AJWS Plans Shift in Focus To Advocacy

World Service Plans Fewer Overseas Service Trips

Shifting Focus: The American Jewish World Service, led by Ruth Messinger, believes it can have a more powerful impact by focusing on advocacy and running fewer overseas service trips.
Morgan Soloski/AJWS
Shifting Focus: The American Jewish World Service, led by Ruth Messinger, believes it can have a more powerful impact by focusing on advocacy and running fewer overseas service trips.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published December 14, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

American Jewish World Service, a Jewish social justice group that focuses on the developing world, will cut back on its service-learning programs while bulking up its domestic advocacy efforts, the organization has told the Forward.

The results of a recently concluded strategic planning process, shared for the first time with the Forward, will have the group devoting more resources to changing America’s policy toward the developing world.

The changes come at a moment of strength for the organization, which has grown exponentially over the past decade. The cuts to the organization’s service-learning programs, however, represent a departure from an effort that has defined the organization’s public profile.

SOURCE: FEDERAL TAX FILINGS

“We have to make sure, as we attract additional support, that we’re using the support that we get as strategically as possible,” said Ruth Messinger, AJWS’s president. “When we applied [our] theory of change to our operations, it looked like we needed to make some strategic adjustments.”

AJWS was once a relatively unknown Jewish organization, and now it’s among the largest in the country. In 1998, the year Messinger arrived, the group received $1.9 million in contributions. The group raised $48.7 million in 2011, according to tax filings available on AJWS’s website.

AJWS spends millions a year on grants to grassroots organizations in the developing world and has a modest advocacy arm based in Washington.

The organization has been best known, however, for its service-learning trips. The programs, which run as short as a week and as long as a year, send Jews to do service work in the developing world. Though the programs make up a small minority of the organization’s financial commitment each year, they play a large role in the Jewish community’s conception of the group — due, in part, to the large numbers of alumni that the organization’s service trips have produced.

According to financial documents, the group spent $3 million on service programs in 2011 and just $1.5 million on advocacy. AJWS made $35 million in grants that year.

The new strategic plan, which the group has already begun to implement, will vastly reorder the organization’s operations.

Messinger said the new plan focuses on grant making in the developing world, and on “mobilizing and organizing for United States political change that will help that same [developing] world in which we’re making grants.” To that end, the group is cutting back on its trademark service-learning trips. The new trips will be shorter programs geared toward preparing participants to work in advocacy when they return home.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.