyday life here at the company,” said Ronit Ronen-Karpol, Head of HR Israel and EMEA at SanDisk Israel. SanDisk Israel has 620 employees in three locations in Israel and an employee volunteer participation rate of close to 100 percent. Each SanDisk Israel location has adopted a local organization which has become part of the SanDisk community. Since 2006, SanDisk is supporting the Kadima Youth Center in Kfar Saba, and every Wednesday a busload of at-risk youth from the center arrives at SanDisk’s Kfar Saba offices for personal mentoring and tutoring by SanDisk employees. SanDisk Israel employees also celebrate every Jewish holiday with students and host Bar/Bat-Mitzva events for them. SanDisk’s Omer location partners with the Amcha community center for Holocaust survivors and in 2013 the SanDisk Tefen site chose ORT Maalot high school as their long-term community partner where they are encouraging STEM education through tutoring, classes and site visits. In addition, SanDisk employees and senior management have initiated and are involved in various educational projects designed to encourage and promote engineering and science studies among young students.

Israeli corporations have found a way to create their own flavor of corporate philanthropy by giving generously to help mold a better civil society through volunteer efforts and donations of human resources. In a modern-day rendering of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Israeli corporations are channeling the spirit of the halutzim and ‘creating a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture… bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants.’