Ronny Douek: The real, long-term solutions for most of Israel’s social problems lie in the creation of a new civil society that takes full responsibility for what occurs in it.Some might assume that the new generation of dynamic Israeli business entrepreneurs lack the idealism and social commitment of the country’s earlier generations.
Anyone who makes this assumption hasn’t met Ronny Douek. A prominent figure in Israel’s business community, his international interests including a multi-national company dealing in port management, shipbuilding and dredging, and one of Israel’s largest vineyards located in the Arava desert near the Jordanian border.
But while he has continued to build his business, Ronny Douek has also spent the past decade spearheading an effort to push his generation of Israelis toward greater social responsibility. And last month, his ability to mobilize social efforts was recognized by the government, when he was appointed as the new chairman of The Israeli Anti-Drug Authority, and he also serves as a member of Israel’s National Committee for Arts and Culture.
But the bulk of his public service has been done in an entrepreneurial fashion. As founder and chairman of one of Israel’s largest non-profit social change organizations, Zionism 2000, Douek has inspired Israelis to take personal responsibility for the fate of their communities and to invest in building civil society.
Douek says that his is a “renewed Zionist vision” with a goal that is no less than to create a “new social agenda” for the state of Israel.
“I have no doubt that real, long-term solutions for most of Israel’s social problems lie in the creation of a new civil society that takes full responsibility for what occurs in it,” he says.
The aim of his projects are “to strengthen each individual’s confidence in his or her ability to influence the state of their communities and provide them with the tools to do so.”
With this vision in place, Douek founded Zionism 2000 in 1995, together with a group of friends, in recognition of the pressing need to articulate shared values and draw up an action agenda addressing the problems facing Israeli society. Thousands of others have since joined them, including prominent public figures from business, academia and the professions. All volunteer their time and energy to further the agenda of social change
Zionism 2000 offers a “give and take” relationship between society and its citizens. It encourages citizens throughout the country to invest serious thought, time, tangible resources and a caring heart, in acting on their personal values and creating meaningful, long-term social change, in the spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence
The movement’s focus is on social issues and education, particularly as they affect the nation’s youth, based on the premise that positively influencing youth is the best way to make an impact on the future of the state of Israel through projects.
Each Zionism 2000 project is assessed in a businesslike manner before it is implemented. In order to receive support, it must be consistent with the organization’s values, it must be apolitical. It must be community-building promote civil activism: empowering individuals, groups and communities to take responsibility and personally contribute to changing their environment and improving Israeli society. A long-term plan must be in place to develop and empower local organizations to take over the project and run it independently, following the mentoring period, so as to avoid long-term dependency. And finally, the projects must have potential for growth and must be managed professionally, with assessment of quantifiable measurements, such as budget, duration and probability of success.
Among the projects that have met this criteria and moved forward are Douek’s new model of philanthropic activism, “Business for the Community,” which challenges the private sector to help solve the social and economic problems that continue to plague Israel’s cities.
In this project, Zionism 2000 makes the initial contact between businesses and the community, and encourages business firms to initiate and support worthy social undertakings. The project emphasizes quality rather than quantity – much more is expected than just a cash donation.
The project was the organization’s first undertaking, formed in the early 1990s when Douek organized a group of businesspeople to initiate social activities in a number of new immigrant caravan sites. Today, the project encompasses over 120 companies in a variety of business sectors. The project grows from year to year, as additional companies become involved, increasing the involvement of businesses and employees in social projects, by developing cooperation between non-profit organizations and businesses; and by providing individuals with volunteer opportunities.
Another project, called “Reach Out to One Child,” helps needy children aged 6-12 who live in low-income neighborhoods or outlying areas, obtain equal opportunities in education by offering them funding for a yearly “enrichment basket.” The project, which began operating in 1997, currently provides grants to 1500 children, and hope to individuals and businesses in Israel and the Diaspora to ‘adopt’ at least one child through a modest contribution.
The ‘enrichment basket’ consists of three basic components: acquisition of schoolbooks for the year, payment for the annual school trip, and enrollment in one or two after-school enrichment classes, at school or the neighborhood activity center, all of which cost approximately $300.
The ‘Citizens Build a Community’ project involves the creation of activity centers in development towns throughout Israel. The project brings high school students and other sectors together in a creative process, which focused on the place of the individual in the community, ways to get to know the community and its needs, and the use of social responsibility as a springboard for change. This project presents an innovative model for activity in three areas: Education, culture and volunteering. The goal is to create a process that empowers individuals, groups and communities through involvement and activism. The project aims to develop a positive attitude to the basic values of society in Israel – human dignity, justice, morality and tolerance.
The emphasis on the community stems from its importance as an integral social- cultural environment for the individual. Our aim is to encourage the residents to think, discuss, act and participate in the decisions which affect their community, based on a thorough study of its character and needs.
In the first stage the project focuses on three communities: Sderot, Beit She’an and Migdal Ha’emek. It will study and document the daily events in those towns, and will continue to adapt itself to the changing reality in the field. The project will be managed by community coordinators from Zionism 2000, who will work together with local organizations to create and implement a master plan for all community activity.
The ‘Alternative’ project is a unique prevention and training program for dealing with drug abuse among youth. The project has been operating for several years, and has earned praise and support from education authorities and drug prevention professionals in Israel. More than 20,000 students and 800 educators have participated in the project in approximately 140 schools. An additional 1200 soldiers took part in the program on their army bases.
The project’s uniqueness is in its ‘non-establishment’ image. The dynamics of the activity, the free and confidential discussion, and the opportunity for the youngsters to ask questions, voice hesitations, and receive referrals to support and treatment centers make the process both friendly and effective.
Finally, the organization supports the ‘Olim to the IDF’ is project together with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Absorption, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Zionism 2000 movement. The project, currently in an experimental stage, is being implemented in the 11th and 12th grades of schools with a large percentage of new immigrant pupils. It provides information about service in the IDF and even brings olim to visit Army camps, in order to reduce the level of apprehension and increase motivation as their enlistment date approaches.
It hopes to ease the often wrenching transition from civilian to Army life for immigrant youth, who are still struggling with their absorption into Israeli society, offer them successful preparation for army service requires support of the draftee’s immediate environment, including parents, teaching staff, social environment, etc. and give them a satisfying military service which will contribute to their successful integration Israeli society.
Douek’s interest in philanthropy has brought him into contact with American Jewry. In 2001, he served as the Israel chair of the annual General Assembly of the United Jewish communities, a delegation of prominent young business leader to the event. And Zionism 2000 cooperates directly with the Cleveland Jewish community with his work in Beit She’an and with Detroit in the Jezreel Valley in the framework of these communities’ Partnership 2000 projects.
He has remarked that the most important lesson he has learned from his American counterparts has been “how to apply the best business standards to charitable work.”
“Like any good business prospect, how and with whom you partner can make or break the deal. Americans know that the best partner is one who enhances your value and increases your leverage and your ability to maneuver.”
“If we want to create a society where every citizen can enjoy equal access and opportunity, and if we want every Jew, no matter where he or she lives, to take pride in the Zionist enterprise, then we have to create a civil society that reflects our values and goals and for which we are willing to invest ourselves and our resources.
To really do this, the business sector has to take the lead because the better off the community is, the better the business in the community. We all benefit. And that makes good business sense.”