From Rod Nichols, AFGG Senior Advisor
A 21st Century Tikkun Olam–Possible?
Today, in many parts of the world, “the life of man” is not much different than it was four hundred years ago when Hobbes said that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Despite spectacular progress in agriculture and industry across much of the globe, large swaths of the developing world face cruel conditions: avoidable maternal deaths, shortages of energy, and inability to sustain abundant agriculture. We can do better.
This is the underlying premise for a bold new initiative: a 21st Century Tikkun Olam. Its framework was announced in October by the Reut Institute and the Alliance For Global Good. The humanitarian imperative is to help 250 million people with in a decade. Planning is underway now. Significant fund-raising will follow soon.
“Repairing the world,” is both audacious and profound. For thousands of years this goal has run throughout the highest and broadest traditions of Jewish thought. Comparable goals have been set by many religions and volunteer associations. In 2002 such commitments are daunting. Where to begin?
Two fundamental criteria apply: any program must be technologically feasible, and it must be operationally viable. From the technical perspective, many countries have solved the problems of, for example, maternal health and agricultural productivity. Israel, as a special case, the “start up nation,” has had enormous success and the experience can be shared with all countries trapped in a web of preventable diseases, arid farming, and a lack of water.
Precedents also exist in the many non-governmental global organizations working all over the world, engaging communities, solving problems. A central task is to distill best practices that can be adapted elsewhere. Further, the private sector in the developed world has strong reasons to “go global” with their combination of talent, corporate responsibility, and economic incentives. Technological savvy from across the public and private spheres can be brought to bear cooperatively in a revitalized Tikkun Olam.
Attaining organizational viability, however, will be complicated by the public’s rising disaffection and fatigue with “foreign aid.” As many opinion polls starkly reveal, that frustration with the uncertain benefits of “assistance,” has swept much of the developed world. Yet many people recognize the powerful case for Tikkun Olam. It remains compelling. And as Dr. Johnson said, “nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must first be overcome.” New dimensions of collaboration will be essential for this new program to survive the undertows likely to be encountered. Large teams of experts and volunteers, supported by ample funds, will be crucial.
Kafka’s famous aphorism must be kept in mind as the recruitment of people and the gathering of resources for a stepped up new Tikkun Olam. He said: “ You can hold back from the suffering of the world, you have free permission to do so and it is in accordance with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided.”
So even as we take account of the world’s shaky economy, we must set aside facile skepticism about any new global challenge and slash away all complacency. Instead, view 21st Century Tikkun Olam as an inspiring banner to enable the design of robust programs built upon pragmatism in effective service and a commitment to sustainable capacity-building. Pursued well, this leapfrogging initiative will go beyond sporadic impacts. For it can prevent conflict and build understanding among nations in the Middle East, and across every continent, wherever desperate needs clearly can be seen. The long-range consequences will be things you cannot see or touch: civility, volunteerism, justice, courage, modernization, and, one hopes, peace.