Earlier this year, CEP spoke with Ronit Amit, researcher in philanthropy and CEO of Gandyr Foundation in Herzliya, Israel, just north of Tel Aviv. A family foundation founded in 2004, Gandyr strives to create an Israeli society based on equal opportunities and which enables its citizens to realize their full social and personal potential and encourages them to contribute and take responsibility for their environment and community.
In our conversation, Ronit shared insightful perspectives on the philanthropic landscape in Israel, the recent growth of foundations in the country, and the growing trend there of collaboration between funders, NGOs, and the national government.
This post is part of a series of guest posts on the CEP blog of international perspectives on philanthropy. Past posts in the series have discussed philanthropy in Canada, Ireland, and Chile. Below are highlights from our chat with Ronit.
CEP: Could you talk about some of Gandyr Foundation’s recent projects to give us an idea of the types of areas an Israeli foundation is working in at the moment?
RA: Gandyr is a family foundation with a focus on one area — young adults. We work with leadership and alumni organizations connected to young adults in Israel, and we’re currently funding more than 60 programs.
Last year, Gandyr established a new strategy in which we decided to emphasize establishing and encouraging partnerships between funders and across sectors, which we’ve begun to do in several ways. We are establishing a tri-sector partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office and creating roundtables with the government and other NGOs and philanthropies. We are helping organizations that write lobbying and advocacy papers. And we established nine NGO coalitions focusing on young adults in several areas, including, for example, one forum regarding young adult leadership, and another that focuses on young adults from the Ethiopian community in Israel.
CEP: Is this strategic shift toward promoting partnerships and collaboration something that you see as unique to Gandyr, or are you seeing this shift more broadly within Israeli philanthropy?
RA: Gandyr is definitely considered a leader in this area, but we are starting to see a broader trend. Many philanthropists come from the business sector — specifically high-tech — and their approach is especially interesting as we look at how they define their strategy and apply it to their philanthropy. Philanthropy in Israel is unique in that it is very new in terms of the emergence of an official field in Israel, so questions about strategy are important. In fact, my own research deals with the question of whether or not foundations in Israel are strategic.
CEP: For so many years, Israeli philanthropy has had a strong influence from the Jewish Diaspora. And now there seems to be a growing trend of emerging Israeli philanthropists that are setting their own agenda and investing in their own country. Could you say a little about that?
RA: When you look at the data, the number of Israeli philanthropists — defined as people who give away at least $100,000 in funding per year — is still small. And in terms of Israeli foundations, there are maybe 20. But Israeli philanthropy is growing. Four years ago, there were only five or six foundations. So you can see a trend.
In terms of how this relates to the Jewish Diaspora, philanthropists from abroad are now searching for Israeli partners for their programs. They are realizing the potential for investing in Israeli programs, and they are beginning more and more to partner with us because they know that we are active in the field, that we know the Israeli culture, and that they can lean on us when they want to invest in specific fields. So, this trend of partnerships is happening among philanthropists and foundations both from the Diaspora and in Israel.
CEP: To what do you attribute this jump in Israeli foundations over the past decades?
RA: Many new philanthropists entered the field because of the needs they saw in their country. Others entering from the private sector see the philanthropic space as a new area for work and creating change.
Another possible explanation is the promising signs of culture shift. The culture of giving in Israel has, unfortunately, not been encouraging. Israelis, historically, do not perceive wealth as a positive. They are often very suspicious about the ways in which the wealthy have made their fortunes, for example. This has functioned as a detriment to philanthropy. Additionally, many Israelis will say, “We pay high taxes, we completed (mandatory) army service — why should we give more?” In this way, given the tax structure and Israeli society more broadly, the culture of giving is not like it is in the U.S., the U.K., or other European countries. But there are initiatives underway that are promoting giving and the growth of philanthropy throughout the country. For example, the 20 Israeli foundations are now working together on an initiative called “Committed to Give,” a collaboration between funders to promote philanthropy in Israel and to encourage other wealthy Israelis to give back.
CEP: Are there any other qualities that you feel make Israeli philanthropy unique from how it exists in other countries?
RA: Israeli philanthropy is unique when it comes to partnerships with the government. Because Israel is so small and everyone is connected, government officials are far more accessible than they are elsewhere.
You can see this trend in the U.S. when you are looking locally, regionally, or even on a state level, but not so much with the federal government. In Israel, on the other hand, there is much collaboration with the central government itself, which facilitates creating important networks and leads to greater collaboration. Instead of debating over whether or not philanthropy is taking the role of government by working in fields that the government should be responsible for, this level of accessibility allows for philanthropy to have greater partnerships with and impact on policymakers.
CEP: What are some resources to which you might direct someone who is interested in learning more about philanthropy in Israel?
RA: I would recommend those interested in learning more to take a look at the website of Sheatufim, an organization that works to promote Israeli philanthropy by empowering and uniting the country’s nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, as well as this list of the top five things to know about the Israeli philanthropic community from the Jewish Funders Network blog.
Dr. Ronit Amit is CEO of Gandyr Foundation and a researcher in philanthropy.