Generating activism in Jerusalem Ultra-Orthodox communities
Ultra-Orthodox communities in Jerusalem are cruciel to the fabric of this city. We wanna help them bring their activist DNA to action.
Activists and entrepreneurs at the start of their journeys do not realize that is what they are. This is especially true in conservative societies. The subject is not accepted by all, and there is no real legitimacy to call into question the status quo and bring about change.
Entrepreneurs require support from the outset - from the identification of the problematic issue, training in entrepreneurship or activism, to continued support and guidance for the entrepreneur throughout. It is to this end that we have set up the Generator and the Toolkit for Civil Influence.
Our aim is to use these programs to connect the ultra-orthodox civil DNA with two prominent modern concepts: advocacy and social entrepreneurship.
Advocacy includes a range of ways in which social positions are promoted to the general public, the media and decision-makers. Our aim is to train young, ultra-orthodox leaders and to create a ‘toolkit for civil influence’ which will allow them to translate their positions into legitimate and relevant civil language, to help them strategically develop their stance on issues on the ultra-orthodox agenda, and how they fit into modern Israeli society. An essential part of this is to broaden the Israeli discourse and create bridges between disparate sectors of society. Our training will be offered to both men and women, and will help them to improve their abilities to work within their own community, as well as with the media, the Knesset, the government and the justice system.
Social entrepreneurship is a developing field around the world, where individuals use innovation to try to solve ‘wicked challenges’ in their society. Social entrepreneurship is particularly relevant to ultra-orthodox society, which suffers from a range of challenges which are seen as unsolvable. However, ultra-orthodox social entrepreneurs are working to solve these challenges, using innovative and sometimes even technological tools to do so, although they lack entrepreneurial structure. We intend to provide this structure through a day-long workshop, which will provide a model to help entrepreneurs to build the critical layers needed for any initiative: VESPA – Vision, Eco-system, Strategy, Planning, Action.
What is the mission and purpose of this program?
purpose of the program is to develop activism in the ultra-orthodox sector, and
to provide support for social entrepreneurs at the start of their journey.
Our program will host training programs (alternating between men and women, in a way which suits the ultra-orthodox community).
The training program for activists: lectures and practical workshops on the topic of civil influence, given by people with experience in communications, new media, the justice system, the Knesset and the government, in order to provide the activist starting on their journey with practical know-how and important next steps.
Alongside this will be the accelerator program for social initiatives, in which social entrepreneurs will spend one intensive day refining their vision, understanding the challenges in their field, building a strategy for action, building a work plan and budget, and translating this into tasks to set their initiative in motion.
At a later stage we will do follow-up, and give each of the entrepreneurs an additional hour of specific consultancy, according to need and demand.
The ultra-orthodox sector in Israel numbers around 950,000 people, and makes up around 11% of the population. This is a young population, with around 50% under the age of 19, and a growth rate of around 4% per year. According to demographic estimations, within 40 years the ultra-orthodox will make up around 35% of the whole Jewish population of the State of Israel. As such this is a significant group, whose conduct and way of life are important to the future of the State of Israel.
Since the establishment of the State, the ultra-orthodox community has chosen to live according to a strict interpretation of Jewish law, while living in geographically separate areas, with as little contact as possible with the general population. The strategy adopted by the religious-ultra-orthodox faction in Israel, which was made up at the time mostly of Lithuanian natives, was to restore the status of Torah study and bring back the Eastern-European yeshiva world, which had been almost totally wiped out in the Holocaust. To this end, the community's leaders built a cultural model of a ‘society of students’, in which the man is expected to dedicate most of his time and energy to studying the Torah and performing mitzvot, while spending as little time as possible on materialistic activities.
Researchers point to a number of demographic, economic and social conditions which served as a catalyst for the beginning of changes to the structure of ultra-orthodox society at the start of the 2000s (Gilad Malach - A “Kosher” Degree, 2014), the main ones being: rapid demographic changes linked to population growth, increasing difficulty for families to make ends meet, growing dependence on the State of Israel, and the diversification of ultra-orthodox society (which had been principally made up of Lithuanian hassidim) with the rise of Shas and the increase in the number of those ‘returning to the faith’.
These changes created a gap between the classic ultra-orthodox leadership and the diversified ultra-orthodox population, and into this came civil leadership, mainly from young people, fundamentally made up of middle class individuals, who no longer recognize the old leadership as a source of undisputed authority, but simply a source for inspiration.
More and more young ultra-orthodox individuals, graduates of leadership programs (ultra-orthodox and general), academia and the army, are adopting social initiatives towards a wide range of goals which they desire to achieve: from educational initiatives intended to increase the pedagogical level of ultra-orthodox education, to bring it closer to state supervision level and create a connection to Israeli society, right up to protesting for the rights of ultra-orthodox women; welfare initiatives intended to improve the situation of ultra-orthodox families living in poverty, to general social initiatives intended for the shared good of Israeli society as a whole; movements intended to integrate the community into Israeli society, to initiatives intended to retain the unique character and identity of the ultra-orthodox community in an integrated age. As a result, over the past five years, we have been witness to the development of ultra-orthodox civil leadership, which similarly to what is going on in Israeli society, is growing bottom-up and dares to represent and associate classic ultra-orthodoxy, which in the past was represented only by rabbis and their courts.
This new civil leadership is different in a number of ways from the politico leadership which in the past led most of the initiatives in the ultra-orthodox community. We see a great opportunity in the development of civil leadership in ultra-orthodox society.
The Foundation was set up just a few months ago, and in that time we have managed to achieve a great deal, both real accomplishments and foundations for future success:
- Guided around 30 social entrepreneurs, at various stages along the entrepreneurial scale (from idea to a working organization).
- Two new organizations have signed up (Brit Ahim, for the integration of Christian Arabs into Israeli society, Dead Sea Revival, providing environmental explanations of the ecological disaster at the Dead Sea).
- One ultra-orthodox organization which is promoting an ‘ultra-orthodox Wikipedia’ has gone live.
- ‘Toolkit for Civil Influence’ workshop, with around 30 participants at each of three sessions
- An active blog to accompany the learning process.
- Currently in the process of setting up the Civil Society House, a center for social and civil entrepreneurs in Jerusalem.
How do you measure the success of your program?
The Generator program is evaluated on two levels:
The first level is internal influence on participants. To measure this we will look at the subjective experience of participants, e.g.: newly refined vision, a new understanding of the market they are operating within, and identifying the correct strategy for the initiative.
The second level will measure how far the workshop manages to activate and promote the initiative.
These evaluations will be conducted via two conversations with the entrepreneurs after the workshop, to see if it helped them to overcome obstacles and push their initiate forward.
Since the Civil Toolkit is a series of lectures, we will use evaluation tools which examine learning and training processes, the first two levels in the Kirkpatrick Model. We will also evaluate how relevant and innovative the participant considered the workshop to be, and how able they are to implement what they have learned.
Successes of the Toolkit:
- One participant understood how to improve her organization’s communications strategy, and as a result managed to spur her social media followers into action for a significant activity in the field.
- First, each of the entrepreneurs came out with a feeling of clarity in an area they were previously unsure about.
- Some managed to compose a more precise vision, some understood that up until now there was a critical problem they had not been dealing with, there were entrepreneurs who managed to understand dynamics and trends which were very influential for them, which they went on to research in more depth.
- All of the entrepreneurs experienced significant feelings of clarity and discovery.
- One participant realised that even though she works in medical ethics, the points of view of the patients had not yet been taken into account by her initiative. This brought about a significant perceptual shift in her initiative, which caused her to re-build her annual schedule.
Successes of the Generator:
- Second, many of the entrepreneurs who took part in the day itself identified tasks to be done in the near future to push their initiative forward a step, and some even began to work on these.
- One participant realised that he had to register his organization, which he did not previously know. This was a crucial step.