The Rhetoric of Change

Change is in the air at JAFI.

Change, the theme of political candidates worldwide, is mostly an attitude. But, as a verb it means a significant revision to a position, course or direction. And change is most certainly underway at the Jewish Agency. That much was clear from last week’s Board of Governors meeting.

They (JAFI) recognize the need to streamline, to reduce costs and operate more efficiently. The reduction in the core budget, inflationary pressures and the constantly changing dollar / shekel rates, while not the driver of change, makes the timing more urgent.

JAFI, like so many other of our communal organizations, is grappling with four major challenges taking place in the marketplace they serve; all of which we heard a great deal about not only at JAFI events the past two weeks, but also at various other programs on the weeks’ agenda:

  • challenges to identification with Israel and the collective (global) Jewish community
  • emerging donor interests that stretch beyond the traditional Jewish community
  • a new generation of donors who prefer to give to specific projects; and expect them to be managed based on modern business practices
  • the growing individualization and a weakening in the centrality of large organizations

JAFI’s moving ahead. They are revising their organizational structure and estimate a cost savings of $8m. next year. Another 60 staff positions are on the chopping block (though not immediately). Their main goal is to create a “more stream-lined, efficient, service-driven Jewish Agency (that) will restore confidence in the collective system (and) ensure ongoing support for core activities.”

The nature of philanthropy and the expectations of their funding partners, both from Israel and the Diaspora, is changing. JAFI is moving forward to modify how they operate as they meet the challenges of the 21st century. But, they cannot operate in a vacuum. Their partners must change with them.

Time will tell whether they are successful.