The Government has challenged us to create a Big Society in which people, not the state, take more responsibility for their own lives and those of fellow citizens. British Jewry is well equipped to meet this challenge.
We have a strong tradition of mutual support, rooted in our Jewish values. According to Family Foundations Giving Trends 2010, 23 of the largest 100 foundations in the UK are Jewish - an extraordinary number given that British Jewry constitutes 0.5 per cent of the population. Substantial foundations include the Wolfson Foundation, the Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation and the Rothschild Foundation. Each of us giving more may be necessary, but we also need to think about what causes we should support.
What are the priorities in our own community? How do we balance the welfare and security of fellow Jews with our fellow British citizens and global issues of poverty and climate change? How do you choose whether to give to social action, education, the arts or Israel? How do you navigate through the requests of countless competing charities, even within each of these areas? In addition, should we also consider the effectiveness of the voluntary sector and civil society organisations? Can an emphasis on fundraising by some organisations take precedence over collaborative work with others in the same field? Do such organisations set clear objectives? How do we measure success? In short, how do we make sure our money is used effectively?
Among British Jewry there are individuals, groups and organisations seeking to address these questions, and identify, assess and prioritise needs. These include representative bodies, synagogues, school boards, businesses and family foundations. Arguably, the most overlooked group in this equation are family foundations. They can act independently. They can take a long term and holistic view of a sector to ensure high impact. They can back vital communal institutions whilst also supporting innovation. They can take their own initiative when new thinking is required. But they need to develop expertise in "how" to give. This requires increased professionalism and the ability to engage with experts, analyse data and make spending choices effectively. Family foundations have the potential to play an increasingly important role in contributing to the vibrancy and strength of British Jewry. The challenge created by government cuts is also an opportunity for a more evidence-based approach to social issues. Foundations will need to be equipped to take a more proactive role.