LEADing through example

Participants in LEAD – ‘We’ve taken upon the task of encouraging and developing youth leadership in Israel,’ says LEAD general manager Eliav Zakai.There might not seem to be any direct connection between one of the world’s biggest customer management systems …

Participants in LEAD – ‘We’ve taken upon the task of encouraging and developing youth leadership in Israel,’ says LEAD general manager Eliav Zakai.There might not seem to be any direct connection between one of the world’s biggest customer management systems companies, and one of Israel’s most successful youth leadership training programs LEAD.

But for Morris Kahn, founder of the powerhouse company Amdocs, visionary, and philanthropist extraordinaire, it’s a simple case of the means determining the ends.

The South African-born Israeli Kahn is the head of the Aurec Group, a leading provider of communications, media and information services in Israel and worldwide. Aurec Group consists of several leading companies in Israel among which are the global giant Amdocs (DOX on the NYSE) – which has revolutionized the way professional services are used to deliver business value in order to help leading services companies achieve integrated customer management. There’s probably not a major business transaction in the US that doesn’t use some of the Ra’anana-based company’s technology.

Kahn’s phenomenal success, however, enabled him to turn to his real love, philanthropy.

“When he went public with Amdocs [in 1996] he was able to shift his focus to philanthropy,” said Molly Globus, the President of the Kahn Family Foundation, one of the most effective private charitable foundations in the world.

Sitting in the Kahn Foundation offices in the elegant Aurec headquarters located on the 14th floor of a Ramat Gan high rise, Globus described to ISRAEL21c the process that transformed the publicity-shy Kahn from immigrant to philanthropist.

“He was born in South Africa, and moved to Israel in the 1950s. He attempted a number of businesses before landing the tender to produce the Golden Pages (the Israeli equivalent of the Yellow Pages). Since then his life has been like a charm, like the saying goes, everything he touches turns to gold,” Globus told ISRAEL21c.

“He founded Amdocs with 13 people in order to improve the technology to produce the Golden Pages, and it emerged as a successful independent company. I was his personal assistant for about 15 years. When Morris offered me to run his philanthropic foundation he knew he could trust me to uphold and cherish something that was very close to his heart. He also trusted my ability to bring optimal value to every dollar that he invested in philanthropy.”

Globus – born in India had considered during her youth of following in the footsteps of Mother Teresa, helping the poor and downtrodden. Instead she immigrated to Israel. For her, running the foundation is a dream come true, like coming a full circle.

“There’ not a day I don’t come to work with a song in my heart,” she said.

A look at the activities of the Kahn Foundation will help explain her happy tune. The feather in the foundation’s cap is its youth leadership program called LEAD which aims at developing the leaders of the next generation of Israelis. According to Globus, the program was established as a result of another of Kahn’s loves, deep-sea diving.

“Morris was on a diving expedition in 1998 and met the American actor Hugh O’Brian, who told him a story about meeting Albert Schweitzer as a young man in 1958. ‘When are you going to make a difference in the world?’ Schweitzer asked him. Well, O’Brian said, he returned home and founded HOBY, a foundation that promotes leadership training courses for American youth, and boasts over 340,000 graduates,” said Globus.

“When Morris came back to Israel he said, we have got to check this concept out. And within four months, we had founded LEAD with a group of 100 10th graders. Last year we had over 2,000 applicants out of which we chose 130 participants, in seven branches around the country.”

During this two years training program LEAD’s ambassadors participate in many seminars, workshops and other leadership development activities. In between, they acquire some significant leadership skills like Project Planning, Project Management, Conflict Resolution and Teamwork and many others, while initiating, planning and conducting various community projects.

According to LEAD general manager Eliav Zakai, the program has some very specific goals, and has been enormously successful at achieving them.

“We’ve taken upon the task of encouraging and developing youth leadership in Israel. Our goal is to establish a group of young adults who have been trained according to the most advanced leadership techniques and concepts and ten or 20 years from now will find themselves in roles of leadership in government and business in the country,” he told ISRAEL21c.

“If we invest and develop at a young age and provide them with a bigger arsenal of tools, we’ll get a better quality of leader than what we have today, ones that have a greater awareness of social sensitivity and obligation. I don’t know what the graduates will ultimately decide to do, or what projects they’ll be part of, but we’ll be very disappointed if we find one of our graduates who ended up in a career aimed solely at maximizing his own profits with no regard for the greater good. It’s fine to make a living, but we expect them to take responsibility for other people. That’s what we’re teaching.”

The participants meet once every two weeks and are guided to launch social projects in communities. They have to raise their own funds, arrange for people to help and insure that the project will outlive their participation in the course once they graduate and go to the army.

Today the LEAD ambassadors have over 60 community projects running throughout the country, said Globus.

“For example in Haifa, in one of the lower income neighborhoods, on of the Lead ambassadors discovered that there were no youth community services. He located an old building that was not being used, and raised the funds to renovate and open a community center with the help of the Muncipality and some of his other colleagues,” she said.

Added Zakai, “Many of them are now doing some very meaningful military duty in high tech units, becoming officers, and receiving prizes and awards for social contributions. For example, the highest prize for youth in the country is the Ilan Ramon Awards for Excellence, Leadership and Social Contribution [named for the late Ramon, Israel's first astronaut]. It’s given out annually to three out of over 300 candidates. In the last two years, LEAD members received five out of the six awards.”

With hundreds of graduates and dozens of social programs thriving thanks to LEAD, the organization is the cornerstone of the Kahn Foundation’s efforts – but by no means its only endeavor.

In the field of research and medicine, Kahn is involved in several projects in Israeli universities and hospitals, including a children’s rehabilitation center, a Young Physicians Fellowship and Research Training Program and a large research project in the field of stem cells and cancer stem cells at Tel Hashomer hospital.

At Ben Gurion University of the Negev, the Foundation contributed to research of the genetic mapping of the genes of the Bedouin population, an effort combining research and community welfare, and recently written about by The New York Times.

At the Weizmann Institute, Kahn founded a Center for Systems Biology of the Human Cell- an innovative, interdisciplinary program for the study of biological networks, which offers the opportunity to develop revolutionary medical applications that can benefit humankind.

In addition, the Kahn Foundation supports ZALUL, which is an environmental organization whose goal is to maintain clear, clean water along Israel’s streams and seashores.

“He’s different than most philanthropists,” explained Globus. ” Many philanthropists just like to give money and prefer not be involved, they don’t follow through to see if they’re making a difference. Perhaps, if there was more transparency and accountability in this field, with all the talent, time and money that has been invested into finding a cure for cancer, we might have had better results.”

One of Globus’s more unpleasant tasks in her position is reviewing individual requests for donations and having to turn some down.

“It’s not easy to turn down requests. Morris is a very kind person and it pains him to hear of personal hardship cases. It’s always difficult to choose who to help and who to turn down like ‘Sophie’s Choice.”

“But I’m not complaining – I got lucky. I’ve got the most meaningful position in the world. At the Kahn Foundation, every dollar we invest in philanthropy is leveraged to have an impact and we care about making a difference.”