By Hamutal Guri, Executive Director of the Dafna Fund
Thinking outside the box; I have always had mixed feelings about this concept. The demand to be creative, innovative and imaginative can have the opposite effect. What can I say, pressure can sometimes simply dry up our creative juices.
My job as the Executive Director of the Dafna Fund, Israel's first and only feminist fund, often requires creativity, innovative thinking and resourcefulness. I have discovered that one of the best ways for me to think outside the box is to step away from it every once in a while and visit other boxes. The movement and excitement of the journey work their magic; the soul, now liberated from the burden of the daily routine, is free to imagine new possibilities.
Last month, such a golden opportunity came my way, as I travelled to New York for the annual conference of the JWF "Force for Change," a gathering of professionals and lay leaders of Jewish women's funds, who come together to develop their individual and collective leadership. The JWF network has grown from six professionals who gathered sixteen years ago in the conference room of the Dobkin Family Foundation to a movement of 24 Jewish Women's funds, all of which are committed to and passionate
about changing the dynamic and shifting the culture of Jewish life in the United States, Israel and around the globe. With grant making, advocacy and donor education, the funds work to advance the status of women in all walks of life.
In the summer of 2012, for the first time, 17 member foundations of the JWF network – 14 in the United States and three in Israel – have pooled their resources to effect social change for women and girls in Israel. The Jewish Women’s Collaborative International Fund has awarded a two-year, $150,000 grant to Shutafot (Partners), a cooperative effort of eight leading women’s organizations in Israel that have united their resources to develop a strong activist coalition.
This ground-breaking collaborative continues to inspire us, grant-makers and grantee-partners alike; together, we raised our voices for women's rights in Israel and took our funding movement building a huge step forward.
This was the fourth time I attended this conference. I still remember the first time; I hardly knew anyone in the room, and it felt a little bit like the first day in a new school. Soon enough, the great company of like-minded colleagues and the professional and compassionate facilitation and coordination of Tuti Scott and Nancy Schwartz-Sternoff helped me feel at home. Together, we made the annual gathering a safe space for learning and exploring, wandering curiously out of our comfort zones and discovering the power of partnership.
I always learn new things and gain new insights at our annual gatherings, and this year was no different. I came away with a box full of new tools and ideas, inspired by the possibilities and the power of partnership.
JWF staff members take a moment to pause and smile…
Inspiration: The Secret Ingredient
I have always loved to travel and have always loved stories. This last trip was, therefore, a real treat. I had the pleasure of meeting remarkable women, leaders and entrepreneurs, and listening to their inspiring stories. On my first night in NYC, I attended a dinner reception at the home Barbara Dobkin – a friend, a committed feminist activist and philanthropist, and chair of the Dafna Fund board – in celebration of the recipients of the Ms. Foundation's Gloria Steinem Awards. The living room was filled with women from across the US, young and young at heart, each with an inspiring story to share: Suzanne Lerner, a business entrepreneur and philanthropist from the West Coast; Lindsey Shepard, VP of Sales and Marketing at GoldieBlocks, a feminist toy company; Rachel Micha-Jones, founder and Executive Director of the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Center for the Rights of Migrant Workers); and Erin Garner-Ford, Executive Director of ACT for Women and Girls.
As I listened to their stories, I thought about how they are different from and yet similar to the inspiring stories I hear from Israeli feminist leaders and entrepreneurs. Our cultures and circumstances may be different, but we share a passion, a commitment and a sense of purpose that keep us focused even in the face of multiple challenges.
The challenges are abundant: from paucity of funds and gender-blind policies, to backlash and exclusion. But the secret ingredient that keeps us going and enhances our strength and impact is our ability to appreciate and recognize the contributions of each other.
I was never much of a celebrity groupie, not even as a teenager (and that was a long time ago), but when I had the opportunity for a joint photo with Gloria Steinem and Teresa C. Younger, the President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation, I seized it!
Left to right: Teresa C. Younger, Hamutal Gouri and Gloria Steinem
A dear colleague once gave me a very wise advice about returning from an exciting journey and finding my place again, at home and in the office. He told me to land softly, like a time capsule approaching earth from a wide angle. He said, don’t rush to tell everybody about your trip, what you saw and whom you met; take the time to hold the people you missed and who missed you, ask how they are and never forget to thank them for holding the fort.
Being back home, speaking my native tongue, Hebrew, feels so natural and intimate and allows me to see my home – both the private and the political – in a renewed light; to see its beauty, which must never be taken for granted.
Shortly after I had returned, I travelled north with my colleague, Ori Geva, the Dafna Fund's Program Coordinator, to visit one of our grantee-partners in the Galilee, Alumot. It was a special occasion, our first meeting with the participants of Alumot's leadership program for women with disabilities. We sat there, deeply moved, absorbing the powerful commitment, resilience and dreams of women who are transforming their lives, their communities and the world, slowly but surely.
On the way back to Jerusalem, still holding on to the impact that this special encounter had on me, I began to think that the concept of "thinking outside the box" was a mistake. Our minds, hearts and souls are never a box nor caged in a box. In order to create, imagine, dream big and be bold, we simply need to wander outside of our comfort zone and discover new knowledge. This is the power and outcome of meaningful partnerships and shared leadership.
Staff facilitators and participants of the Alumot Leadership Program for Women With Disabilities in the Galilee