21CTO: Great Ideas and Organization for Action

From Rod Nichols, AFGG Senior Advisor


Great Ideas and Organization for Action

“Great ideas,” remarked Albert Camus, “come into the world as gently as doves.  Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope.”

In Baltimore, on November 12, at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, a great idea was underlined and a campaign for action was announced. Now the action must be organized.  The great idea – Tikkun Olam, the call to heal the world, a profound tradition in Jewish history – is the base for a new program conceived by the Alliance For Global Good and the Reut Institute.

Among the eleven “principles” in the powerful strategy of what the organizers dub “21st Century Tikkun Olam” or “21CTO”, designed to reach 250 million people over a decade are: “partnerships with emerging local leadership driving change within their communities; and leverage through partnerships with global institutions and other nations as well as private sector involvement.”

This is a tall order. It will, of course, require organization.  But what kind of organization?  “Volunteers” don’t want to be ordered around. Local groups don’t want to be commanded by a distant headquarters, much less by multiple bureaucracies. How can we nourish the “great idea” of 21st Century Tikkun Olam so that, as Camus said, “ it will negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history?”

One perspective flows from the work of Elinor Ostrom, the first (and only) woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.  Her research showed the local users are often in the best position to solve the “tragedy of the commons,” those circumstances in which incentives for individual action may deplete the community’s resources, such as in overfishing or cleaning up parks.  So the challenge for the 21 st Century Tikkun Olam initiative will be to mesh global vision with “emerging local leadership”. Matching a global scan of humanitarian needs with the energy of local capabilities, and with the program’s available technology and know-how, will demand humility and collaboration.

At least two other tough problems will have to be confronted.  First, what are the benchmarks – for the character of the problem and for progress?  “When you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers,” said the great physicist Lord Kelvin, “ you have scarcely advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.”  There is no question that “measuring” humanitarian work is challenging. But it would be irresponsible to glibly dismiss this issue.  Only hard problems merit the depth of  commitment implicit in the power of Tikkun Olam.  And only genuine solutions, or great gains, merit applause. If “healing” is merely palliative it is not sustainable.

A second problem is: how to build authentic partnerships among groups that prefer to go on their own?  What’s in it for them?  Indeed, this may be the harder nut to crack.  It’s akin to “headless nails,” the bane of incompetent carpenters like me.  Easy to put in place, these nails are nearly impossible to remove or replace. Some say that may be the situation with many Jewish and other humanitarian organizations: they were  founded by good people, funded by generous philanthropists and governments, and are working well in every corner of the world.  Their nails are in place; they resist change. What will induce then to join a movement that, if it works, will do far more than they can do individually?  One answer is trust in the leadership of the new alliances that must be shaped for a global Tikkun Olam to be born healthy.  Trust will minimize the perceived risk of losing resources or identity because the needed new funds will be sought jointly and shared fairly, and the process of forming partnerships will be founded in broad consultation.

Let us honor the “great idea” of a 21st Century Tikkun Olam. Let us seize the opportunity to undertake careful planning and pilot projects.




Proud to announce our newest partner


Leonard Kaplan’s creation of the Alliance for Global Good was the expression of his passionate philanthropy.  It’s also the logical outgrowth of all that came before it.  Together with his wife and philanthropic partner Tobee, and through a family foundation later renamed TOLEO, they gave unselfishly of resources and time to improve their community and the world for more than twenty-five years.

Tobee & Leonard Kaplan

Tobee & Leonard Kaplan

The Alliance’s focus on five areas of giving—health, education, environment, poverty, and world relations—is mirrored in Leonard’s past.  He has made major gifts to Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Comprehensive Cancer and Heart Centers, to the Lineberger Cancer Center at UNC Chapel Hill, to the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Moses Cone Hospital, and had a leadership position at the Greensboro Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.  In 2004, Leonard and Tobee built the new building for the Women’s Resource Center in Greensboro. He created scholarships for residents of Guilford County to attend North Carolina colleges and universities, and was a founding donor of Elon University Law School.  Critically, in partnership with the Kellogg Foundation, Leonard helped create the Center for Organizational Leadership, a philanthropic studies program (which was one of first nationally to educate non-profit executives).

“Everyone wants to leave something to their grandchildren.”

“The money won’t matter if the world they live in is so far gone,” Kaplan says. “The opportunity now is to take some of what might become their inheritance, and use it soon to make the world a better place.”

Addressing poverty, Leonard made possible the building of two houses for Habitat for Humanity, and by providing food for hungry people both close to home in Greensboro, and as far abroad as the former Soviet Union.   The Kaplans were staunch supporters of Trickle Up, which provides grant financing to women in the developing world who want to start their own microenterprise.

Leonard gave not only of his wealth, but also of his time and expertise, taking on leadership positions in many organizations and campaigns such as the Greater Greensboro United Way DeToqueville Society, and as a Core Member of ACTION Greensboro, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education, revitalization of downtown Greensboro, and leveraging economic development.

Active in their community of faith, the Kaplans built a new building for the Greensboro Jewish Federation, and for the Hillel youth organization at U.N.C., Chapel Hill.  He served on the board of the Jewish Foundation of Greensboro, and on that of the national Hillel organization, and was a founder of Camp Ramah Darom.

Viewing giving as a responsibility of affluence, Leonard led by example, and encouraged others to do the same.  He created Wealth & Giving, an educational program designed to inspire the largest wealth holders in this country to be more generous.  The Alliance continues that work by promoting and providing donors with opportunities for effective and efficient giving.

Read more about the Five Guiding Principles.