May 9, 2013

Making the Connection: JDC's Ambassadors Symposium

Making the Connection was the theme of the JDC Ambassadors Symposium, May 6-7, focusing on how we can make a genuine and meaningful connection between us as caregivers and philanthropists and the people in need around the world that we help. 

The ideal connection would look very different from the top-down approach that too often has served to increase the divide among people. It would be about achieving true empathy, about empowering the people we help so that they are the best allies in helping themselves, and about stretching how we do philanthropy and engage others.

Monday's session looked at how we care for our friends as a model for how we do good in the world.

Park Avenue Synagogue’s Rabbi Cosgrove spoke about empathy and the Hebrew concept of arevut, the responsibility we have towards one another (click here). Letty Cottin Pogrebin spoke about her personal experience fighting breast cancer and the type of care that she sought from friends and family, and articulated principles that resonated with her experience and others' with whom she spoke. Foremost among them was the importance of listening to the voices and wishes of the people we want to help and not assuming that we know best.         

What might this principle look like if we put it into play in our humanitarian work as well as our personal lives?

There are few programs that better demonstrate JDC's vision of listening to and empowering the people we serve than Jay Ruderman’s groundbreaking work with disabled people in Israel -- a partnership among his family foundation, JDC and the Government of Israel that goes by the name Israel Unlimited.  A staggering 1 million people suffer from disabilities in Israel (key stats here), but the program does not focus on accessibility alone. Instead, it makes disabled people the actors in their own story -- helping them to challenge stigmatization (here's an excellent piece on an inspiring blind Arab Israeli woman) and build up their confidence and abilities to act as positive forces in their communities through volunteerism and a new emphasis on work.
Finally, in a tour de force around the world, from Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine to Buenos Aires to Havana, JDC's Dov Ben-Shimon spoke about how JDC has learned that respecting the dignity of those we serve is the best -- and sometimes only -- way that we can help them. The goal is not to continue to give, but to empower communities to take care themselves. 

Tuesday's breakfast looked at the other side of the equation, facilitating a discussion with major U.S. and Israeli businesspeople who are breaking new ground in philanthropy.  
We hope to use this blog to tell their stories in more depth in the coming months. Each of them shared several characteristics:
  • a passion or role model that inspired them to give
  • an interest in leading others -- whether engaging their children in giving or their (reluctant) peers
  • and a desire not just to put band-aids on problems, but to make real change by leveraging each other and the knowledge and connections that an organization like JDC brings to the table.
Together, the speakers agreed that it is okay not to know all the answers. That's the fundament of true innovation and the heart of a new philanthropic strategy, our strategy-- not top-down, but interrelated, connected.

JDC offers opportunities through Ambassadors to support JDC's lifesaving work and make change. Join an Impact Network to leverage your learning with peers, join a mission to see for yourselves and CONNECT.


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