Photo courtesy of Repair the World
Photo courtesy of Repair the World

Imagine this: You are the president and CEO of a small nonprofit. One day, you get a call telling you that billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and her husband Dan Jewett would like to donate $7,000,000 to your organization.

That’s exactly what happened to Cindy Greenberg of Repair the World, a Jewish communal organization for young adults that encourages community service with the goal of creating a more just world. The nonprofit offers a range of volunteer opportunities in 13 communities across the United States, as well as a two-year fellowship that trains future service leaders.

“When I found out, I was screaming! I was so excited,” says Greenberg. “We were equally excited about the amount and the fact that it was, you know, Mackenzie Scott and Dan Jewett giving it.”

Repair the World is one of 286 nonprofits and one of only three Jewish nonprofits selected to share $2.7 billion in this latest round of funding from Scott and her new husband Jewett, who added faith-based groups to the mix this time. The couple, who married in March, gave grants to two other Jewish nonprofits—the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) a 100+-year-old organization founded in response to anti-Semitic pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia, and Afrika Tikkun, a South African organization that supports underprivileged South African youth whose lives are still being impacted by the legacy of apartheid.

As Inside Philanthropy has reported, this is the third round of grants that Scott has made since she signed the Giving Pledge in 2019, promising to give “until the safe is empty.” While there have been many threads running through the hundreds of grants to date, Scott’s first round of giving focused largely on movement-building and social justice, and the second on COVID relief. The third introduced some new priorities, including arts and culture groups, and a handful of organizations rooted in faith. It’s not entirely clear where the interest in religious organizations comes from exactly, but recipients have also included Christian and Muslim nonprofits.

Greenberg says she’s deeply appreciative of Scott and Jewett’s no strings-attached approach to philanthropy. “It’s been inspiring to receive the money, both because of the difference that the actual funds will make in helping us to expand the work, but also the spirit of the gift has mattered to the team and the way [Scott and Jewett] are relying on our expertise, the fact that the gift is unrestricted and allows us to really think broadly about how we can make the biggest impact.”

Repair the World plans to use the grant to expand its operations from 13 to 20 communities. The funding will also enable the organization to work more closely with its community partners and to increase service opportunities for young people around the world.

“It’s very important to us that the work that we’re doing is in deep partnership with the communities in which we serve,” says Greenberg. “So it’s not just about serving for the volunteers’ sake, it’s about serving for impact, and service that creates a more just world. So I think for us, [receiving the grant is] a real stamp of credibility for the impact that our work is making.”

Like Greenberg, Miriam Feffer, vice president of development at HIAS, was stunned when she received the call from Scott and Jewett’s intermediary, telling her that the organization was a grant recipient.

“We were honored and elated, moved to tears and just overwhelmed by a deep-seated sense of gratitude for their generosity,” says Feffer. “We are still processing all of the emotion it has brought up for us and just trying to find moments to be reflective and appreciate our great fortune, especially because the last few years have been incredibly challenging, both for us and for displaced people around the world.”

HIAS has not yet publicly announced the amount of the grant they received from Scott and Jewett; Feffer says the organization wants to be deliberate about how it will use the funding. “I can’t say that we have all the answers yet, but we do know that the investment will support our ongoing transformation from the Jewish Refugee Resettlement Agency, which is how many people still think of us, to the Jewish organization that responds to forced displacement emergencies around the world.”

Adds Feffer: “We like to say that we used to help refugees because they were Jewish, and today, we help refugees because we are Jewish. The people we serve today—they come from all faiths, ethnicities, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and we understand that their stories reflect and resonate with ours.”

When CEO Marc Lubner received the news that his South Africa-based organization Afrika Tikkun was selected to receive a $10 million grant from Scott and Jewett, his first reaction was to laugh.

“I didn’t believe it was real! Then I began to cry,” said Lubner. “And I became reminiscent of my late father, who was, in fact, the founder of Afrika Tikkun. He was a real tough guy and a real tough businessman who drove me really, really hard as a kid. But in his later years, he was one to burst into tears on very emotional issues all the time. And I found myself kind of sobbing, reminiscent of my dad, quite honestly.”

Lubner says Afrika Tikkun, which is based on the Jewish value of tzedakah (compassion, caring and helping) and the African value of ubuntu (community warmth and sharing), has developed a model that provides support for children and their families “from cradle to career.”

“In essence, our belief is that if you can take a child early enough in the developmental cycle, no matter how bad the circumstance from where they emanate, you can, in fact, change the outcome, because you can give that individual an ability to believe in themselves,” says Lubner. “You can make them realize that they’re bigger than their circumstances. So if you think of apartheid, apartheid left a legacy of a lot of young people who felt that they were second-class citizens, their parents were educated to believe that they were second-class citizens.”

Afrika Tikkun aims to interrupt that cycle by addressing issues such as food insecurity, education and healthcare disparities and providing job training and vocational opportunities.

Afrika Tikkun is a little different from the other grantees in that, though it is a Jewish-run organization, Lubner says it is not faith-based. “We did not get this money simply because MacKenzie was looking to identify a couple of token Jewish organizations. We’ve been able to practice our faith as Jews in South Africa openly and freely. … So we’ve been able as a community to forge relationships with Muslim communities, Hindu communities, Christian communities. And we’ve implemented in Africa a mindset of service to others, irrespective of religious belief and faith.”

Lubner makes an interesting observation about Scott and Jewett’s giving to groups with connections to a religious tradition or practice. As we noted in the case of progressive Christian nonprofit Faith in Public Life, these are organizations rooted in a faith, but very much working toward a shared societal good. As Scott put it in her latest announcement, “Discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities has been deepening, so we assessed organizations bridging divides through interfaith support and collaboration.”

Lubner says that if there’s one thing he’s learned from running Afrika Tikkun for the last 15 years, it’s that “it is possible for human beings to live together in harmony.”