A Return to Israeli Social Ventures

The Federation's Israel IGI Program Supports Progress

Earlier this month, the Jewish Community Federation convened an important trip to Israel for 10 participants of its newest Israel Impact Grants Initiative (IGI) – its high-engagement approach to grant-making modeled on social venture philanthropy. Partnering again with the groundbreaking Israel Venture Network (IVN) for a second year of engagement with organizations that are working toward social change, the Federation ushered the group through a dynamic landscape of Israeli social businesses being considered for grants.

The IGI cohort was comprised of Bay Area hi-tech leaders, entrepreneurs, and business-minded individuals who are new to the Federation and its programming. They embarked on their mission four months ago in San Francisco, learning about pressing social needs in Israeli society and venture philanthropy, and analyzing several nonprofits that are seeking to address specific issues in Israel affecting disadvantaged populations.

On May 2, the group joined IVN and Federation staff in Israel for a week of site-visits with prospective candidates (listed below), and will ultimately join IVN in co-funding four of the following six social ventures (final decisions are expected shortly):

  1. Juha’s Guesthouse is a social initiative promoting sustainable tourism in the impoverished sea-side village of Jisr az Zarqa as an income source for its residents, with hopes of igniting other tourist-related businesses in a town that currently lacks industry, income, and hope for their future.
  2. Susan’s House provides vocational rehabilitation to severely at-risk teens, focusing on the production and sale of unique glass, jewelry and housewares. The teens not only develop job skills, but also acquire life skills and self-esteem with the guidance of social workers and other inspirational adults. Currently based in Jerusalem, Susan’s House is looking to open a new facility in Eilat.
  3. Mach Design creators are crafting high-quality gift products with a social impact to be sold and/or manufactured by nonprofits.
  4. RavTech is a social enterprise that is connecting ultra-Orthodox Jews, many of whom live in poverty, with Israel’s booming high-tech industry by training Talmudic scholars as software professionals, while still permitting the time they require for in-depth Torah study.
  5. Duroos Learning Center is located in Rahat, the largest Bedouin town in Israel, and provides much-needed workshops in Arabic focusing on English and math instruction for children and adults. The Center also helps students with matriculation and university entrance exams in hopes of bridging the educational chasm that currently exists between this population and the rest of the country.
  6. Our Business is an innovative model for the treatment of at-risk youth at Miftan schools, vocational schools located throughout Israel. By converting the vocational carpentry and welding workshops at the schools to actual factories, the youths gain relevant skills, work habits and values, emulating their mentors and taking pride in their abilities to create successful products while making positive life choices.

IGI Participants React

The intensive process of grant-making involves much more than a simple or remote funding decision for the Bay Area cohort. The highly-engaging process strengthens the participants’ bond to Israel and sparks a connection to the Federation and our local Jewish community.

The IGI visit to Israel this year coincided with the most emotional week of the year in Israel. Arriving days after Holocaust Remembrance Day, the team witnessed Israel’s Memorial Day, which commemorates Israel’s fallen soldiers, followed immediately by the exuberance of Israel’s Independence Day. It was a time for reflection on the direction the country is headed, and its relevance to the Bay Area Jewish community.

IGI participant Melissa Lee from San Francisco was not previously familiar with the Federation’s work and echoed the sentiment of several fellow IGI members who were surprised to learn of the social innovation the Federation is leading in Israel, together with IVN:

“The Israel IGI was my first introduction to the San Francisco Federation. Experiencing intentional philanthropy focused on Israel with a small group of smart and passionate individuals from all over the Bay Area led to much self-growth and a deeper understanding of Israeli society and philanthropy in general. I see myself now as a dedicated SF Federation supporter and plan on working with them toward achieving a better Jewish world.”

Participants also learned of the Federation’s grant-making strategies in Israel first-hand, including the promotion of Jewish identity and pluralism. IGI participant Bob Rosner:

“I am impressed with what the Federation is doing on the ground in Israel. Its work on creating a pluralistic society will strengthen Israel for the generations to come. As a San Franciscan, I am so pleased that the Federation’s work is reflecting the core values of our unique and strong San Francisco Jewish community.”

The IGI members also admired Israeli innovation and the new phenomenon of social venture philanthropy. According to Hillary Frank from Los Altos,

“It was incredibly rewarding to bring the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship from Silicon Valley to the brave, passionate and determined entrepreneurs doing amazing things to bridge the complex social gaps in Israel. Participating in this IGI program has also restored my engagement with the SF Jewish Federation in a truly meaningful way.”


What is IGI?

Innovation is a key ingredient in the Federation’s grant-making strategy, and our pioneering Impact Grants Initiative (IGI) is a prime example. The idea is to fully engage community members in the grant-making process, and thus benefit from their professional and personal expertise and care for identifying new high-impact social programs that answer the changing needs of local Jewish communities. This venture philanthropy model translates into more meaningful gift-giving that creates a more profound connection to the Jewish community.

To learn more about the Israel IGI, contact Siggy Rubinson at 415.512.6429.


Categories: Grantees, Israel, Overseas


May 21, 2014