Earlier this week, SHATIL - NIF's operating arm - celebrated its 30th anniversary. For three decades, SHATIL has helped Israeli NGOs and activists build capacity and power, work effectively in coalitions, and develop leadership. This week it observed its birthday in classic SHATIL fashion by hosting a two-day conference entitled, SHATIL at 30: People Making Change a Reality - Building Civic Power.
Hundreds of people attended the conference, listening to Israeli experts like Eva Illouz, Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University and cutting edge author and thinker, address obstacles to building civic power, and our own Naomi Chazan talk about what it is, exactly, social change agents need to try to change. Attendees also heard from international luminaries like Heather Booth, a leading American political strategist, and many others. They participated in workshops focusing on subjects like using dialogue as a tool for transforming violent conflicts and leveraging the virtual world for genuine impact.
Participants also discussed the results of a survey SHATIL did in preparation for the conference that examined Israeli views on civil society and civic power. The poll - and the conference in general - garnered a great deal of media attention in Israel, and with good reason. Some of the findings: Almost 90% of Israelis polled believe that government has not responded sufficiently to social needs and problems, and that civil society and social movements can to lead to positive change. 68% of respondents believe that the 2011 social protests empowered the public with the belief that it can make change.
I particularly liked what SHATIL's dynamic director, my friend and colleague Ronit Heyd, had to say in an interview in the Jerusalem Post:
"I think that any activity that reflects the interests of citizens is a strength. It's about citizens being active, monitoring the decisions of members of the Knesset, addressing decision-makers directly. This is what at the end of the day creates power instead of leaving it in the hands of decision-makers who tend to see numbers and not people."
"We live in a fascinating period," she told the Post.
"On the one hand, our reality becomes full of elements threatening democracy like racism, religious issues and other thing. But on the other hand, there is a sort of citizens' awakening, which peaked in the summer of 2011, and we see much more belief in our ability to influence life in the country, which is touching and very encouraging."
Touching, encouraging, and also a great tribute to the innovative, creative and essential work of SHATIL. Kol ha Kavod to Ronit and her team; here's to another 30 years of building power for a better Israel.