Gidi Grinstein (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
When Gidi Grinstein finished his army service in Israel in 1995, he wanted to “make a contribution to the most dramatic issues of our time.” And it wasn’t long before he began making tracks in that quest, about which he will talk at Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual campaign launch on Sept. 22.
Grinstein, now 44, coordinated Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, serving as secretary for the Israeli delegation at the Camp David Summit at the tender age of 29, while serving in the office of prime minister Ehud Barak from 1999 to2001. “They called me on Friday afternoon,” Grinstein recalled. “And they said, ‘The first meeting is tomorrow night. If you come, you have the job.’ It took me about three seconds to think about it.”
Grinstein had a close-up view of the strengths and weaknesses of the inner workings of the government. After the conclusion of the negotiations, he received a Wexner fellowship and spent a year at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, thinking about how to move Israel forward through the many challenges that it faces. As he told Israel21c, “There is a systemic problem deriving from the gap between the complexity of the emerging challenges facing the country and the weakness of the tools of governance to meet those challenges.”
Grinstein concluded that tackling this problem “would have to come from the outside” and, after his year at Harvard, he set out to create a nongovernmental body to address Israel’s most pressing problems.
“Governments in general are weak when it comes to innovation,” Grinstein told the Independent, “so NGOs experiment and explore, try new methods; when there is rightness, the government takes them on.”
Grinstein said Reut (meaning “clear vision”), the organization he founded with two others, aims “to help communities drive their own long-term development and create a vision for the next 10 years.”
Reut does this by mobilizing economic potential, key institutions, the municipal and central government and entrepreneurs. “Reut is a platform for social innovation that aims at what I call ‘inclusive prosperity,’” said Grinstein, “prosperity that includes Jews and Arabs, the wealthy and the poor, everyone. Only inclusive prosperity will bring Israel forward into its future as what it is meant to be.”
Grinstein said Reut exists “to create integrative models to tackle big problems, problems with no market or government solutions, problems where solutions don’t exist or cannot be afforded.”
He pointed out that “the state of Israel does not have a specific unit of people dedicated to long-term well-being of its people, as if that will just take care of itself!”
Grinstein said, in Israel’s early years, it led the world in societal innovation but, in recent decades, it has focused on technological innovation without a corresponding degree of societal innovation, leading to an imbalance. He told Haaretz last year that technological innovation benefits far fewer people than societal innovation. “It creates social gaps,” he said, adding that “Israel has gone from being one of the most egalitarian countries in the world to one of the least.”
Grinstein laid out his vision for Israel in his 2015 book Flexigidity: The Secret of Jewish Adaptability and the Challenge and Opportunity Facing Israel. He views Israel’s role as both a light unto the nations and a key agent of the historical vision and special role of the Jewish people, with concerns that need to transcend a narrow focus on economic and security concerns, as important as those issues are.
Reut’s projects include Firewall Israel, a web platform designed to support every Jewish and pro-Israel community in the world in their local fight against boycott, divestment and sanction challenges; TOM (Tikkun Olam Makers), which addresses neglected societal problems faced by people with disabilities, the elderly and underprivileged, by creating affordable options for them; and the Leapfrog Centre, which offers consulting and training to municipalities, based on knowledge developed through Reut’s efforts in the city of Tzfat (since 2011) and in the Western Galilee (since 2010).
Grinstein will be joined at the Sept. 22 campaign launch, FEDtalks, by Randi Zuckerberg, author, radio host and founder of Zuckerberg Media; Alison Lebovitz, One Clip at a Time co-founder; and journalist Terry Glavin. For tickets and more information, visit jewishvancouver.com/fedtalks2016.
Matthew Gindin is a Vancouver freelance writer and journalist. He blogs on spirituality and social justice at seeking her voice (hashkata.com) and has been published in the Forward, Tikkun, Elephant Journal and elsewhere.