Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
LAVAN is a rapidly growing global community of impact investors, social entrepreneurs, and Jewish professionals bringing together Jewish values and the power of business to repair our world. We share a vision of Israel and the Jewish world at the forefront of the global impact investing movement by 2025, creating a powerful avenue for Jewish engagement and a bold communal track record of social and environmental impact.
Our mission is to develop the next generation of impact investors and social entrepreneurs, in Israel and around the world, who see impact investing and social entrepreneurship as meaningful expressions of Jewish identity.
At LAVAN, we tap into Jewish texts, traditions, and values to inspire the members of our community to use their capital and business acumen in pursuit of a better world. Judaism seeks to bring all aspects of life under the umbrella of holiness, and that includes our investing.
One of the clearest and least-known iterations of this unity comes from the most famous Jewish prayer, the Shema. Many Jews know to recite V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha, but few know the meaning of uv'khol m'odekha, often translated as ‘to love God with all your might/very-ness’. The Talmud interprets me’od as money or possessions. Our earthly possessions are not exempt from our responsibility towards something greater than ourselves.
The origins of this idea exist in the Jewish notion of stewardship found in the second story of creation depicted in Genesis II. Man is commanded to ‘guard the earth’, limiting his ownership over the planet and all that is on it. Stewardship implies a responsibility to maintain and improve.
To better understand the moral imperative to improve our planet we turn to the teachings of Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg. According to Rabbi Greenberg, Jewish law regulates how all elements of our life serve the ideal of a perfect world. At LAVAN, we ask ourselves how our investments and business skills can be used to achieve this vision.
At LAVAN, we include Jewish learning as a core part of our education and engagement process, bringing Jewish thought on investing to local Jewish communities, young professionals, stewards of Jewish communal funds, and private investors. Learning is made accessible and applicable through:
- Study groups: held in collaboration with synagogues, these study groups explore a Jewish perspective on investing through a variety of texts including the Tanach, Mishnah, Talmud, and contemporary Jewish philosophy. We have held such events at synagogues for adults and young professionals, and at salon events.
- Career development: LAVAN helps college students and young professionals explore the nexus of business as a tool for good and Jewish values. At online events held especially for young professionals, we invite the audience to review specific investment opportunities in impact companies through three lenses: financial returns, social impact, and Jewish values. For example, participants on a recent global webinar engaged in a discussion as to which Jewish values –Pursuing Justice, Caring for the Widow and the Orphan, Repairing the World, etc.– they saw manifest in the work of three Israeli startups who were looking for impact investments.
- Pitch events: LAVAN holds pitch events featuring Israeli entrepreneurs tackling global social and environmental challenges. At these events, we use Jewish commentary to enrich the investing process and to connect our investment decisions with our values and motivations. Our Spring 2016 Pitch Events started with a short discussion about Jewish values in impact investing, and resulted in over $450K in investments in Israeli impact entrepreneurs.
- Thought leadership: LAVAN regularly publishes articles and blogs in both Jewish and secular publications on the topic of Jewish values and investing. Our work has been featured in: the Times of Israel, eJewish Philanthropy, the Journal of Sustainable Finance & Banking, and InvestWithValues.com.
Over the last six months, LAVAN has engaged over 150 individuals in activities relating to impact investing and Jewish values. Of these, 75 people attended our first pitch events held in May 2016, where we featured four Israeli impact entrepreneurs tackling global challenges in healthcare and education.
By bringing impact investing under a shared tent of Jewish values, we were able to engage seasoned impact investors and social entrepreneurs who had previously not associated their important impact work with a Jewish perspective. The events resulted in over $450K in investments in Israeli impact startups.
Following our New York pitch event, Benjamin Pinkhasik, Chief Operating Officer for Equity Asset Management Services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and a member of LAVAN's New York community, said that "the event provided great exposure to well deserving up-and-coming companies built on Jewish values. I am excited to be part of the impact investment movement and the work that LAVAN is doing to bring it to the forefront. I am already looking forward to the fall event!"
One of the most important things we have learned at LAVAN is the importance of deeply grounding our communal knowledge in Jewish texts, values, and traditions. The vastness of the Jewish corpus makes it possible to claim many behaviors and practices as Jewish. However, this type of cherry-picking adds little value. The question is not what makes something thinly Jewish, but rather how do we draw on thematic Jewish principles and values to enrich our lives and infuse meaning into a variety of practices.
We found that the most effective way to bring Jewish wisdom into investing is by providing the members of our community with the texts, the language, and the background needed to facilitate a conversation within the community itself. We were surprised and inspired by the large number of individuals eager to understand how Jewish learning can inform their approach to managing their money and investments.
We also discovered that the need for a Jewish perspective on investing is especially acute among stewards of Jewish communal funds looking to incorporate impact into their investment strategies. This is particularly relevant to large Jewish organizations looking to engage and increase the participation of a younger audience.
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