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Impact Investing through a Jewish Lens

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
3 – 5 years
Target audience

JLens serves as a bridge between the Jewish community and the increasingly popular responsible investing field to create a new avenue for exploring and applying deeply relevant Jewish wisdom to investment decisions.

JLens enables the Jewish community to advocate as investors for communal concerns (social, environmental, and Israel) with powerful US companies. Additionally, JLens provides Jewish representation in the global responsible investing field to offer insights on Judaism and strengthen interfaith relationships, through membership in the United Nations’ Principles on Responsible Investing and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

The questions and tensions in the responsible investing world today are captivating and urgent, reflecting some of the most pressing global challenges and opportunities. JLens explores these tensions and questions through the study and application of Jewish texts.

For example, when posing the question whether and how it is appropriate to seek wealth and profit, we draw on stories from the Torah and ideas from Pierke Avot. When we discuss Judaism’s understanding of healthy and just business models, we draw on the extensive debates in the Talmud in Nezikin, as well as legal discussions in the Shulchan Aruch’s codification of Choshen Mishpat. When we consider specific issues in contemporary impact investing like environmental impact, social justice, and Israel, we use case studies and writings by contemporary Jews, stories in Midrash that speak to our role in the world, and Jewish legal texts from the Rambam, among others, that concretize our responsibility.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

JLens has created the first Jewish values-based responsible investing strategy, thanks to seed investments from Jewish Community Foundations. The JLens US Equity Advocacy Strategy moves the community beyond conversations on investing and toward action, engagement and participation.

JLens’ investment strategy wrestles with complex decisions. We apply guidance from Jewish social, environmental, and ethical texts as well as seek contemporary input from the Jewish community through periodic surveys. Communal survey responses influence the strategy’s Jewish values overlay and JLens’ shareholder advocacy efforts with the hundreds of US public companies owned in the investment strategy.

In addition to welcoming participation in JLens investment strategy and advocacy campaigns, JLens introduces community members to a range of values-based investment opportunities across asset classes. JLens’ Director of Engagement, Rabbi Jacob Siegel, is developing curriculum and case studies for a wide variety of audiences including Jewish teens, college students, young professionals and women, that provide an accessible Jewish entry point to the important life skill of investing.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

JLens is building momentum around a vital conversation in Jewish life today through our Jewish values-based investment strategy, shareholder advocacy campaigns and educational offerings on responsible investing.

Currently over 8,000 Jewish community members are connected to JLens’ network and receive our quarterly newsletter. JLens work has been written about in many Jewish publications, including JWeekly, eJewish Philanthropy, the Forward, Times of Israel, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, and JTA.

JLens’ events, synagogue programs, and speaking engagements are well attended. Our San Francisco half day conference and Shabbat dinner reached maximum capacity, with over 200 attendees, many of them young adults interested in the Jewish wisdom that relates to investing. 2016 speaking engagements include the Vatican Impact Investing Conference, SOCAP (Social Capital Markets), Hadassah, and the Federation’s General Assembly.

In addition to engaging Jewish community members, JLens provides guidance and serves as a resource on responsible investing for many Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders around the world. Our new curriculum brings the process from our consulting engagements with Jewish institutions to the broader community to consider how communal and personal investments are best allocated for social change while balancing financial goals.

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

Jewish wisdom is most accessible and impactful when it is relevant to aspects of modern society. As investors and businesses increasingly recognize the importance of values and ethics to guide decision-making, an exploration of Jewish wisdom is a natural next step. Rather than forcing a lesson on Jewish values, applying Jewish values to a topic already popular in society leads to more meaningful engagement with Jewish wisdom.