One of the many conundrums of work to improve relations between Israelis of diverse backgrounds is that while a great many Israelis feel threatened by other Israelis, remarkably few ever imagine themselves to be in any way threatening. Conversely, one of the great privileges is witnessing the gradual warming of relations that can occur when Israelis from generally estranged communities are given the appropriate framework – too frequently their first such opportunity! – to spend meaningful time together.
With sufficient time and support, the routinely chilly atmosphere of initial encounters thaws. Long-held fears and assumptions are challenged as shared values and common interests come into view. Gradually, the unmistakably warmer body language of comfortable familiarity, trust and common civic purpose replaces the frosty defensive-posturing that is characteristic of people way out of their comfort zones. Common experiences generating hope for a better shared future are apparently quite literally heart-warming!
Strengthening social cohesion
In our unprecedentedly crowded and interconnected world, it is patently clear that no modern state can ultimately be stronger than the fabric of the society that comprises it. In Israel, concern about the state of inter-group relations has been catalysed by worrisome events, confirmed by comprehensive studies such as the March 2016 Pew Report and spot-lighted through the bold leadership of President Rivlin. All these have revealed the measurably weak social cohesion of Israeli society, characterized by a lack of inter-group familiarity and shared civic awareness, low levels of inter-group trust and a yet-to-be developed sense of common civic purpose among Israels 8.5 million citizens.
Strengthening these important aspects of social cohesion are the goals of the Good Deeds Day-Kulanana initiative, run by the nonprofit Ruach Tova in partnership with Merchavim, which first conceived the Kulanana idea back in 2008. As now formulated, the initiative is two years into a five-year pilot. By 2020, the aim is to establish a cohesive community of 400 nonprofits, representing the full diversity of Israeli society.
This community – based on a shared commitment to the value of the citizenship all Israelis share, respect for the diversity that characterizes Israeli society and a common commitment to shaping a fairer future for all – is being built by its members through the implementation of long-term twinning projects, regular community events and forums; all weaving new connections between disparate communities.
The effectiveness of this activity is assessed and honed through evaluation. Inspiring success stories of unlikely partnerships across Israels deepest divides are shared on international, national and local media platforms. These stories, in turn, have the power to provide much needed hope for a better shared future for all Israelis.
The change model
While one of a growing number of social cohesion initiatives, Good Deeds Day-Kulanana is distinct in its scope and change-model. This change-model aims to harness the large reservoir of good-will and capacity that characterizes Israels well-developed civil society to promote social cohesion while addressing what we have identified as the major structural obstacle to success. In reality, the current structure of Israels civil society (nonprofits and philanthropy) – albeit often unwittingly – tends to replicate and sustain the low levels of inter-group familiarity and cooperation in which Israelis have come to routinely live, think and act.
Israels civil society routinely operates in separate conceptual, communal and issue silos; while one agency works tirelessly to serve Ethiopians, another focuses on Arab citizens. Yet another dedicates itself to the integration of Russian-speaking Israelis, while another, the advancement of women and yet another, those with disabilities. While civil society often acts thus, motivated by valid considerations of focus, prioritization and resources, this approach tends to obscure the overlapping identities, values and interests that Israelis inevitably share. Through this approach, we tend to build walls rather than bridges between our communities, obscuring our common challenges and making their redress still more complex, by even unwittingly working at cross-purposes.
The growing number of stake-holders engaged in Good Deeds Day-Kulanana have hence come to believe that for Israels civil society to deliver on its considerable promise to promote social cohesion, it needs to stop replicating and begin re-framing the fragmented structure and mind-set of Israeli society; and this is what we have set out to do. The initiatives change model integrates three principle modes of partnership:
Partnership between nonprofits
GDDK encourages nonprofits to seek and pursue common causes across traditional divides in ways that better serve their respective missions and social cohesion. For example, Kemach and Tsofen, two organizations with no previous connection, are partnering in a twinning project to identify shared barriers and opportunities to increase employment among the Haredi and Arab communities they serve. Currently making up 50% of Israeli first graders, Israels future is intimately tied to the employment horizons of both of these communities and their mutual relations.
In another project led by Curtain Call and Ayelet Hashachar, Haredi and secular women are completing their second year of community theater, exploring aspects of citizenship, diversity and fairness – together. Meanwhile, some 15 nonprofits in the Greater Chicago-Kiryat Gat Partnership2gether region have participated in a regional forum; building new levels of understanding, common purpose and local cooperation between local nonprofits that have never previously worked together and generating creative new twinning projects strengthening the region.
Partnership between philanthropists
The growing Kulanana community is led by The Ted Arison Family Foundation together with a growing flexible funding community currently comprising ten federation and foundation partners. While it is well known among philanthropic investors that more can be achieved through cooperation, this is easier said than done. The flexible funding community approach provides funding partners multiple entry points and the benefit of significant leverage for each members funding priorities. While all funding partners obviously share the strategic goal of promoting healthier levels of social cohesion, each remains focused on their specific funding priority.
Hence, for example, a funding partner can retain its focus and serve citizens with disabilities by investing in changing attitudes to disabilities across all Israeli communities. Philanthropy has a special role to play in Good Deeds Day-Kulanana by providing hard-pressed and naturally risk-averse nonprofits with the inspiration, infrastructure, support and seed-funding to break new ground by developing new partnerships across traditional divides.
Partnership between civil society and government
Democratic governments must never be released from their basic responsibility to promote social cohesion, all the more so when faced by the myriad challenges that confront Israel. Indeed, part of the work of civil society should be to work with all parts of government to secure its appropriate engagement. Happily, Good Deeds Day-Kulanana is now well-advanced in the process of forging such a partnership with Israels Ministry of Social Equality.
Recently announced by Minister Gila Gamliel, this partnership rests on the identification of shared strategic priorities between the Ministry of Social Equality and the Good Deeds Day-Kulanana community – including the promotion of fairer opportunities for all Israeli women and the benefits of cooperation between Israels frequently estranged and most under-served communities.
Thanks to this prospective partnership with Government, the Good Deeds Day-Kulanana community is set to expand to around 120 nonprofits in January, implementing 26 twinning projects and seven regional and issue-centered nonprofit forums in 2017.
Naturally, none of this is proving to be easy. The challenges of partnership – considerable even in the best of circumstances – are multiplied by the lack of familiarity, trust and common purpose that characterize societies with low social cohesion, like Israels. Overcoming this therefore represents a very considerable challenge for Israels highly talented but still generally segmented civil society; but that is, of course, precisely the point. W
Mike Prashker is Senior Advisor for Strategic Partnerships at The Ted Arison Family Foundation.
For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
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