When Business Meets People

social investmentA groundbreaking model for long-term corporate responsibility and social investment

By Ronit Fishman-Ofir

Fifteen years ago, Fishman Group initiated an owner resolution, which was nothing less than groundbreaking in the Israeli corporate responsibility field. We launched an innovative, long-term strategic plan, “When Business Meets People,” which has become a model for creating significant social change.

Our plan was founded on two novel premises, uncommon in corporate social action at the time:

  1. A focus on one significant social issue, investing the maximum and best resources and efforts of all Group companies, each in its unique domain.
  2. A focus on people in Israel with disabilities, a community with a wide range of challenges and difficulties, representing approximately 20% of the general population. We recognized the children, teenagers, young adults and elderly, men and women, from all communities and regions, who are challenged not only by their physical, sensory, intellectual, developmental or mental disability, but also by a lack of public awareness and inclusion, hindrances in access to sites and services, and lack of integration into employment, education, and most other walks of life.

We took on this mission, despite – or perhaps because – it does not often attract the attention or enthusiasm of businesses when considering various avenues of social investment. We did so based on our belief that this venture has real potential for improving the quality of life for so many whose voices go unheard, and who are under-represented and misrepresented.

Over the years, we have successfully expanded our spheres of influence, recruiting to action not only thousands of the group’s employees and managers, and their families, but also customers, suppliers, business partners, and shareholders. We lead innovative initiatives and respond creatively to specific needs, through continuous dialogue and close cooperation with entities in the business, public and voluntary sectors.

At the core of the “When Business Meets People” model are the values that we stand for – honesty, responsibility and safety, protection of individual rights, and human dignity. It is around this central axis that we implement our strategy in three overlapping areas of activity: community, workplace, and consumer marketing.

We believe in social action based on the fundamentals of business practice, encouraging all our subsidiaries to take an active role in realizing our vision for the integration and advancement of people with disabilities within Israeli society. Our subsidiaries leverage their assets and infrastructures, such as marketing and advertising displays, sales locations and checkouts, buildings and facilities, vehicle fleets, etc. They go further, harnessing their business relations, professional expertise, and the skills and capabilities of executives and employees to advance organizations, programs and processes designed to promote awareness of the needs of people with disabilities, and to improve their quality of life.

Toys R Us set as its goal to promote equal opportunities by making joyful and fun learning experiences available to all children, everywhere. In this same spirit, they produced Israel’s first toy and game guide aimed at families and children with special needs. Working with a team of a developmental psychologist, speech therapist and occupational therapist from Milbat – a nonprofit dedicated to increasing independence, quality of life and integration by means of accessible technology – they analyzed 100 everyday shelf toys and characterized them according to their capacity to serve the needs of special children, corresponding to nine categories: sight, hearing, thinking, feeling, social skills, self-esteem, language, gross motor function, and creativity. The highlight of the process was the toy catalogue, distributed by the chain, featuring boys and girls with disabilities at play, fulfilling the children’s fantasy to be a model, rather than cast as ‘suffering’ from one syndrome or another. For their parents, it was an exciting experience and an opportunity to speak out on inclusion and acceptance of those who are different.

Social responsibility is implemented first and foremost on our home turf. We promote employment diversity (with focus on people with disabilities), workplace accessibility and business ethics, while ensuring a work environment that prevents harassment of any kind. Our companies offer employees with disabilities various positions, based on their level of education and capabilities, creating conditions where they can succeed at their jobs and become involved team members.

Telepharma has grown to be a leading example of integrating deaf or hearing-impaired employees into positions such as warehouse manager, accounting, collection, packaging, prescriptions typing and control, and stock keeper – assigned to complete tasks that require significant concentration, responsibility, and punctuality. The company adjusted its recruitment and integration procedures, with employees undergoing training workshops, learning sign language and effective communication with hearing-disabled co-workers, which includes conducting conversations in well-lit places, showing one’s face, and eliminating background noise.

For 14 years, we have successfully led the ‘Ofek Employment’ project, in which youth who are blind or visually impaired are offered summer jobs at various companies in the Fishman Group. Here they are exposed to a positive work experience, which empowers and provides them with a sense of confidence and independence regarding their future integration as adults into the challenging work environment.

We cooperate with organizations and institutions working to promote the rights of people with disabilities in Israel. Thanks to the contribution of JEC, a clinic for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was founded at the Faculty of Law at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Here students have the opportunity to practice the legal profession, and to put legal theory into practice in the field of people with disabilities. The clinic provides them with mentoring and academic guidance, along with useful skills for representing clients with disabilities, and hands-on learning of ethical considerations and social, economic and political implications.

Another example is the Positive Attitude Index, published by the Israeli financial daily Globes, in May 2013. This partnership with the Israeli branch of the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), Fishman Group, Ted Arison Family Foundation, The Ruderman Family Foundation and “Bizchut” (the Israeli Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities) is the first of its kind. The Index examines a range of parameters regarding employment, leisure and community services, from various aspects relating to social involvement alongside physical and virtual access to municipal services.

The Fishman Group keeps up-to-date on current trends and events, constantly questioning and adapting its plans. The secret of our success lies in a brave and creative connection between the business capabilities of the group and the social needs of people with disabilities. We strive constantly to develop new initiatives, construct and carry out long-term plans, and achieve the goals we set for ourselves. By maintaining ongoing dialogue and cooperation across the business, public and voluntary sectors, we aim to bring about change and make a meaningful impact on the business and the social landscape in Israel.

Ronit Fishman-Ofir is a joint owner of the Fishman Group, a corporate group that owns or partners in about 40 public and private companies in diverse industries. Beyond her management role within the Group, she is also serves on the boards of several companies, and has spearheaded its code of social responsibility.

This post is part of a series in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation designed to introduce you to philanthropy from an Israeli perspective.