Philanthropy and Government in Israel – Sigal Yaniv Feller, Director of Advisory Services, JFN Israel
Many Israeli donors reach a point in their philanthropic work in which they look for ways to expand and strengthen their impact at the national level. Israeli philanthropy, which is particularly characterized by entrepreneurship and proactiveness, tends sometimes in such situations to turn to the government and look for ways to collaborate with it. As we have learned from our philanthropic experience on the ground, this path is complex and tortuous, and raises ethical, democratic, practical and strategic issues. Throughout the past year, I had the privilege of accompanying and guiding a distinguished group of donors and foundations directors who dedicated time and thought to the issue, identified shared points of interest and needs, as well as possible models for action, based on their rich and diverse experience. The group’s chairs were Eli Booch and Chanoch Barkat and its members: Eli Paley, Amir HaLevi, Yoel Carasso, Souad Diab, Offi Zisser, Ronit Segelman, Ronit Amit and Shula Mozes. The group was accompanied by Galia Feit and Prof. Yoram Margaliot.
Among the issues discussed were the advantages of such collaborations, including:
• Leveraging funds, scaling up (national and systemic levels): larger numbers, wider diversity and expanded geographic scope
• Ensuring multi-year sustainability by letting the government adopt and take long-term responsibility
• Collaborating with experts and professionals, connecting to knowledge centers
• For donors who are not located in Israel – having “eyes and hands” on the ground
• Access to information and data
• Potential to have an impact on the system and improve government policy
A few disadvantages were also identified in the process, including:
• Bureaucracy and long, slow processes
• Loss of flexibility and freedom, dependence on the government and giving up (at least partially) a chance to leave the donor’s personal mark
• Such processes require diplomatic and political skills and tools
• Complex influence of political systems: elections, system instability, change of governments and ministers which makes the process of planning and budget approval more complicated
• A government financial system, with all its implications
• Need to adapt to the priorities set by the national agenda
• Cultural gaps between the parties
• Significant differences in the scope of budget and funding
• Lack of clear, existing mechanisms for cooperation with the government
• Fear to be associated with crony capitalism
The last two points led us to discuss both the boundaries and ethical complexities when working with and vis-à-vis the government, and possible models for such work. Among the ethical issues raised in the discussion:
• Public money managed by elected officials – the donor is not an elected official and the money is not under his responsibility – to what extent it is legitimate to impact where public money goes?
• Crony capitalism
• Are there issues such as national security in which there are red lines for philanthropic involvement in the government’s work?
• Can philanthropic involvement in the government’s work weaken the government, or in some cases, do its job?
• Can funding an attorney create a conflict of interests in the collaboration with the government down the road?
As there are no regulated mechanisms, some of the models developed on the ground serve as good examples for philanthropic action in the field.
The roundtables led by the group in the conference held lively discussions in which philanthropists shared their personal experiences from working with the government. Among the conclusions, Shula Mozes emphasized that any criticism towards the government, even if legitimate, should be conveyed in a constructive way in order to ensure that the parties can continue to collaborate. Mozes said that identifying together the barriers and difficulties allows proactive work which seeks for solutions. She stressed the importance of distinguishing between the dedicated professionals working for the government and the politicians themselves and the government’s policy, which sometimes make the process more difficult.
The work group, guided by Prof. Yoram Margaliot, prepared a paper which summarized its work.
Personally, the group’s work was a great opportunity to deepen my knowledge and listen to others, following The Guide tor Funder Collaboration with the Government of Israel, which I wrote for JFN in the past year. This guide discusses, among others, who can benefit from such collaborations and when, do’s and don’ts, exemplary models and the Israeli government’s structure.
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