The Torah famously commands “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy/Dvarim 16:20). One interpretation of this verse is that the repetition of the word means we must pursue justice justly: The methods we use to pursue justice must be ethical themselves.
At OLAM, we are passionate about pursuing justice ethically, in a way that:
- Ensures the dignity and safety of the communities with whom we work;
- Recognizes the power imbalance between international development organizations and these communities; and
- Encourages organizations to be open to learning from their mistakes and adapt.
Aspire is a program for OLAM partners, created by a team of professionals in OLAM’s network and beyond, so that together, we can embark on a journey to pursue our goals ethically and justly.
OLAM’s Aspire is a multi-year program that takes a holistic approach to help our partners improve their ethical practices in international development. It offers resources and tools that will allow our partners to assess their current work, and take positive actions that will deepen their ethical practices. These resources include: a self-assessment survey, training sessions and workshops, microgrants, and mentorships.
As part of the program, OLAM partners will select at least one Aspire topic a year that relates to their day-to-day work. Because OLAM recognizes that creating a more ethical field is a long-term commitment that can feel overwhelming, Aspire will help our partners break down what can feel like an overwhelming task into definable and manageable actions.
Ethical best practice is a journey, not a destination, and thus Aspire aims to offer something to all our partners.
Whether our partners are just beginning to explore issues related to ethical practices, or are well on their way to achieving them, the program is designed to give each organization the tools to best adapt to their own unique circumstances. In fact, we hope partner organizations that already consider ethical practices high on their agenda will share their experiences with others in our network, as well as gain insight into where there is still room for improvement. Partners that have not yet fully delved into these issues will have the opportunity to determine what actions to take to get started in the process.
OLAM is committed to doing the hard work of seeing where we, as our own organization, can do better, along with all our partners.
It’s important that ethics guide how we operate in the fields of international development, humanitarian aid, and global service. First and foremost, of course, we must ensure that our actions make positive impacts on the communities with whom we work. This is most likely to happen if we deliberately design and implement our programs with this goal in mind.
While the roots of Aspire began to be planted soon after OLAM’s founding, the program really took shape following the global awakening to issues of racial and social justice. The events that stirred this awakening also sparked conversations in the international development arena about our roles in shifting power dynamics and creating a more equitable world.
As these conversations continue, and as both society and the field at-large evolve, more and more funders are looking to support organizations and programs that adhere to the highest ethical standards in their practices. OLAM wants to ensure that Jewish and Israeli organizations are regarded as highly-qualified leaders in the field.
I would be interested in a deeper look at international development through an ethics lens – with more of a ‘how to’ approach, readings, and course work to learn more.
The conversation inspired us to think about how we can improve upon systems we have in place.
– Feedback from OLAM’s Do No Harm webinar series, one of the impetuses for the Aspire program
Pilot Program: 2021-2022
In its first year, Aspire will focus on four topics, which were also the focus of our 2020 webinar series, Do No Harm:
Aspire: Step by Step
While Aspire will invariably be a different experience for each of OLAM’s partner organizations, all participants will take the following steps:
- Take a self-assessment survey
- Understand where their work falls on a spectrum of ethical best practices
- Choose at least one topic on which to focus in the first year
- Attend OLAM workshops and training sessions that will give them the tools needed to progress on the ethical practices spectrums
- Each year around Rosh Hashana, in the spirit of introspection that accompanies the Jewish new year, partners will retake the self-assessment surveys in order to see their progress on the ethical spectrums, and to understand where work is still needed. OLAM will collect stories highlighting our partners’ successes, so that we can all continue to learn from each other.
OLAM will support Aspire participants in several ways, including:
- An optional one-hour consultation with OLAM staff
- Microgrants to support partners’ ethical practices work (can be used to fund staff training, hire a mentor or consultant, host gatherings around this work, adjust databases and websites, and more)
- Group learning opportunities that will allow our participants to ask questions, share dilemmas and challenges, learn from one another, and get advice from experts in the field
- Providing a connection to a mentor or consultant who can offer personalized support
- Additional support, as needed
New topics will be added to the Aspire program each year, following consultations with expert steering committees. Current topics may be updated.
Frequently Asked Questions
In recent years there has been a grassroots demand on the part of OLAM partners that we work to support each other in deepening our ethical practices and reaching international standards in our work. As a result, OLAM has facilitated conversations about these issues through Focal Point, focus groups we convened to study this issue, and our Do No Harm webinar series. Aspire is the next step on this path.
Yes. Similar to participation in Focal Point and our annual partner renewal survey, we see a commitment to deepening ethical practices as central to what it means to belong to OLAM’s network. We expect you – our partners – to be active participants in the Aspire program, sharing your experiences and expertise with others and identifying areas for growth. This will ensure that as a network, we can pursue our goals of supporting the world’s most vulnerable people ethically and justly.
The amount of time you spend depends on a number of factors, such as: how many topics your organization focuses on, where your organization falls on the spectrum tools, how your organization prioritizes this work, and how many staff members are involved.
To make the most out of this program, you will need need to:
- Take the self-assessment survey (~1 hour)
- Participate in the informational webinar (~1 hour), or watch it later if no one from your organization can attend the live event
- Assign a staff member to be the point person at your organization for the ethical practices work
- Decide on at least one topic to focus on each year
- Take part in at least two training sessions or workshops throughout the year (~1 hour each)
- Retake the self-assessment survey each year
The amount of time an organization spends on this work can fluctuate throughout the year, depending on capacity, project cycle, staffing, etc. However, OLAM sees this work as long-term, and encourages organizations to think about improving ethical practices all year round.
Yes! Whether the entirety of your organization’s work, or just one of its projects, relates to international development, understanding and reflecting on ethical practices can be relevant to other aspects of your work.
In the process of creating the Aspire program, OLAM worked with an outside consultant and steering committees of 12 professionals, both inside and outside our network, who have deep knowledge about ethical best practices in the field of international development. This collaboration included sharing their expertise, helping to prepare Aspire documents, and working together to formulate a program that is aligned with the most current global ethical practices.
Often best practices and ethical practices are one in the same. The Aspire program is specifically focused on actions that organizations take that have implications for the well-being of the communities they serve. While not following general best practices could lead to lack of professionalism in your work, not following ethical best practices can – directly or indirectly – cause harm to these populations.
Please email Yael Shapira, OLAM’s Director of Network Engagement and Programs, for any questions or concerns you may have about Aspire: email@example.com.
Resources and Tools
OLAM partner organizations will take an anonymous self-assessment survey at the beginning of the Aspire process, which will help them understand where their work falls on a spectrum of ethical best practices. Members of the OLAM staff will only have access to results of the survey in the aggregate, in order to allow for privacy of partners’ information.
OLAM’s Ethical Practices Spectrum Tools pinpoint four stages along a continuum of ethical practices. These spectrums will allow our partners to identify potential areas for improvement, while helping them clarify specific actions they can take to reach the next stage.
While OLAM’s ethical practices spectrums serve as good starting points for any organization involved in this process, the complexity of the issues makes it impossible for the spectrums to include all the relevant elements and information.
Therefore, we have curated resource lists with links to dozens of videos, blogs, guides, papers, and more that expand on these issues. They were created by organizations and professionals from around the world who are involved in ethical practices.
We are grateful to our steering committees for their advice, guidance, and time, and for their commitment to raising the standards in these fields. Our collaboration allowed us to create the Aspire program based on real life experiences and expertise.