Your Daily Phil: The social entrepreneur behind the Sundara Fund + Moving Traditions taps Shuli Karkowsky as CEO

Good Friday morning!

Moving Traditions, which guides Jewish teens through discussions surrounding adolescence, gender and discrimination, has hired Shuli Karkowsky as its new CEO, eJewishPhilanthropy has learned.

Karkowsky is departing Hazon, the Jewish sustainability and environmental group, where she has served as executive vice president since 2019. Her move comes as Hazon merges with Pearlstone, a Jewish environmental retreat center near Baltimore. She will succeed Deborah Meyer, who is stepping down 16 years after founding Moving Traditions. Karkowsky will take over on Feb. 7.

Shifting her professional focus from climate change to gender, Karkowsky said, doesn’t feel like a long leap. In both organizations, she said, “We’re using the lens of Judaism to make the world a better place, and by engaging young people with this work we strengthen their relationship with Judaism by showing them the deep roots of these values in Jewish texts and Jewish tradition.”

A challenge that likely awaits Karkowsky is navigating evolving norms and language around gender. Moving Traditions runs three separate discussion groups for male, female and trans, nonbinary and LGBTQ+ teens, as well as an all-gender space. “There’s really old research about what makes young people thrive, and all of that research is already antiquated because things are changing so rapidly when it comes to gender,” she said. “I think we’re in a moment where we’re keeping an open mind.”

Before Hazon, Karkowsky, 38, worked for 70 Faces Media, UJA-Federation of New York and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. She is joining a growing number of female CEOs in the Jewish nonprofit world. According to a report last year from Leading Edge, which surveys Jewish nonprofits, 45% of Jewish organizations that submitted responses were led by women, up from 30% in 2018. Across the field, nearly 70% of employees at those groups were women.

One reason for the gender gap, Karkowsky believes, is “an inability to see people with young children as able to take on the trials and hard work required to be a CEO. It’s also clear from my career [that] I will be a better CEO because I have young children — because I know how to listen, because I know how to prioritize, because I know how to manage with firmness but with love.”

In 2020-21, Moving Traditions served upwards of 4,500 preteens and teens in its core discussion programs, with a $3.6 million budget and a staff of more than 30. Karkowsky hopes to expand Moving Traditions’ partnerships with other Jewish youth programs, especially following allegations in recent years of a sexist culture at youth groups, and also wants to partner with Orthodox groups. This week, she was the first-ever woman to run the Tu B’Shevat Seder, a ritual meal on the Jewish new year for trees, at her Orthodox synagogue. “It was a moment to be like, ‘Wow, we have an educated woman in our midst,’” she said. “How do we take advantage of that? How do we make sure she has a podium?”


How soap is changing women’s lives around the world


On a post-college trip to Thailand, Erin Zaikis met a group of school children in a small village on the Thailand-Myanmar border who didn’t know how to use soap. “I couldn’t believe it, because I’d never really thought about soap once in my life… It is just always where I needed it to be,” Zaikis, 32, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther Kustanowitz. Zaikis soon learned that – due to lack of access to soap, clean water and functioning toilets – millions of children were dying each year from conditions like diarrhea and pneumonia. Much like the challenge of world hunger, she realized, global hygiene suffered from a problem of “access and distribution,” she said. 

How it started: With the seeds of a project growing, she pitched the idea – a nonprofit recycling gently used hotel soap – at a competition sponsored by LinkedIn, won a “big Styrofoam check” for $10,000 and founded the Sundara Fund in 2013 (“Sundara” means “beautiful” in Sanskrit). During Sundara’s first seven years, Zaikis and her team worked across India, Uganda and Myanmar, hiring more than 40 women and providing them with their first-ever formal employment. Sundara recycled over 1 million bars of soap, while reaching 200,000 people with intensive hygiene education each year. The nonprofit also created hygiene education modules in local languages, reaching an estimated 3 million people, Zaikis said.

COVID complications: At Sundara’s peak, the organization had 10 factories (in India, Myanmar and Thailand) and 43 employees. But when COVID-19 hit, the organization lost more than 400 hotel partners – representing 75 percent of their operating funds – in three weeks as thousands of planned visits were canceled. It also had to cancel its annual gala, where the organization had traditionally raised the majority of its U.S. funds, she added. “It was just very hard for us to survive that time financially,” Zaikis recalled. “And the world has never needed hygiene education more.” 

Pivot: She realized the organization needed to refocus its investment on women in these countries who were potential changemakers. Sundara raised around $100,000 and put it into RISE, a social innovation fund to financially empower women who might otherwise have been marginalized and unable to support their families. (The organization is now called RISE by Sundara, while Sundar India continues to provide soap and hygiene products and education.)

Money talks: In a new episode of “The Five-O-One” podcast, Zaikis told host and philanthropy advisor Talia Lefkowitz that supporting a factory in India costs between $25,000-$50,000; that supports full-time work for four to five women and brings soap to about 200,000-250,000 children each month. To support one female changemaker for a year, it costs $7,500, she said. Changemakers are currently operating in Indonesia, Nepal, Zimbabwe, India, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria, Zaikis told Lefkowitz. 

Read the full story here.

just be present

Encountering — and supporting — scared children: What’s a Jewish educator to do?

Roman Kraft/Unsplash

“In the next few days and weeks, the Jewish world will continue to proclaim meaningful and significant slogans including, ‘don’t let the terrorists win,’ ‘we will return even stronger than before’ and ‘we must all persist in fighting the oldest hatred in the world.’ But along with these sentiments, demonstrating perseverance and strength in the face of adversity, we must also acknowledge and speak about our fear — especially as it affects our children and youth,” writes David Bryfman, CEO of The Jewish Education Project, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

What we must do: “As Jewish educators, we can be there for our youth as they grapple with the uncertainty of this complex world. Often this entails being there for their families as well. My best advice to Jewish educators who are encountering scared children, no matter what the age, is to first listen and then offer answers only as best you can. Acknowledge and accept their fear — and your own if that is authentic. You also can say, ‘I don’t know either’ and ‘I can’t explain.’ These meaningful interactions, premised on simply being there, are the first stage of this learning journey. Gradually, strive to empower your youth to respond to these events on their terms. While terrorism takes away our agency, our response must be to control what we can.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Donor Collective: The Jewish Community Foundation San Diego (JCF) has facilitated grants on behalf of a collective of donors to 12 local nonprofits as part of its new and innovative “giv4 homelessness in san diego” initiative, reports The Del Mar Times. “This initiative, designed to engage all of San Diego in supporting solutions to homelessness, collects donations and distributes 100% of the funds received to the nonprofits. Since its launch in August 2021, giv4 has raised over $235,000, with donations ranging from $15 to $25,000.” [TheDelMarTimes]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Five senators are pushing for additional funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program in the wake of the Texas synagogue hostage standoff…

The Jewish Book Council has announced the winners for the 2021 National Jewish Book Awards… 

Jeffrey Lasday has joined the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia as senior chief of external affairs…

Mitchell Daar will replace the retiring Judy Groner as head of school at Perelman Jewish Day School in Wynnewood, Pa., effective July 1…

One hundred and two millionaires and billionaires from nine countries have published an open letter calling for permanent wealth taxes on the richest people to help reduce extreme inequality and raise revenue for long-term increases in public services…

Inside Philanthropy has published its first list of emerging heirs in philanthropy, with a focus on heirs to billionaire fortunes who are already active and influential in philanthropy…

The New York City Council has awarded $486,500 to the Simon Wiesenthal Center for various programs towards combatting hate throughout New York City. The largest portion of the funding is designated via the City Council’s Digital Inclusion Initiative. The center will use that funding to train middle school and high school students throughout the city’s public school system…

Pic of the Day

Azrieli Group

The Tel Aviv planning and building committee gave the green light for the construction of a 91-story, 1,150-foot (350 meters) tower by the Azrieli Group that would make it the second-tallest structure in the country. Above, an artist rendering.


Charles and Lynn Schusterman; courtesy

Co-founder of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Lynn Schusterman… 

FRIDAY: Writer specializing in modern Judaism and women’s issues, Blu Greenberg… Owner of the NHL’s Boston Bruins and chairman of Delaware North, Jeremy Maurice Jacobs… Literary critic and writer, Elaine Showalter… 82nd attorney general of the United States, now a senior counsel at Covington & Burling, Eric Holder… Actor, director and producer, he is the voice of Beast in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Robby Benson… Chairman of the ZOA and chair of the real estate group at Sills Cummis & Gross, Mark Levenson… U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND)… Chairman and CEO of Norfolk, Va.-based Harbor Group International, an $18 billion real estate investment firm, Jordan E. Slone… Executive editor digital at the Washington MonthlyMatthew Cooper… Chief operations officer of OneTable, Andrea Greenblatt… Senior fellow at the USC Annenberg School, Cindi Leive… Born in Trinidad and Tobago, SVP and Washington bureau chief for CNN, Sam Feist… President and CEO of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Rachel Garbow Monroe… Ramat Gan, Israel, native, best known as the producer or director of the seven films in the “Paranormal Activity” series, Oren Peli… Dean of school at Yavneh Hebrew Academy in Los Angeles, Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn… Peruvian model and TV host, Karen Schwarz… Congressional reporter for the Los Angeles TimesJennifer Haberkorn… Israeli actress, screenwriter and filmmaker, Romi Aboulafia… Chief of staff at HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration Jordan Grossman… Samuel Z. Eckstein…

SATURDAY:  Co-founder of the Japanese video game company Sega, David Rosen… Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry in 2000, Alan J. Heeger… Los Angeles resident, Ruth Lynn Kopelove Sobel… Managing director and founder of Brave Warrior Advisors, the son of Hall of Fame baseball star Hank Greenberg, Glenn H. Greenberg… Rabbi Mark Samuel Hurvitz… Brooklyn-born conductor, friend of Pope John Paul II for whom he later conducted multiple concerts, Gilbert Levine… Retired partner and head of the political law practice in the DC office of Skadden Arps, Kenneth Gross… Founder and executive director of the Brooklyn-based Bridge Multicultural and Advocacy Project, Mark Meyer Appel… Publisher at Chicago Public Square, Charlie Meyerson… Partner in the Cleveland law firm of Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis, Lisa Arlyn Lowe… Former director-general of the Israeli Defense Ministry, Ehud “Udi” Adam… Systems engineer, Charles Ovits… Member of the Knesset for Likud, Katrin “Keti” Shitrit-Peretz… Justice on the Supreme Court of Israel, Noam Sohlberg… Michael S. Marquis… EVP and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Gideon Taylor… Actor best known for his role as Harvey Specter on “Suits,” Gabriel Macht… Sportscaster and podcaster in Washington, D.C., Bram Weinstein… Associate rabbi at the Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, N.Y., Joel Mark Levenson… Director of the Chabad House in Kathmandu, Nepal, Rabbi Yechezkel “Chezki” Lifshitz… News editor at Mishpacha MagazineYochonon Donn… Project officer at an International Rescue Committee early childhood development program for Syrian refugee children, Heidi Rosbe… SVP at SKDKnickerbocker, Kendra Barkoff Lamy… Financial services editor at PoliticoZachary Warmbrodt… Houston native and philanthropist, Serena Hines… Corporate associate at Covington & Burling LLP, Mark Donig… NYC-based senior director of strategic partnerships at PoliticoJesse Shapiro… D.C. government reporter for The Washington Post, she is also a professional balloon twister and was a 2018 contestant on “Jeopardy!”, Julie Zauzmer Weil… Israeli singer known by the mononym Netta, she was the winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, Netta Barzilai… Hockey player in the Maple Leafs organization, he was a first round pick of the New York Islanders in 2014, Josh Ho-Sang… 2022 J.D. candidate at the University of Michigan Law School, Matthew Lustbader

SUNDAY: Real estate developer Bruce Ratner… Professor of biological chemistry at Weizmann Institute of Science, David Wallach… Educational consultant and nonprofit executive, Peter D. Rosenstein… Manager of Innovative Strategies LLLP, he is a board member of the Baltimore-based Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, Howard K. Cohen… U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)… Israeli archeologist and professor at the University of Haifa, Estee Dvorjetski… Former mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa… Former vice chairman at Citigroup, he was a 2021 candidate for mayor of NYC, Ray McGuire… Broadway theater owner, operator and producer, James L. Nederlander… Former president and CEO of Staples Inc., Shira Goodman… CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp since 2010, Jeremy J. Fingerman… Executive editor of The Recount, co-author of “Game Change” and “Double Down,” John Heilemann… Hilary Bangash Cohen… Journalist, screenwriter and film producer, Mark Boal… Creator and host of “Jew in the City,” Allison F. Josephs… Strategic communications consultant, Arielle Poleg… CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri… Manhasset, N.Y., native who competed for Israel in figure skating, she was the 2014 Israeli national champion, Danielle Montalbano… Professional soccer player who plays as a defender for DC United, Steven Mitchell Birnbaum… New York City native who competed for Israel in pairs figure skating, Hayley Anne Sacks

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