The following is a transcript of the address given by Dan Green, World ORT Acting Director General and CEO, at the virtual General Assembly session on May 24, 2020. You can read it in full below, or watch the recording from Zoom here:
Thank you Richard and welcome everyone to the GA for 2020. We should all of course be celebrating together in Jerusalem and it’s a shame we can’t be there together, celebrating our 140th anniversary, a monumental achievement for any organization I think. But I suppose, if there is one small advantage, because of the Coronavirus, it is in a way a great leveler, an equalizer, it enables all of us to be here together. I think on this call there are around 300 people in total which is incredible. Perhaps a number of you wouldn’t have been able to join us in Jerusalem. It’s wonderful being able to see so many old faces as well as new ones and we welcome you all.
While we should be celebrating and reflecting on our past achievements and looking ahead to our future with really exciting plans, we are of course focused on dealing with the challenges of today. I want to spend a few minutes talking about the impact of the coronavirus and our response to it, and then thinking a little about what we have achieved as an organization and starting to think ahead strategically about what the next few years holds for us.
Unquestionably, the impact on World ORT and all of its operations has been huge over the last two and a half months. The virus has meant all of our schools and universities around the world closed during March, and practically overnight as well our whole staff had to move all of their operations online, to distance learning, and that’s an incredible pivot from one day to the next, having to reorganize and restructure like that. So I want to begin by paying tribute to all of our teaching staff around the world. That amazing adaptability they have shown in being able to bring education to all our young people in their homes, with barely any interruption, is a wonderful achievement – and it should be recognized.
What about the response from World ORT? It goes in two directions – one in terms of the fundraising side, one the programmatic side.
In terms of fundraising we quickly identified two areas that we felt were key to support the network. First in distance learning support – ensuring that every student who needed a computer or laptop to continue their learning at home should not go without. We have been raising money around the network to ensure all of those students have the hardware and technology in their homes to ensure their education continues.
The other side is tuition fee support. This is really a double hit. Families are being significantly impacted around the world economically by this virus and we wanted to set up a fund to help them going forward. The second hit is on our schools – which rely on parental contributions and are having their own budgets considerably compromised at this time. So this fund we are setting up we hope will help our families continue, and ensure our schools can continue to function as they did before.
The second area is our own content and educational support we provide. The response from our own staff in London and around the world has been exceptional. Although many of the buildings have shut, World ORT continues to operate every day – and many of you on this call have stepped up to the challenge through our Virtual Volunteers program.
We have asked you to give your time to give online lessons and webinars and seminars to our students, teaching English or entrepreneurship courses – thank you for your service doing that.
We held an Educators Forum this week – 60 of our educators from 17 countries around the world came together, they should have been in Israel, but they came together online to discuss the issues they are grappling with today in terms of returning back to their schools post-coronavirus and all that entails.
We have run many social gatherings for our students – one over Lag B’Omer where we had the opportunity to bring students together.
We have all been severely tested, in so many ways. The biggest test, I think, is to see how well we have responded and I think we will be able to look back with pride at our response – because at ORT we have the attitude that no student is left behind. We have pride to show in how we have supported each other across the network, pride in how we have come together as a network at this difficult time, and pride in how we have adapted so seamlessly into a new reality. Pride in the innovation and ingenuity, for example our students in Dimona in our robotics program who have created masks that will enable hard of hearing people to lipread – how incredible is that, already out in the market, ORT students improving the world.
And we have pride in the compassion and selflessness of our students as well. A student called Samuel, who is 18, from our school in Madrid – ORT Colegio Estrella Toledano. He participated in our Ecology Summer School in Panama earlier this year where he made lots of new friends. One of those friends, from Argentina, unfortunately has been severely impacted financially by this crisis. And Samuel, along with his other friends that he made from that seminar rallied round to raise funds to support that friend. That’s incredible selflessness and the pride it gives me is huge. As Sir Maurice Hatter used to say, we are helping to prepare mensches – people who care about each other. We are helping to produce good global citizens.
We have pride in the way the ORT network has circled the wagons, raising half a million dollars in just six weeks for the immediate needs of this organization. I want to pay tribute as well to Jean de Gunzburg, our former President, who has given a challenge grant of $1million to match any new giving to World ORT’s core needs. Thank you Jean for this outstanding leadership and generosity. Together with Terry you light the way and you lead the way, by example, showing what giving with an open hand is – always striving to ensure World ORT has the strong foundation it needs to continue its mission.
I want to thank our friends in Switzerland – the leadership of Philippe Léopold-Metzger and Marc de Gunzburg, who single handedly, without any professionals, have gone out and raised almost a quarter of a million dollars over the last few weeks – it is incredible service, thank you Marc and Philippe, and to everyone at ORT Switzerland.
To our friends at ORT America, who have equally embraced this challenge, through the outstanding leadership of Barbara and Howard, the returns are coming in – quarter of a million dollars raised – thank you, keep up this fantastic work.
Also our fundraising partners in the UK, Canada and Belgium, everyone reconfiguring today the definition of fundraising, and World ORT is working with you every step of the way to help you on that path. All of our fundraising countries are pivoting – how to raise money as events are canceled, how to engage with donors online, how to effectively communicate the new needs of our organization. Thank you everyone, at this time more than ever your support and loyalty to ORT is so required and appreciated.
All of this pride, these actions taken during Covid, epitomize the spirit of ORT and show the essence of what our organization is. What do I mean by that? I think the answer is in our history – it’s our resilience and the Jewish continuity that we show. Our World ORT family takes deserved, collective pride that our organization has navigated tragedies and appalling circumstances – poverty and pogroms in Tsarist Russia; Stalin’s USSR; and the first years of the Nazi onslaught are all key examples of this. We have also learned how to emerge into new worlds.
In Russia after the fall of Communism and of course in Israel, as waves of immigrants arrived from Europe and the Middle East following the Second World War – in each situation we have analyzed the needs and developed the institutions, programs and personnel to meet the challenges as best as humanly possible. The coronavirus is a new challenge, for the whole world, of course for us as well, but we have the resilience to meet this challenge. This resilience is built upon our experience, our expertize, our global support from all of you and our collective will to succeed.
Of course we need a plan now to move forward and we have been building a strategy to do that. We started at the beginning of the year. Because of coronavirus hitting us in March that was paused. We decided we had to pause it at that time to deal with the immediate needs of the organization, but we pledged to come back to it when we felt the time was right. We feel that time is right now.
We are aligning our strategy with our operation in Israel – Kadima Mada – rebuilding our value proposition, finding the right products – attractive to our donors and that will resonate meaningfully with them. Of course, the educational content is the reason ORT exists, so we have to build a very solid foundation for that strategy.
For me there are three points in the triangle for this strategy – one is the route from education to employment, two is Jewish values, and three is good citizenship. This is what the strategy will be built upon. Covid has forced us to recognize the world will change. Social impact on young people will be huge, not just in employment – society will change and we must help our students on their journeys and equip them properly. For students today there is so much uncertainty on the route to employment and we have a critical role to play in helping them prepare for work.
Charitable giving underpins all of this strategy. The philanthropic world is in transition – this momentum was building before the virus and is likely to accelerate now. The generational transition of wealth and the social impact focus of a new generation of donors means that our strategic review must simultaneously address the damage caused to public funding and private wealth, as well as the trends I’ve already described. We must acknowledge this risk honestly.
But crisis also means opportunity. In fact in Hebrew, the term for a birthing stool is an even mashber – a crisis stone. The rabbis linked the danger of birth to the opportunities created by new life. We are now seeing all over the world the return of big government. The private sector and the third sector could never have coped with a crisis on the scale of coronavirus. As we begin to recover, it will be big charities with a large reach that will have the capacity to effect the changes that are required. This is not a moment for timidity of vision, strategy or program. In setting out from the GA, our pledge must be to combine creativity, bravery and hard work to reach new donors and alternative sources of funding while still maintaining our incredible relationships with our loyal donors.
This is also a time for reflection as well. To think about our achievements, because these four years have been very tough with many challenges and perhaps the biggest of all now, but we have so much to look back on and to be proud of. We have built and left a strong footprint of achievement and success in our school network in Israel, and this legacy will long continue. We have taken ownership of Kfar Silver, one of the jewels in the crown of our operations around the world – and the potential for lifesaving impact in the future there is huge.
In the former Soviet Union, we have migrated from Quest to STEM education successfully and again built a name for ourselves there. Now the challenge is to move on and find the next success. And we have convinced a mega donor to underwrite our whole STEM campaign and overheads, leaving ORT to focus on other priorities like teacher training and lifelong learning.
We have extended our school affiliations in Madrid, Amsterdam, Singapore, Johannesburg, Bogota and Budapest and hopefully Barcelona as well very soon. We now need to maximize the potential there and work harder on those relationships for our mutual benefit.
A few years ago we rebranded. We unified the whole ORT brand and message in order to give us a consistent face, voice and message worldwide. The very lifeblood of our organization starts of course with World ORT’s content and educational programs under the expert guidance of Daniel Tysman’s education department and the leadership of Vladimir Dribinskiy. We run three summer schools for our students every year: Latin American students in Panama, an ecology seminar; European and Israeli students every year in Bulgaria for the Digital Skills Academy; and our top students every year at Braude College for the STEM summer schools. Directly working with more than 100 students from 15 countries across our summer schools.
Also our professionals, our teachers, helping them to work through professional development, teacher training programs, advanced methods of technology, makers culture. Through the amazing support of our friend Robert Taub from Belgium we have put forward the pioneering Young Entrepreneurship Program for students and teachers from seven countries – a wonderful initiative.
We have initiated ORT Day, now a mainstay of the ORT calendar and this year dedicated to the 140 anniversary. We have relaunched the Music and the Holocaust site – a fantastic resource for anyone interested in music from that period, it is something really groundbreaking.
I want to take this opportunity now as we look back to really thank our outgoing Board of Trustees and those who have sat on committees over the past four years.
Thank you for your service. I look forward to staying in touch with all of you and continuing to work with you. ORT service of course never really ends – as Robert will testify – and I also want to thank my predecessor Avi Ganon who stepped down recently. His 17 years of service to ORT, leading our work in Russia, in Israel and then as Director General, has been amazing and Avi has been a personal mentor to me, so thank you Avi.
I’d like to say a few words about myself. I’m so passionate about this organization – I’m eight years in at the moment and I know both sides of the coin. I spent four years as the CEO of ORT UK, helping to raise money for ORT programs, and the last four years in World ORT I’ve learnt about how we spend that money across our network.
I actually remember my first experience of ORT, albeit an older version – it goes back to my gap year in Israel in 1990 and 1991 with my youth movement, FZY. I taught at the ORT school in Ashkelon and I remember my eyes opening as I started to work and try to help teach English to students from very different backgrounds to mine. That youth movement I grew up in, FZY, is a pluralistic movement, the whole spectrum of Jewish observance, apolitical, but passionately Zionist. It really reminds me of ORT, and that’s why I love ORT.
If you think about it, who do we serve? Young and old. Male and female. Religious and secular. Jewish and non-Jewish. Israel and Diaspora. We operate in Europe, Latin America, Central and North America and Asia as well. I feel as though everyone really belongs – there is something for everyone. And this pluralism in my youth movement speaks to the universalism that we have today in World ORT and the universality of our mission – to educate, to support and as Sir Maurice always said, to make mensches. Because today, after health, education is the most fundamental requirement to free ourselves of the blights of poverty, ignorance and hate. And this is why we will always be relevant.
I believe the revival of this great organization is in the right hands – I welcome our new board who will be tasked with helping me lead this revival. Connie, Robert and I expect great things from you. We are now stabilizing the organization, putting it on a sounder financial footing and preparing ourselves to chart a new direction – of success through educating for life. With your expertize, with the time you generously dedicate to this cause and the unity you show, we will move forward and I know we will have an incredibly exciting future ahead of us. A future that will enable countless thousands more beneficiaries to thrive.
Everyone on this Zoom today has a role to play – you are all ORT ambassadors – professionals, lay leaders, supporters – I want to hear from all of you. I want everyone to feel engaged. You are part of a movement. Feel part of it. When the world resets, come and visit our programs and if not, we will arrange virtual tours for you. Tell me how you want to help and let World ORT help you, we can work together for a brighter future.
I want to finish on one thing – it’s about gematria. Many of you will know what gematria is, it’s an alphanumerical code which assigns a numerical value to a name or a word or a phrase based on the Hebrew letters.
I was thinking about the number 140 and was curious what gematria I could make from that. The number 100 corresponds to the Hebrew letter kuf, and the number 40 to the Hebrew letter mem. Together those two letters make the word kum – it’s a very important root because the word kum means ‘to arise, to get up, to awaken’ and on our 140th anniversary we should be urging ourselves to pick ourselves up, to face this challenge, to rise up and to seize the day with an exciting and dynamic future ahead for all of us.