Tikkun Olam in the 21st Century

by Shari L. Edelstein

A follow up to the November 7, 2013 article:
Jewish Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility: A Missing Link?

It is high time to start a conversation about how Jewish philanthropy can be more effective in the 21st Century. Are you ready?

I don’t think that anyone would argue against the crucial role Jewish giving plays to ensure the quality and sustainability of the Jewish community in every corner of the world. For many, directing resources to the Jewish community remains paramount. At the same time, many Jewish donors share their resources well beyond supporting Jewish causes. In fact, countless Jewish philanthropists and foundations are committed to promoting issues of social, environmental and economic justice outside the Jewish community. This is what our people have been doing through Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) for centuries.

The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, can be considered a large scale example of today’s Tikkun Olam efforts. As a network, 27 Jewish organizations collaborate to “elevate social justice to the center of Jewish life and to advance an explicitly Jewish framework in the pursuit of social justice.”[1] Guided by Jewish values, these organizations promote social justice at the local, state, national and international levels. To highlight a few of the groups in the network, we find the American Jewish World Service, working to protect human rights and end poverty in the developing world; HIAS, offering protection to many of the most vulnerable refugee communities around the world; and Avodah, a Jewish Service Corps utilizing young Jewish adults to fight poverty in several American cities.

While Jewish philanthropy and Jewish social change organizations work to promote Tikkun Olam, similar developments are happening outside our community. In order to adapt ourselves for the 21st Century, we, the Jewish philanthropic community must think bigger, more creatively and outside our comfort zone. It is not that we aren’t doing good work, but we lag behind when we should lead in this field.

We may be cynical about business ethics, but it is a fact that an increasing number of businesses are looking for ways to have positive social impact in areas which mirror ours. Corporations are looking for ways to use their business know-how and influence to impact issues of social and environmental sustainability world-wide. In their book, The Business of Changing the World, Marc Beinoff, Chairman and CEO of salesforce.com, and Carlye Adler interview twenty corporate leaders and demonstrate that a growing number of corporations have proven that “integrating philanthropy into business isn’t a lofty idea, but the secret weapon for twenty-first century companies to achieve success.”[2]

Another growing concept is the creation of “Shared Value,” a principal that entails “creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges.”[3] The Shared Value Initiative – lead by FSG, a nonprofit consulting firm – brings corporate, community and government leaders together to strengthen and engage a global community, offering opportunities for “simultaneously creating business value while addressing complex social problems.”[4]

In a recent conversation about Tikkun Olam and philanthropy, FSG Founder and Managing Director, Mark Kramer noted that “companies often have greater impact on the lives of people and the health of our planet than foundations or nonprofits. They bring tremendous expertise, technology, influence and resources to the social and environmental challenges we face. Above all, they operate at a scale that few nonprofits can match. When McDonald’s decided to put apples in their happy meals, they doubled America’s consumption of apples overnight.” Some leading businesses are adopting the 1-1-1 model, contributing: 1% of equity or profits, 1% product and 1% employee time. More and more companies are actively working to decrease their carbon footprint. Recently, President Barak Obama commended hundreds of companies’ efforts to incorporate solar technology in order to increase energy efficiency and reduce U.S. reliance on carbon fuels.

So, what might this mean for Jewish philanthropy? While few of us are leaders in the corporate world with the reach of McDonald’s, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take advantage of these trends in the business community. For example, according to Kramer, “those who own and lead businesses are often generous philanthropists, but they overlook a powerful lever for change when they practice Tikkun Olam only through their philanthropy. Engaging their companies in creating shared value by finding the business opportunities in solving social problems can improve their companies’ performance and simultaneously turbocharge their social impact.”

Even if you don’t own a business, you can leverage this emerging opportunity. Two directions to consider include: (1) how you invest your corpus and (2) how you allocate your 5% in grants and programs. This type of engagement appears to be gaining attention amongst some Jewish foundations. At the most recent Jewish Funders Network conference, Mission Related Investments (MRI), Program Related Investments (PRI), opportunities for Social Enterprise and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) were explored as avenues for creating greater impact on repairing the world. Betsy Ringel, Executive Director for the Blaustein Philanthropic Group, believes that “more and more the lines between sustainability, CSR, cause-related marketing, mission related investing, etc., seem to be merging.” Blaustein is actively exploring mission aligned investments, including PRIs and MRIs.

If changing your investment strategies seems overwhelming, consider utilizing a portion of your philanthropic dollars or engaging in activities that support your social justice mission. What would the 21st century look like if Jewish philanthropy committed 1% of our grant dollars to leveraging corporate citizenship? Here are three directions for you to consider:

  • Utilize grant dollars to support nonprofits working to promote CSR, create opportunities for Social Enterprise or educate future generations on the importance of ‘profit and purpose.’
  • Adopt a ‘venture philanthropy’ approach incorporating practices from venture capital, including strategic multi-year funding, a focus on capacity building, clear measurable results, and offers financial, intellectual and human capital with high donor involvement.[5]
  • Engage in Shareholder Activism by utilizing your fiduciary responsibility to vote the proxies associated with your investment stocks. For more, look to the Nathan Cummings Shareholder Activity Guidelines, which “call for the Foundation to consider its broad programmatic values, including those of accountability and transparency, when voting its proxies. In addition, the Foundation may encourage dialogues between shareholders, nonprofit groups and corporate managements through program activities. It may also file shareholder resolutions on issues that lie at the intersection of programmatic interests and long-term shareholder value.”[6]

Our foundations often support the local Jewish community, the social change movement in Israel and broader social justice issues of Tikkun Olam. All of these priority areas constitute “Jewish giving.” Our vision of social justice includes a wide range of issue areas, for example environmental sustainability, community development in low-income communities, expansion of housing, educational and health opportunities. To do this, we want to leverage our resources by taking advantage of the growing business trends of corporate citizenship and shared value. Not all of us have the capacity to engage at a global level, but we can look for opportunities to work with businesses in our local community. The opportunities are endless. We just need to start applying the principals of Tikkun Olam in a way that captures the trends of the times.

Want to know what we could do? Be a part of the conversation. Join me and the Jewish Funders Network as we explore Tikkun Olam in the 21st century with an entrepreneurial lens. We will be starting with an open brainstorming discussion as we plan a series of sessions designed to expand the conversation about philanthropy and corporate citizenship. If you have suggestions or a passion for this subject, please join this call to help JFN identity topics that can enhance our understanding and support an emerging strategy to increasing our impact. The call will be held on Thursday, May 22 from 2:30 – 3:30 EDT. Click the link to register: http://www.jfunders.org/jfn-programming/events/philanthropy-and-csr-conference-call

1 http://jewishsocialjustice.org/about-us
2 The Business of Changing the World, by Marc Beinoff and Caryle Adler (2007), p xix.
3 Creating Shared Value, by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer.
4 http://www.fsg.org/OurApproach/SharedValue.aspx
5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venture_philanthropy
6 http://www.nathancummings.net/shareholders/index.html

Shari L. Edelstein is a philanthropic consultant based in Boulder, Colorado.