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Creating Shared Value

When most people think of “social justice,” they think of grassroots non-profit organizations with big dreams and small budgets. These people want to change the world from the ground up and are fighting against “the man” to do it. Social justice is reserved for the altruistic who believe that their lives should be devoted to helping those less fortunate than themselves, expecting little or nothing in return.

My social sustice experience is extraordinarily different from anything described above, and is rarely associated with social justice or social entrepreneurship at all. And, although it is recently making headlines most people don’t even know that it exists, and even fewer know that it serves as the engine behind many organizations in today’s social sector.

I’m talking about “corporate social responsibility,” or “CSR,” for short. CSR involves large for-profit companies “giving back” by giving money in the form of grants, in-kind donation, or giving time through employee volunteer programs. Many of this country’s largest companies give away millions of dollars a year and thousands of hours of volunteer time to help non-profit organizations all over the globe solve pressing social issues. And notably, many of these large companies approach the social sector with a keen business eye, which helps organizations run more efficiently and successfully.

Through the Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship, I work as an intern at Alcoa Foundation. You might not have heard of Alcoa, but it’s actually one of 125 largest companies the United States, and you’ve certainly come in contact with it. Alcoa mines most of the aluminum that we use every day. If you’ve ever been in a building made with aluminum, driven a car that has aluminum, flown in an airplane, or even had a drink from a can of soda, you’ve certainly come in contact Alcoa’s product. Alcoa Foundation is also one of the biggest corporate foundations in the world, with an endowment of over $530 million. In 2012, Alcoa Foundation donated over $25 million to NGOs around the globe. Alcoa’s 61,000 worldwide employees donated 800,000 hours of their own time volunteering in their communities.

The numbers are certainly impressive, and every day during my internship I come in contact with people and organizations that have been affected by the work of Alcoa Foundation. I have come to take great pride in the work that Alcoa does to promote volunteerism and community service, and see the company as a truly responsible citizen in the for profit space.

Of course, we have to ask why. Why do companies that exist for the purpose of making money and delivering to shareholders, just give it away? Over the course of my internship, this has been the question that plagues me every day. On the one hand – and this is where things get tricky – corporations participate in philanthropic and social efforts in order to maintain what we call a “social license to operate.” Customers will associate positively with brands that are publicly giving back to their communities. And these companies aren’t shy about their own giving back. At Alcoa, for example, the Foundation features prominently on the front page of the website, even though their CSR work is such a tiny portion of what the company does. Still, Alcoa wants anyone who comes to the website to instantly see that they “give back.” Consumer-facing companies (that is, companies who sell to the general public, unlike Alcoa which only sells to other companies), create television commercials and print ads that display their philanthropic efforts.

Every year, corporate foundations get their name into the social sphere by attending benefit dinners (and paying handsomely for them), complete with their logo in the ad book. Corporations understand that they have a poor reputation – especially after the recent recession – and they use philanthropy to bolster this reputation. This depiction of CSR is cynical, and grim. Sometimes, it makes me question what I do.

But there’s an upside, and this has been my greatest takeaway from my work at Alcoa Foundation. Even if there is a PR side to CSR (and there certainly is), at the end of the day, corporations give billions and billions of dollars to charity every single year. There are a number organizations I can think of (but cannot disclose) that would simply be unable to do the work they do without the help of Alcoa Foundation. Non-profit work on any level simply cannot exist without the support of donors, corporate or personal.

This is why I am extremely proud of the work that I do at Alcoa Foundation. My social justice work involves wearing a suit and tie and working on Park Avenue. My social justice works for “the man,” not against him. And although people question the altruism of the work I do, I undoubtably engage in tikkun olam, repairing the world, one organization, one project, one employee, one dollar at a time.

Environmental Justice Field Trip

Last Friday the Fellowship went on an environmental justice field trip to visit Greyston Bakery and Rocking the Boat. We spent the gorgeous day outdoors and learning from these innovative organizations about how they affect change and address environmental injustices in their local communities.

Environmental justice is the movement that focuses on building healthy communities in the areas most affected by environmental health threats – consistently poor communities of color. Environmental justice activists are committed to increasing accessibility to clean air, green spaces, good food, and green jobs. In doing so, they attempt to redress generations of environmental racism and poverty. To learn more about environmental justice work in the South Bronx, read Fellows’ blog post from last year. 

Founded in 1982, Greyston Bakery was one of the first social enterprises in the country. As the supplier of all the Ben & Jerry’s brownie chunks, their commitment to social good is reflected in their tagline: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.” They serve their local Yonkers community through a number of innovative programming, such as an open hiring policy, workforce development training, and affordable housing. Greyston has a strong commitment to the environment as well – solar panels power the plant, they source fair-trade ingredients, and have implemented green operations such as single-stream recycling and a rooftop garden. Their foundation also maintains 19 community gardens to provide fresh produce to their employees and the surrounding area.

Rocking the Boat is a youth development organization based in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx – historically, one of the poorest and most polluted areas of the country. They use traditional wooden boatbuilding and on-water education to empower teens and restore the Bronx River. We got to tour their facility and learn about the history of the organization before hitting the water ourselves! Once on our boats, we learned about the efforts that Rocking the Boat together with other local green organizations, such as the Bronx River Alliance, are making to clean up the Bronx River, revive the indigenous ecosystem, and increase community access to the river. (We also developed some mean upper body strength by rowing against the river’s current).

It was inspiring to meet with each organization and learn about the social good they create in their local communities. We look forward to our next field trip – in the meantime, please enjoy our slideshow!

FJSE 2013-2014

Welcome 2013-2014 Fellows!

Welcome back List College students!

Today is the first day of classes at JTS, but the 2013-2014 participants in our Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship are already hard at work. The 10 fellows moved back on campus early for an intensive day-long training before classes began – and many of us have already started at our internships.

We look forward to sharing our experiences with you throughout the year. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek into what we’ll be doing as fellows:

Abby, intern with Midtown Community Court, will be spending the year with Time Square Inc. to provide support and facilitate social, emotional, and life skills groups for formerly incarcerated men

Charlene will be interning with Border Crossers, an organization that provides racial justice training for NYC educators

Danielle, intern with the Leadership Action Network, is going to use social-media platforms to raise awareness around Israeli social justice and environmental movements

David will be continuing his internship with Alcoa Inc., to help direct corporate social responsibility for the world’s third-largest producer of aluminum foil

Eric, intern with Global Green USA, will be generating multimedia content for the environmental organization’s resource recovery campaign

Maddie will be interning with The Advocacy Lab, facilitating human rights trainings in public school classrooms

Marisa, intern with AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, will be working in their development department to increase grants and individual donations

Morgan will be interning at the New York Botanical Gardens, planning special events and exhibits to support environmental education and community development

Rebecca, intern with HelpUsAdopt.Org, will be doing PR and admin work to help break down barriers to adoptions for all parents no matter race, creed, or sex

Sarah will be interning with The Advance Group, helping the progressive lobbying and political PR company with local and national campaigns

Thanks for a Great Year!

The 2012-2013 Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship has come to a close. We wish this year’s fellows – Sara, Ari, Deborah, Sam A, Mirit, Dafna, Ariela, David, Sam S, and Allison – the best of luck on the next leg of their social change journeys! Please return here in the fall to celebrate the work and learning of next year’s fellows. In the meantime, below are some photos from our environmental justice tour of the South Bronx for your enjoyment. We spent a wonderful day hearing from local activists from The Point about their experience greening their community – and helped out on their urban farm.

To learn more about environmental justice issues in the South Bronx, visit The Point - a grassroots organization dedicated to youth development and the cultural and economic revitalization of Hunts Point. Sustainable South Bronx and Rocking the Boat are two other local powerhouses working to advance environmental justice while empowering young people to take a lead in their own community.

 

Participatory Budgeting

Ever wish YOU could decide how your tax dollars were spent? Increasingly, communities across the country are getting the chance to do just that through new “participatory budgeting” initiatives.

Improving communities on a hyper-local level, participatory budgeting efforts are usually spearheaded by a city-legislator to increase civic engagement and help self-direct community development. New York City residents in eight different council districts are able to vote on how their tax dollars should be put to use. This year, 13,000 New Yorkers have already used the opportunity to reinvigorate democracy through this hands-on budgetary process - so far, 45 winning projects have been awarded $9.4 million.

For more information, watch this new video from the Participatory Budgeting Project:

http://vimeo.com/65169312#

WHAT We Do and HOW We Do It

How do you build effective, innovative, and sustainable organizations? Our friend Nigel Savage, Executive Director of Hazon, outlines what he’s learned in the Jewish food justice organization’s first thirteen years. It may seem obvious, but he says the key to success is WHAT we do and HOW we do it.

I founded Hazon as someone who was – and still is – fundamentally an idealist. The word hazon means “vision,” and I continue to believe that vision counts for a great deal in changing the world for good. But as each year has gone by I have become steadily more interested in a wide range of organizational issues: a series of internal cultural attributes that have gradually become true of Hazon and that I believe account for some of our success, such as it is, these last thirteen years. As we continue to plan for the future sustainability of the organization, I have outlined a few factors that have helped Hazon advance organizationally.

His tips for other idealists hoping to maximize organizational impact:

  • Connect a large vision with incremental steps
  • Leverage key partnerships and relationships
  • Focus on systems
  • Deeply commit to iterative excellence
  • Engage in learning, of all sorts

What do you think? Do you know of other organizations that have developed best practices to connect their vision and internal operations?

Ending LGBTQ Youth Homelessness

Did you know that up to 40% of the homeless youth population is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender?

Our friend, Dr. Jama Shelton, outlines her vision for ending LGBTQ youth homelessness on The Huffington Post today. SPOILER ALERT: it involves organizing a national movement.

To learn more, head on over to Forty to None where Dr. Shelton serves as Executive Director. And, yes, it was started by that Cyndi Lauper.

Join Our New Kiva Team!

Let’s put our money to work! We have created a new team through the microlending organization, Kiva.

Kiva is an online platform that lets individuals extend very small loans (as little as $25) to borrowers around the world – usually folks in developing countries that lack the collateral, employment history, and credit to take out traditional loans. These investments to small businesses and entrepreneurs don’t just create opportunity and support community-driven projects but “connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.”  Women are especially assisted by microloans – and women’s economic empowerment is universally seen as a key factor in uplifting the communities and countries in which they live.

So far, the JTS Changemakers Kiva Team has lent money to Makarimal Akhlakh, a Senegalese cooperative composed of the ten women pictured above. They all work in the commerce sector and sell cloth, cosmetic products, and a variety of other goods. The small loan we made will help these women open a store to further their financial security.

Join our team and help widen our scale of impact!

Learn more about how Kiva works and how you can use your money to send a student to school,promote clean energy, or support borrowers living in conflict zones in more than 60 countries around the world. Interested in learning more about how investing in women advances economic growth and human rights? Check out the International Center for Research on Women.

Is the Way We’re Going About Tzedakah “Dead Wrong”?

A new TEDTalk, by activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta, has gone viral this week.

Activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta calls out the double standard that drives our broken relationship to charities. Too many nonprofits, he says, are rewarded for how little they spend — not for what they get done. Instead of equating frugality with morality, he asks us to start rewarding charities for their big goals and big accomplishments (even if that comes with big expenses). In this bold talk, he says: Let’s change the way we think about changing the world.

Everything the donating public has been taught about giving is dysfunctional, says AIDS Ride founder Dan Pallotta. He aims to transform the way society thinks about charity and giving and change.

Over at Tablet Magazine, Marjorie Ingall thinks it’s our culture of giving at a distance that needs to change. This approach to tzedakah is developed from a young age, she asserts in “Doing Mitzvah Projects Right.” Ingall calls on the Jewish community to encourage b’nai mitzvah to forgo meaningless fundraising “mitzvah projects” and really get their hands dirty. “Don’t just ask for donations at your bar or bat mitzvah,” she says. “Do some homework and find a cause with meaning.”

What do you think? Does the Jewish community need to reframe how we view tzedakah?