Investing in community
Leonard Brody talks about The Great Rewrite at the Jewish Family Services Innovators Lunch April 24. (Rhonda Dent Photography)
Sitting in the JFS client base are this community’s greatest and most hopeful assets,” said Jewish Family Services Innovators Lunch keynote speaker Leonard Brody. Donating to JFS is not charity, he said, but rather an investment with high returns.
The 600-plus attendees at the JFS’s main annual fundraising event obviously agreed. At press time, more than $350,000 had been raised for the agency’s work, and donations were still coming in, making this year’s lunch the most successful Innovators yet.
Event co-chairs Shannon Ezekiel and Candice Stein Thal welcomed those gathered at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver on April 24, and gave a brief overview of the JFS and of the organization’s new logo and look, which, they said, “inspired the theme for this year’s lunch: ‘Uplifting Lives.’”
Rabbi Jonathan Infeld of Congregation Beth Israel, who is the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver representative on the JFS board, did the blessing over the bread. “This week’s biblical portion is Acharei Mot-Kedoshim,” he said. “Kedoshim is really the essence of why we are here – ‘You shalt be holy,’ the portion begins, and then it gives us a litany of laws in which we are able to bring holiness into this world. A number of those laws do not ask, but demand, that we take care of those who are in need. And one of those laws in particular demands that we feed those who are hungry. Many of us here are hoping to make a difference in this world. We are here, maybe with the idea in mind of a business connection, but, really, the essence of what the JFS is all about is bringing holiness into this world by helping those who are in need.”
After a video, which told the stories of three individuals who were helped by JFS in some way, JFS board chair Bill Kaplan said a few words, stressing that, “most importantly, our volunteers and staff treat our clients with a respect and warmth that uplifts them, makes them feel part of the community and, if you ever visited, you’ll see, it becomes a social highlight for their week.”
All of the lunch guests were given a bag full of items – including some packaged food, toiletries, a poncho and gloves – and asked to give it to someone on their way to work or to a JFS client. The bags were packed by more than 80 kids and their families at Beth Israel a few weeks earlier.
Among those who Ezekiel and Stein Thal thanked were the event’s corporate sponsorship committee, chaired by Audrey Chan; the more than 40 sponsors at the lunch, who had “helped contribute over $183,500 … a record in sponsorship for this event”; the 28 table families; day-of-event chair Dr. Sherry Wise; and JFS’s Maya Dimapilis and her team. The lunch was co-presented by the Diamond Foundation, Austeville Properties Ltd. and Shay Keil; Neil and Michelle Pollock matched every new or increased portion of a donation raised through the lunch, up to $25,000, which was dedicated for the Jewish Food Bank.
JFS executive director Richard Fruchter spoke about JFS, its history and the expanding services it provides. It is because of this growth in the demand for JFS’s services, he said, that “it became important for us to be more visible in the community and tell our story to a much wider audience …. we’ve updated our logo and our name to reflect that. Our logo is a simple, elegant symbol – it conveys the warmth and heart of what we do here at Jewish Family Services.”
“For me, this is not just an amazing lunch with a marquee speaker,” said Keil before he introduced Brody. “It’s an opportunity for me to stand before you and proudly announce my support of the Jewish Family Services, and to thank the army of staff and volunteers … [for their] work in the community.”
Brody’s talk was on The Great Rewrite, a book he is creating with Forbes Magazine, based on a documentary series they produced. “Really what we’re doing this morning,” said the entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author when he took to the stage, “is talking about an evolution, an evolution in us, in our human story.”
Based on about a decade’s worth of research, he said, The Great Rewrite began with the question, “How is this moment in time different? We’ve been through a lot of innovation cycles, from the web and mobile, and now entering into AI and robotics… Is this vast amount of change that we’re all experiencing … substantively different from anything we’ve been through before? Is this a fourth industrial revolution?”
Humanity is “literally rewriting this planet from the ground up,” he said, arguing that we are currently undergoing “pretty much the largest institutional shift in the history of our species.”
The co-founder of four companies, Brody said, “The concept of this rewrite has nothing to do, for me, with just theory – it started as a theory but it’s really what we do and what I do every day for a living at CAA [Creative Artists Agency].”
Before looking at what we can expect in the next 730 days – the next two years – Brody explained how we, the humans of today, are nothing like the people of 100 years ago. For example, he said, the average person now lives 2.7 times longer and is three to four inches taller; the rate of poverty has been reduced from 90% in 1900 to 10% now, literacy increased from 12% to 85% and access to basic education risen from 17% to 86%. We are also “living in the lowest point of human death [caused by any factor] since we could record it, since 1400,” he said, and “the average human being living on this planet works about half the number of hours than someone living in 1900.”
We are fundamentally different people now, said Brody, and herein lies the challenge. “The houses we built don’t fit the people who live here any more,” he said. “We built institutions – I’m talking about all the institutions that govern your life, education, government, religion, work, the family unit – they are all going through massive pressure points today because they are structures based on assumptions, often technological, some patriarchal, that are just no longer true.”
So, he said, “The whole essence of this rewrite is you are living in the disconnect between the people we have become, the technological tools available to us today and the failure of our institutions to keep pace with that.”
One of the reasons for this, he explained, is “inversion.” Most of our institutions are organized as pyramids, with, for example, a head of state or religious figure at the top; however, the internet has flipped this power structure. Up to the mid-1990s, all the methods of communication, from radio to the telephone, had limited reach and were regulated by government, he said, but, with the internet, it “was the first time where millions of people could speak with millions of other people with virtually no hit on their disposable income” and where it was “impossible for governments to regulate.”
With respect to the internet, said Brody, “the average North American spends two-thirds of their working day in their virtual identity and not their physical one. The average Canadian, by the way, spends 63% of their time with close friends and family in their virtual identity and not their physical one, meaning not face-to-face. So, the virtual form of yourself is now the predominant human form, not the physical.”
And our behaviours are different online than in person. “You do things in your virtual identity that you would never dream of in your physical and vice versa,” he said. For example, the average internet user is four times more trusting than they are in person. He illustrated this using a question he asked his 83-year-old uncle: “When your children were babies, would you post their baby pictures on the lamp posts in your neighbourhood?” The response was an emphatic no. “So, then, why do you post hundreds of photographs of your granddaughter on Facebook and Flickr, which is a globally open, searchable and highly manipulated light post, and his face just went totally blank.”
As for how the internet has changed our institutions, Brody gave the example of marriage. As of the end of 2017, he said, “two-thirds of all new marriages in the Western world originated online” – and, for those who met their spouse online, the likelihood of divorce is 15 to 20% less. “The algorithms on these dating sites work from a data perspective,” he said. And, connected to the institution of marriage, he noted that, in the 2016 census, about 40% of Canadian adults reported themselves as living alone, while, in 1955, that statistic was four percent.
Brody went on to explain what CAA was doing in the field of entertainment with virtual reality and how, “in the next decade, roughly 30% of all ‘live’ entertainment will come from performers who are no longer living. You will take your children to go watch the Beatles and Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley – in fact, the Elvis tour has just begun; the estate just signed off on it.”
Currently, there are up to three-and-a-half billion people on the internet, he said, and, over the next two years, another billion people will join. This new billion will be “one of the most significant economic events in human history, if not the most significant,” he said, noting the amount of money to be made from e-commerce.
This coming two-year period, he added, “is the very beginning of a long journey in the rewrite of currency.” He said that traditional wealth generators, such as home ownership and the stock market, will not be profitable in the future, so currency “will become the new stock.”
Brody spoke about the fact that we’re about a decade away from creating machines able to think for themselves, and how computers can now create, for example, a Rembrandt painting that can fool the computers that detect fraud at top auction houses. “The reason I share that with you,” he said, “is because the very thing that makes us human is art. And, once machines begin to make art, you get a very clear indication of how different this world is going to be, and very clearly that we are on a path where humans may no longer be the predominant species on this planet. So, we have very important decisions to make in the next decade about how we regulate the ethics of artificial intelligence.”
He concluded, “Why are we talking about The Great Rewrite and the rewrite of this planet at a JFS Innovators Lunch? There are two specific reasons. The first is this massive shift in institutional power that’s coming…. And the second has to do with math, pure math; in particular, the number 70. Why 70? According to StatsCan, 70% of all charitable donations in this country come from primary donors – 70% come from a small group that make up the vast majority of the donations. So, I started to do a little bit of digging and I brought in my friends and partners at Forbes to help me out on it. It turns out, if you look through the Forbes millionaire and billionaire list, which many Canadians sit on, it turns out that … 70% of that [primary donors] group came from nothing” and could have been clients of an organization like JFS at one point in their lives.
“Benevolence and charity were the wrong lens” with which to look at giving, Brody said. “The right lens was investment. If it’s true, which it is, that the vast majority of donations to charitable causes in this country … and the vast majority of those individuals [who are giving] were, at some point in their lives, disadvantaged and downtrodden, then the math and the investment is very simple. An investment made in JFS today has the greatest statistical likelihood of identifying the next pillars in this community and the next great funders.”