At the recent Jewish Funders Network conference, led by co-chairs Angelica Berrie and Georgette Bennett, 578 philanthropists from around the world gathered in Israel to learn and build partnerships together.
A highlight of the gathering was a two-day immersion in Jerusalem to understand the challenges of, and opportunities to transform, a multicultural city that is central to the aspirations of multiple faiths. I had the privilege of working with Jerusalem leaders, funders and professionals to design the Jerusalem immersion experience, and we expected that at most 50 funders would sign up.
As it turned out, we had to cap registration at 160—a sign of the tremendous energy and attention around Jerusalem, which is not only an international hub and the heart of the Jewish people, but a demographic harbinger of Israel’s future. This overwhelming interest on the part of our colleagues underscored, for me, the promise of one of our Foundation’s primary strategies for our work in Israel: contributing to a thriving, global Jerusalem, through efforts that include expanding access to 21st century employment opportunities for talented Haredi and Arab tech workers. The beauty of this approach is that in aiming to solve one problem, it also tackles another: the troubling shortage of skilled workers, who are essential to keeping high tech companies in Jerusalem and to nourishing the burgeoning innovation sector.
In the first major initiative under our new Jerusalem strategy, we are providing a substantial grant to Start-Up Nation Central, a respected Israeli organization that acts as an intermediary between Israel’s innovators and entrepreneurs, and global corporations in need of cutting-edge solutions. (In the picture above, you’ll see RBF and SNC partners toasting the launch of the initiative.) Our grant will support a totally new approach for bringing Haredi women and Arabs into the high tech workforce, using industry leaders’ insights into the skills and personal attributes their companies need in order to reverse engineer a targeted training program for high-potential talent.
Under this initiative, Start-Up Nation Central is working with best-in-class organizations to identify candidates with the right aptitudes—not just the right coursework—and to develop a highly customized boot camp offering technical training as well as “soft-skills,” like mastering job interviews. Start-Up Nation Central and its partners will also support candidates and companies as they navigate the challenges of diversifying the high tech workplace. We are delighted that other funders who share our perspective on the urgency of the problem, and the promise of this approach, are also providing substantial funding for the boot camp initiative.
Our focus on Jerusalem, and partnership with Start-Up Nation Central, is closely aligned with a second RBF Israel investment strategy: targeting municipalities (of which Jerusalem is the largest, and the most complex). The idea behind this strategy is that Israel’s local governments are best positioned to impact Israelis’ quality of life, particularly as the central government moves to shift responsibility to the local level.
While moderating a JFN conference panel on partnerships between philanthropies and Israeli local governments, it became clear to me that there is a great deal of interest in this approach, which is less common than the traditional, program-based approach to philanthropy—but, we believe, gaining more traction. I left the panel, and the conference, mindful of the complex challenges ahead of us in this work, but deeply optimistic given the incredible brainpower, passion, commitment and momentum that I witnessed throughout the week.
Chief Executive Officer