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"Businesses have a strategic role in promoting socio-economic change in Israel"

The business sector is becoming an increasingly central part of tackling Israel’s socio-economic challenges. JDC Israel has developed models that will enable any company, large or small, to make an impact.

Sponsored content by Joint Distribution Committee in Israel 

On the eve of Independence Day, Israeli citizens have much to be pleased about: The economy is galloping ahead, with an impressive growth rate pf 8.1% in 2021, led by the high-tech industry.

Economic growth translates into a rise in the standard of living, manifest in, among other things, a 9.9% increase in private consumption per capita last year.

But great as the State of Israel’s achievements are, the challenges it faces are also great, from a complex geopolitical and security situation, to immigrant absorption. For Israel to continue to flourish in the years to come, it is important that the fruits of growth should be enjoyed by all its citizens. This simple truth is understood by the Joint Distribution Committee (also, the Joint or JDC), the largest Jewish humanitarian organization in the world. It has been operating in 70 countries since 1914, and more recently it began providing a security network for Jews around the world. In Israel, the JDC acts as the country’s center for social development, working in strategic cooperation with the government, local authorities, Third Sector organizations, the business sector, and other partners, to develop solutions at the national level to the country’s most critical socio-economic challenges.

"Israeli society faces extremely significant socio-economic challenges, demanding a commitment from many parties in order to deal with them, such as promoting socio-economic leadership, boosting productivity and quality employment, independent living for people with disabilities, aging well at a time when people are living to be 100 years-old, and increasing efficiency and effectiveness in the public sector systems", says Dr. Sigal Shelach, Executive Director of JDC Israel . "For each of these challenges, we develop, together with the government, civil society and everyone who works in the field, a national index map, to understand what sort of measurable socio-economic change we want to produce, where we want to reach in a few years' time, and how we'll know that we’ve succeeded".

Dr. Sigal Shelach, Executive Director of JDC Israel

Shelach notes that in recent years, the business sector has become a far more important factor in tackling these challenges. "We see an increasing strategic role for the business sector in promoting this socio-economic change. Every partner in creating change brings unique added value. The business sector knows how to bring unique management practices, new strategic partners, resources and infrastructure, rich technological knowledge, and more".

The growing involvement of the business sector is also bolstered by the desire of commercial enterprises, in Israel and around the world, to produce significant social impact. JDC Israel understood that the way to harness the business sector was to develop different models for partnerships that would offer corporations a variety of ways in which to generate significant social impact.

A hive of social entrepreneurship

One model developed by JDC Israel enables enterprises to invest over a period of years in a specific social project. An example of this is ("The Hive") - a place for encouraging and developing social enterprises, founded by the JDC and Israel’s National Insurance Institute. Hackaveret shepherds innovative social enterprises aimed at creating large social impact. The program relies on the support of experts from JDC and the National Insurance Institute, as well as from leading companies and business mentors who provide professional advice and guidance. The Hackaveret community has more than 5,000 entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. For example, Sign Now, a project that participated in the Hackaveret acceleration program, facilitates video telephone calls using sign language. During the war in Ukraine, this venture has allowed the JDC to make contact with deaf and hard-of-hearing Jews who are under fire.

Tamar Saffer, Corporate Social Responsibility Officer at Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, says: "Six years ago, when the Joint came to us with a request to join and support Hackaveret’s activity, we responded gladly. It dovetailed with the bank’s social responsibility strategy - support for social business entrepreneurship. In addition, Hackaveret is located in Lod, where many of the bank's units are headquartered, and we have a lot of social involvement in the city. As a leading financial entity, we can provide considerable added value in a project of this type, which supports non-profit organizations and social ventures, and helps them lead significant initiatives to promote enterprises so that they grow and become sustainable. Our employees and managers who partner with Hackaveret sit on committees that decide on the projects in which to invest, and also provide advice and guidance to young entrepreneurs about managing the social initiative they wish to lead".

The social directorate all-stars: Making social NGOs accessible for business

The second model developed by JDC Israel to enable the business sector to address Israel's socio-economic challenges is the "social board of directors all-star team", in which professional directors from companies are recruited to the social sector, following a selection and evaluation process. Among the main enterprise partners in the project are Intel, HP, Microsoft, Strauss Group, and Maccabi Healthcare Services.

Moshic Mor, General Partner at the aMoon Fund , says: "When I started becoming involved, I asked myself, how do we make the non-profit sector accessible to people from the business sector, allowing them to find the organization where they can contribute? That's how the idea of a ‘social board of directors all-star team’ was born. When we saw the headlines made by the ‘government panel of directors’ [people deemed qualified to act as directors of state-owned companies], we said, 'Let's do something similar, create a pool of good people who are willing to sit on the boards of non-profit organizations".

Bella Abrahams, Director of Corporate Affairs & Public Affairs, Intel Israel and EMEA , adds: "A platform like the social directorate all-star team makes more significant social change possible. When I volunteer personally, I influence on the micro level. When a company like Intel supports volunteers through the team, the impact is macro. It’s a framework that can change the entire social field and enhance the value of all the players".

For both Abrahams and Mor, it’s important to emphasize that the contribution is bi-directional: the social sector receives, but the enterprise and its employees receive no less in return.

Abrahams: "The managers learn how another sector is run, they meet people from other sectors, are exposed to different worlds, give of themselves personally, and become better managers. The enterprise gains because it develops its managers; the non-profit gains because it receives someone who brings in know-how; and the individual business manager also gains on a personal level".

Social profit alongside economic profit

The third model JDC Israel has developed is harnessing the core of a given business for social change. One example is a collaboration with Moovit, developer of the world’s most popular public transportation navigation app. The company's employees are adding new capabilities that adapt the app for use by disabled people. At the end of this process, the app will include various features that will tailor navigation and travel options, and the user experience, to the personal profile and needs of the disabled person.

Yovav "Jay" Meydad, Chief Growth & Marketing Officer at Moovit , says, "Our cooperation with the Joint touches on something that has been a guiding principle for us over the years: the fact that mobility is a citizen's basic right, and by 'citizen' we mean everyone, regardless of their physical or mental condition. People with disabilities often avoid leaving home, because of the difficulty of getting to their healthcare provider, to work, or to the library. Once good mobility solutions are developed, anyone with disabilities will be able to maximize their personal potential and opportunity for a better life. Collaborating with the Joint helps us greatly in developing these solutions, and ultimately, in promoting easier mobility, resulting in a more independent life for people with disabilities".

"Our various models of strategic partnerships with enterprises illustrate how significant social impact can be produced", concludes Dr. Shelach. "It’s important to continue to encourage more and more business entities to look strategically at their social impact, in a variety of models, because at the end of the day, Israel’s society and economy belong to all of us, and each and every one of us has a duty to create a stronger and more just society".

*This article was published in a commercial magazine Impact, in April 2022 issue.

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