5 Years Since OLAM’s Launch: 5 Questions to Our CEO

Read what our CEO, Dyonna Ginsburg, has to say about OLAM’s journey since our launch, and learn more about her vision for the future of our field.

1. What’s a typical day at OLAM?

One of the things I love about OLAM is that there is no such thing as a typical day. I get to do many things and wear many hats. One is connector, opening doors and opportunities in the Jewish world for our partner organizations. Another is cheerleader, empowering our staff to run thoughtful, quality programs. This year, I’ve also increasingly served as confidante, providing a listening ear and advice to partners navigating various challenges, such as leadership transitions or financial difficulties in the wake of the pandemic.

2. If you had to choose one memory that stands out per year for the past 5 years, what would those memories be?


A month after OLAM’s launch, there was an earthquake in Nepal that killed nearly 9,000 people. At that point, OLAM did not yet have formal partners, I was our only staff person, and it wasn’t clear what our role should be. But, I knew I needed to show up. The next morning, I went to the Jerusalem offices of Tevel B’Tzedek, which had close to 100 Israeli and Nepali staff and volunteers in Katmandu and the surrounding villages at the time of the quake. Along with several others, I helped Tevel answer dozens of phone calls from journalists, potential volunteers, and concerned parents. It was inspiring to witness the outpouring of support and concern.


In OLAM’s second year, we launched the Global Torah podcast in partnership with Pardes. What I loved most about the series was the depth of conversation between international development practitioners and Jewish scholars. Five years later, I still go back and listen again to my favorite episodes: “Strangers in Strange Lands” and “Do Motives Matter?”


It’s hard to forget Hannah Gaventa and Liat Rennert’s speeches upon receiving OLAM’s Leonard and Tobee Kaplan award for outstanding young Jewish adults dedicated to international development and global service. Hannah and Liat spoke with conviction about all they had learned from vulnerable communities, inspiring everyone present to pursue their work with greater humility.


During the course of Israeli President Rivlin’s delegation to Ethiopia that OLAM helped organize, twenty of us traveled to the Ethiopian countryside to see the agricultural projects of OLAM partners JDC GRID, Mashav, and Fair Planet. Wading knee deep in mud, this was the first time members of OLAM’s practitioners’ network got to bond and learn from one another in the field (quite literally!).


I remember the palpable excitement at the OLAMathon, a hackathon-style event for members of our practitioner network that focused on developing field-wide solutions to shared issues. Several common themes emerged: the importance of having the global Jewish community step up its support for refugees, a desire to deepen our ethical practice as a field, and the need to create a pipeline that directs global service alumni to additional opportunities for engagement. The seeds planted that day continue to inform our strategy and programs.


Despite Zoom fatigue, many of this year’s 275 Focal Point attendees participated in the entire two-day virtual gathering. During the conference, I was delighted and somewhat amused to receive text messages from folks apologizing for having to miss a session (similar to what they would have done at an in-person conference). I see this as a testament to the type of community and sense of commitment we – and they – have built.

3. How has the Jewish/Israeli international development, humanitarian aid, and global service field evolved over the past 5 years? What about the global Jewish community’s involvement in the sector?

Five years ago, it wasn’t clear to many of our partners why global service, international development, and humanitarian aid organizations should belong to the same platform let alone collaborate with one another. Now there’s a real sense of shared identity. Last time we checked, OLAM partners were in touch with an average of 11 other OLAM partners a year – 95% cited being in touch to collaborate on an ongoing project. This is a real change.

Over the past five years, there are also increasing numbers of Jewish leaders who have embraced global responsibility. Chief Rabbi Mirvis and his office, for example, have prioritized this issue and placed it firmly on the British Jewish community’s radar screen.

But, despite our best efforts, we still haven’t seen a significant increase in Jewish philanthropy going towards international development nor large growth in global service programs. As a field, we have our work cut out for us.

4. You had the opportunity to travel to the field. What was your most memorable site visit?

Just before global travel came to a pandemic-induced halt, I staffed an OLAM study trip to Rwanda of 15 Jewish leaders from Israel, UK, and US. It was my first time in Rwanda. While I had seen many pictures of Agahozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) and Energiya Global, nothing had prepared me for the sheer size of both – the experience of eating lunch in the ASYV dining-hall with hundreds of students, touring ASYV’s large and beautiful grounds, and walking through Energiya’s utility-scale solar field. Previously, I hadn’t realized how big everything was. I found that insight to be symbolic and moving.

5. What’s OLAM planning for the next 5 years? What is your strategy moving forward?

Given our inability to predict the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the developing world, the Jewish community, and our partners, it’s impossible to anticipate what will be in 5 years from now. But, I am proud that we just finalized an “adaptive” three-year strategy, which provides us with clarity on the basics, while enabling us to continue to experiment.

We are going to double down on our strategy of engaging Jewish leaders with global service, international development, and humanitarian aid. By equipping them with the tools to mobilize their own communities to take action on global issues, we can smartly leverage OLAM’s resources. We are also going to build a robust pipeline to nurture and develop young talent within our network of practitioners and expand opportunities for practitioners to network and pursue ethical best practices together.

Read our 5-year report here!