Investing in the Jewish People: Social Ventures as the Next Frontier of Jewish Philanthropy

The following is a keynote speech delivered by Federation CEO Jennifer Gorovitz at the Israel Venture Network Conference, on November 18, 2013, at Tel Aviv University in Israel.  The remarks are included here as prepared. Shalom everyone.

I want to thank Eric Benamou and the Israel Venture Network for inviting me to speak with you here today. I’m Jennifer Gorovitz, and I’m the CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. I’m delighted to join so many great thinkers and leaders in the world of philanthropy, business, and social activism. Thank you, Eric, for your tremendous leadership in the growing sector of social venture philanthropy; and, thank you, Dr. Hartigan, for your enlightening perspective.

I’ve come here today on the heels of a wonderful experience for my community: we joined thousands of leaders from other Jewish Federations from across North America for our annual General Assembly, which took place this year in Jerusalem. At this conference we shared strategies, stories, ideas, and information among Federations on how best to achieve our goals of supporting and strengthening our Jewish communities at home, in Israel and around the world. We even presented to a standing-room-only crowd about our partnership with IVN and the innovative ways in which we are engaging young adults in this work.

Before and after the conference, I also had the opportunity to meet with and visit many of our Federation’s grantees and colleagues here in Israel, and, it is so thrilling to see in person the amazing work that is being done here in Israel, in the name of shared society, Jewish pluralism, education, and poverty prevention.

Our Federation, as part of the larger system of Federated Jewish communities, raises funds (approximately $20 million annually) in our San Francisco Bay Area community, and makes strategic grants to important causes and organizations in California, Israel, the former Soviet Union, Hungary and beyond.

As a funder, and a fund raiser, we are always looking for new ways of engaging our donors, for new funding opportunities, for new models of grantmaking, for new ways to ensure that we have the maximum possible impact, and for tools that help us to be efficient, transparent, and connected to the community we serve. Those objectives are what brought us to the exploration of social venture philanthropy, and to our new partnership with the Israel Venture Network.

Social ventures are the brave new world of philanthropy – a growing sector that is taking hold in Israel, the U.S. and elsewhere, and which deserves our support and energy. Social ventures represent an important new tool that will help each of us, in each of our own geographic and issue areas, create durable infrastructure for making meaningful and sustainable social change.

But, many may still ask: Why should this Federation or any Federation or foundation depart even a little bit from the long-held model of grant-making to NGOs in Israel (or elsewhere) that work purely in the sphere of social good in exchange for investing in social ventures? Don’t get me wrong: NGOs are essential to any healthy, well-functioning society, and will continue to receive the majority of our funding. And, after all, we in the United States want to continue our longstanding relationship with Israel by investing financially in its social sector, in economic justice and poverty prevention.

But, in an era when Israel’s economic success is just as critical to its well-being and its place among nations as the success of its NGO sector, American Jews in the Bay Area who care about Israel are increasingly interested in going beyond the pure NGO. They see, and we at the Federation see, a very bright future as investors in both Israel’s for-profit companies and its social ventures.

Young adult entrepreneurs in the Bay Area are particularly interested in double bottom line ventures that will help Israeli society and generate profit, just as they are interested in these kinds of ventures at home.

Moreover, these entrepreneurs want to contribute not only their funds, but also their ideas; they want to be partners. They want to see measures of successful business and social impact together. They want tangible proof of revenue and social benefit. This is a generation suspicious of any government’s ability to create the best, most efficient social good – whether in the U.S. or in Israel. It is also a generation that is less interested in traditional nonprofits or NGOs to deliver social good. And, it is a generation that still wants to learn about, engage with, and help create a positive narrative of Israel.

This generation wants to be in relationships with Israel and Israelis and, yet, wants to do it on its own terms, not the terms of a traditional Federation grant to JDC or to JAFI. It is tired of political conflict and of religious intolerance and economic injustice, and wants a different way to connect and to feel that we are one people seeking tikkun olam.

Finally, this generation wants to be involved in its local Federation, but it desperately wants that Federation to be different, to be more like them, to be less old-fashioned, less establishment. That’s why we created a venture philanthropy model for them and that’s why we sought to partner with IVN.

It’s no secret that IVN is leading the way here in Israel in social venture investing. Our partnership has been educational, eye-opening, and inspiring for me, for my staff, and for our volunteers who worked with IVN. During the experience, we learned together with IVN and explored our investments together in a very collaborative process to everyone’s benefit.  IVN taught us about how social businesses in Israel work and educated us on the most acute needs in local communities. For our part, we brought our energy, social networks, fundraising knowhow, and a powerful commitment to Israel’s well-being and future.

Make no mistake: IVN is at the vanguard of a new movement and is doing important and groundbreaking work every day that can be a model for all of us around the world.

Our recent collaboration with IVN was for a project we call our Israel Impact Grants Initiative, or Israel IGI, and I am extremely proud of both the process and the outcome.  The IGI is built on the idea that donors want to have a direct hand in making an impact in the world. The program brings together a group of 10-20 individuals in an intensive educational and grantmaking process over a short time.

Now, we’re all aware that philanthropy has changed in recent years, owing largely to the globalization of the Internet and to the amazing idea that we can each be philanthropists – a term no longer reserved for the Rockefellers or the Gates or the Lautmans of the world. With the touch of a button, we can send dollars to high-quality NGOs in Sub Saharan Africa or South America; we can read evaluation reports, monitor progress, and assess impact – swiftly and professionally. With all of this competition, if we want to engage the young adult generation, we have to do it in a way that gets them deep into the experience quickly.

While our Federation has been engaged in strategic funding in Israel in our own unique way through direct grants for nearly 30 years, the Israel IGI was a new concept: a 6-8 month dynamic and communal grant round directed toward Israeli social enterprises – which was a new sector for us, to be sure.

Here was an opportunity to engage our community, to partner with IVN, and to boost Israeli social ventures in a meaningful way.

This IGI began with 10 professionals from San Francisco who were as-yet uninvolved with our community or the issues. We started with discussions about philanthropy – what it means, how to do it responsibly, how to do it through a Jewish lens – then an education on venture philanthropy, the Federation, and social issues in Israel. There followed a review of grant proposals, and the process culminated in a 5-day trip to Israel highlighted by visits to all of the top applicants. They made presentations focusing on the Israeli economy and the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, and the group visited existing Federation grantees and witnessed their extraordinary work. This process was concentrated and fast-paced, during which the group:

  • Received a hands-on education on Israel and its social issues;
  • Connected to Israelis in meaningful ways – spending time with both the IVN mentors and social entrepreneurs; and,
  • Learned firsthand how to be responsible community investors.

Together with IVN, the group approved funding for four social ventures which, for the next two years, will receive funds and mentoring to help them to compete in a market economy – no easy task for businesses with social goals at the core. Our grantees in Israel include:

  • Susan's House, which employs at-risk youth to develop their self-esteem, interpersonal relationships and job skills;
  • Mitam, which provides a variety of human resource services to Israeli non-profits;
  • Jobs4Moms, which is an online job search platform geared towards mothers seeking quality full and part-time jobs; and,
  • Rakee’a, which incorporates the study of mathematics and science into Torah study in efforts to help Haredi students get quality jobs.

This round ended in May. And, since then, each participant has given generously to our annual campaign. But, more importantly, they came together and asked us to find ways to engage them even more in Jewish philanthropy. We are now developing an Israel-focused Giving Circle so the group can continue working together under the Federation banner.

For me, there are several important lessons here. First: choose your friends wisely, and IVN has been a terrific friend and partner to have. Second: the social venture model is an important tool for all philanthropists, foundations and federations. We have demonstrated that it will engage future generations of Jewish entrepreneurs with Israel and the Jewish people, and it is very good for Israel’s economic future, its security, and the Israeli people. And, third: this model can be applied ANYWHERE. Times 5, 10, 100, 1000, can you imagine the collective impact that could be made in Israel, the United States, Bolivia, Uganda, or anywhere else in the world?

I encourage everyone here to join these efforts if you haven’t already – to partner with IVN and Federations and foundations in your area to develop creative and innovative solutions to solving local social problems in Israel and around the world. Develop tools to match local entrepreneurs where you live with Israeli social entrepreneurs on the ground. The process itself will be rewarding; the outcome and impact could be phenomenal.

This movement will undoubtedly trickle into the mainstream, and, when it does, it will be a big win–win for all of us. Thank you to Eric Benamou, the Israel Venture Network, and all of its partners and allies for the terrific work that you are doing.

For more information on our grantees in Israel, contact Siggy Rubinson at 415.512.6429.
Categories: Grantees, Israel, Overseas, Videos


November 25, 2013


The Federation