On January 13, I wrote about a client from New York who was very involved in rights and entitlements, and I discussed how he had formed a partnership with a major hospital in Israel to develop a service to inform patients and their families about all their rights and their entitlements to services through the government, health maintenance organizations, and other providers. Based on this article a frequent reader to eJewishPhilanthropy.com made a connection between two Israeli hi-tech business people-philanthropists who were involved in setting up a comprehensive website focused on rights and entitlements and me. Following an initial phone conversation I met with them and then my client spoke with them.
These conversations opened the door to possible collaboration and joining of efforts. My client decided that exploring the furthering of the relationship with these two Israeli philanthropists was worth a trip to Israel. Following my discussions with him, we agreed to arrange for an initial meeting with the four of us so my client could understand the details of the website based information system and the plans to set up the access to the website in the near future. We had agreed that the next step would be to arrange for the proposed system to be presented to professional social workers who were involved in the delivery of services to clients.
Since the focus was on my client’s interest in strengthening the local municipal social services department’s ability to provide more comprehensive and detailed information to their clients. The two Israelis were invited to present their system to the senior managers of a major city’s department of social service and to explore the possibility of testing the system out with the department’s staff. The success of the meeting was beyond any of our expectations.
The department’s professional staff members were in awe of the of a web based information system that contained not only details of the rights and entitlements in tens of subject areas, but also provided access to phone numbers, addresses (e-mail and regular), appropriate forms to request services and payments, and sample letters (templates) for communicating with various offices. There was an immediate request to explore a working relationship whereby the social workers would assist in uploading accurate up-to-date information on to the system, and in turn, the program would be utilized by the entire department for a pilot test. The organizing principle of the system is based on those who have access also being the source of detailed information and the users’ ability to continually update the information.
Although my client did not speak Hebrew he had no problem understanding the affinity the Israeli social entrepreneurs and the social workers felt for each other as former described the details of the system and the latter heard how to access valuable pieces of information that would improve the quality of their clients’ lives. A decision was made to immediately begin working in two areas. The first focused on the rights and entitlements of single parents and one of the Israeli philanthropists would be the point person and follow up with the social worker responsible for this client population. Once there was success with one group then there would be an effort to deal with issues, services, and entitlements for the elderly living with the boundaries of the municipality.
The openness and the willingness of three parties to work together signaled a new partnership involving public social services, and philanthropists from Israel and from the United States. The joining of people with different and shared priorities demonstrates that more can be accomplished by working together and linking people with a variety of interests. The professional staff members of local departments of social service are generally overworked and understaffed. They are interested in providing services effectively and efficiently in as short a time as possible. My client has been devoted to having a positive impact on the accessibility of information and services and the Israeli philanthropists want to change the way people not only find out the information they need but also have the ability to build the system that works best for them for now and for the future.
The development of the three cornered partnership of Israeli and Diaspora philanthropists with a department of social service system also sets a new standard for the way Israeli public services are prepared to interact with, cooperate with, coordinate with entities outside their system. This working relationship requires not only openness but also flexibility and a desire to use all available resources to enhance the delivery of service to those in need. Perhaps this will be a model in Israeli society that links the voluntary sector and the public sector in a new way.
The direct link between the philanthropists, on one hand, and the voluntary sector and public service, on the other hand has the potential to reframe how we see innovation in this sphere. It is possible for people to work directly with each other, and it may not be necessary to use intermediary organizations that sometimes have their proprietary interests that complicate the ability to achieve the change my client and his Israeli colleagues want to achieve.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.