Mexico meeting heralds bright future for World ORT


11 February 2009 Mexico meeting heralds bright future for World ORT World ORT’s lay leaders have emerged from the organisation’s first Board of Representatives meeting under the governing structure adopted at last year’s General Assembly feeling confident about the future. After three days of intensive discussions, presentations and networking at the Four Seasons Hotel and ORT Mexico’s Media Training Centre in Mexico City, no-one was under any illusions about the challenges ahead. But there was also a palpable sense of optimism in World ORT’s ability to weather the storms that are battering society generally as well as those threatening Jewish philanthropies. ‘We have an organisation that’s safe and sound both financially and programmatically,’ said World ORT President Dr Jean de Gunzburg. ‘We have lay leaders and professionals who know exactly what the situation is and what to do about it in a prudent way. We are looking forward to a stronger organisation that is more focused and that will be better able to serve its children with education.’ Mexico City was chosen as the venue for this gathering together of the ORT family’s lay and professional leadership from around the world partly to highlight the $9 million Latin America Campaign, which is supporting the continent’s struggling smaller Jewish communities as well as boosting the success of ORT’s major operations there, and to honour the Chairman of World ORT’s Board of Trustees Mauricio Merikanskas for his long standing commitment to the ORT mission. The meetings started on Friday with the Finance Committee with Saturday dominated by meetings with individual delegations from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, CIS and other countries. The inaugural, two-day Board of Representatives meeting was preceded on Sunday morning by the Board of Trustees meeting and followed by the National Directors Forum, the peak gathering of ORT countries’ professional management. The week’s events continue with the first World ORT Moshinsky Seminar to be held in Latin America. The new governance structure is designed to allow World ORT to work more efficiently while ensuring transparency and accountability and shifts the focus from geographical representation towards a skills-driven organisation. The 15-member Board of Trustees, for which Mexico City is the second of its four meetings each year, manages World ORT’s affairs, including approval of the annual budget, and oversees the working of the Director General, World ORT’s most senior professional. The Board of Representatives, which is chaired by the President of World ORT, meets once a year and provides a forum for the discussion of major policy items; it approves the strategic plan and the Director General’s annual programme and can change World ORT by-laws. World ORT Treasurer, Judy Menikoff joined Dr de Gunzburg in appreciating the spirit of the meetings as well as the quality of the content in both the Board of Trustees’ and Board of Representatives’ sessions. ‘This experience has fulfilled the expectations we had when we restructured the constitution and by-laws,’ Mrs Menikoff said. ‘The discussions were on point and we have had more time for meaningful discussions, on matters that will impact the organisation for many years to come. There’s also a feeling of collegiality here with everyone pulling in the same direction. This was Jean’s vision, a vision we share, and I think what he foresaw is coming about.’ The Board of Representatives focused its deliberations on the economic crisis, its impact on fundraising and the financial health of the organisation. In spite of the challenges, members discussed how to increase revenue rather than merely maintain pre-recession income streams. The Board also examined educational challenges in the Former Soviet Union, where the ORT school network faces a funding crisis, and the expanding Kadima Mada (Science Journey) programme in Israel. Dr Luis Rubio, Director General of CIDAC (Centre of Research for Development), a Mexico City-based independent research institution devoted to the study of economic and political policy issues, addressed the Board on the issue of the global economic crisis. First-hand accounts of other crises affecting the Jewish People came from Alon Schuster, Mayor of the Gaza border district of Sha’ar HaNegev, whose high school participates in Kadima Mada; Myer Jonathan Moses, who described last year’s terrorist attack in his hometown of Mumbai; and Rodolfo Osers, who gave insights into living as a Jew in Venezuela. Antisemitism is worsening not only in Latin America but also in Europe, where anti-Jewish incidents have reached a 20-year high. Daniel Kluger, a member of the ORT France Board, told colleagues in Mexico City, however, that the actual threat may not be as bad as the media makes it out to be. ‘I showed that we have to be aware of antisemitic reactions and violence but that we shouldn’t exaggerate them,’ said Mr Kluger, whose expertise on the subject stems from his work with B’nai B’rith. Concerns about antisemitism were raised by all the European delegations at the Mexico City conference resulting in World ORT resolving to appoint lay leaders to fill positions the organisation has on various international bodies so that it can contribute to policy development on the issue. It was also decided to send a letter of support to the President and Prime Minister of Israel in light of the situation in the south of the country; and the Board of Trustees expressed it complete satisfaction in the progress of Kadima Mada. The Board of Trustees also decided that, regardless of what happens to alternative sources of funding for the ORT school network in the Former Soviet Union, World ORT would not let the system down. World ORT Director General Robert Singer said the organisation’s professionals were complemented on maintaining a balanced budget despite the rapidly worsening economy. ‘To avoid a deficit next year, it was agreed that World ORT would work on 75 per cent of its forecast budget,’ Mr Singer said. ‘The situation will be reviewed in June and, depending on income, we may return to 100 per cent then. We’re running a responsible policy.’ The Board of Representatives were also given a guided tour of ORT Mexico’s Media Centre, the inauguration of which kicked off World ORT’s Latin America Campaign in 2006. The advanced technology education centre is open to students from all the local Jewish day schools as well as to young adults seeking training. ORT America President Doreen Hermelin said she was very impressed. ‘It’s the first time I’ve seen it; it’s fantastic – very up to date,’ Mrs Hermelin said. Hosted by ORT Mexico President Ary Kahan and National Director Jimmy Salinas, Board members saw students using the television studio, and enjoyed students’ presentations of work done in the radio and audio production studio and the digital photo editing room. ‘The discussions we’ve had here had made us realise that education is more important now than ever before,’ Mrs Hermelin said. ‘In turbulent times such as these you help people by giving them the skills they need for employment. They need to be trained better than ever before and ORT can meet that need better than any other organisation, so we have to buckle down and tell people how important the work is that ORT’s doing. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s doable.’