World ORT 140 years young, looks to the fu­ture

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - HISTORY - • ALAN ROSENBAUM

World ORT, the global ed­u­ca­tion net­work driven by Jewish val­ues and founded in 1880, is look­ing trim, youth­ful and vig­or­ous. This im­pres­sion is per­son­i­fied by its en­er­getic di­rec­tor-gen­eral and CEO, Avi Ganon, 47, who was ap­pointed to the po­si­tion in Septem­ber 2017, af­ter head­ing World ORT’s op­er­a­tions in Rus­sia and most re­cently, in Is­rael. Re­flect­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s new ap­proach, Ganon led a re­brand­ing of World ORT’s long-time motto “Ed­u­cat­ing for Life” to the more pos­i­tive “Im­pact through Ed­u­ca­tion.”

Few or­ga­ni­za­tions in the Jewish world have lasted as long as World ORT and have made as great an im­pact on the Jewish world. “World ORT has changed the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of grad­u­ates,” ex­plains Ganon. “It pro­vides the skills to stu­dents who want to make a change or learn a pro­fes­sion that will help them progress in life.”

One dra­matic ex­am­ple in re­cent Jewish his­tory that Ganon cites was the es­tab­lish­ment of World ORT schools in the 70 dis­placed per­sons camps af­ter World War II, which helped re­train Holo­caust sur­vivors. “Their re­train­ing and the help that World ORT pro­vided them is what brought them back to hu­man­ity and gave them the faith to say, ‘I can learn and be­come pro­duc­tive,’” says Ganon.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion, which will be cel­e­brat­ing its 140th an­niver­sary next year, was founded in Saint Peters­burg at the end of the 19th cen­tury to help Jews ac­quire skills that would en­able them to be­come self-suf­fi­cient. Over the years, the skills needed for suc­cess have changed and World ORT has adapted with the times, em­pha­siz­ing sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math (STEM) skills, which are needed in to­day’s hi-tech busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment.

Yet, World ORT does much more than teach tech­ni­cal skills, trans­mit­ting Jewish iden­tity, knowl­edge and val­ues in all of its schools.

“World ORT schools around the world teach Jewish sub­jects as well as gen­eral and sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy stud­ies,” says Ganon. “A win­ning com­bi­na­tion for a good Jewish school in the Di­as­pora is one where they can study robotics, sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy at the high­est level – and to­gether with that learn about Shab­bat, Rosh Hashanah and Passover, and study He­brew.” The non-de­nom­i­na­tional Jewish ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence that World ORT pro­vides, ex­plains Ganon, helps bring stu­dents back to their roots and strength­ens their con­nec­tion with Is­rael and Zion­ism.

When Ganon refers to World ORT as a world­wide net­work, he is not ex­ag­ger­at­ing. World ORT num­bers 300,000 stu­dents and 9,000 teach­ers in 35 coun­tries. The largest World ORT school is lo­cated on two cam­puses in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, and boasts an en­roll­ment of 9,000 stu­dents. The schools in Moscow and Kiev have 1,500 each, says Ganon, and the other schools each have be­tween 500 and 600 stu­dents. He ex­plains that the World ORT schools in Eastern Europe and the for­mer Soviet Union are pub­lic state schools, while those in other coun­tries, such as in South Amer­ica, are pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions.

World ORT’s far-flung ed­u­ca­tional net­work is one of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s big­gest strengths, says Ganon.

“If you don’t share in­for­ma­tion to­day and if you are not sus­tained from dif­fer­ent sources of in­for­ma­tion, you can­not learn or teach prop­erly. World ORT’s strength lies in its net­work­ing – for stu­dents, with face-to-face sem­i­nars and on­line learn­ing be­tween stu­dents in the dif­fer­ent coun­tries that World ORT serves – and for ed­u­ca­tors and prin­ci­pals.

“Imag­ine the strength that we can con­cen­trate in one room. World ORT works with 35 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. The shar­ing and global as­sets of World ORT in ed­u­ca­tion are un­matched.”

Ganon, who was born and raised in Beer­sheba to Mo­roc­can im­mi­grants, ex­plains the two ma­jor chal­lenges of lead­ing the ed­u­ca­tional net­work in a rapidly chang­ing tech­no­log­i­cal world.

“We must pre­pare chil­dren to­day for an un­known fu­ture. By the time a child en­ter­ing first grade to­day grad­u­ates high school, 70% of the po­si­tions in the em­ploy­ment mar­ket will be for jobs that do not ex­ist to­day.” No one can pre­dict which pro­fes­sions will be in de­mand in 15 to 20 years, he ex­plains.

“We are deal­ing with changes in tech­nol­ogy that will in­flu­ence in­dus­try in un­known ways,” he says. World ORT schools teach stu­dents how to think, how to deal with solv­ing prob­lems and how to net­work in or­der to find new an­swers. With these skills, he ex­plains, World ORT grad­u­ates will be equipped to en­ter new pro­fes­sions years later.

The sec­ond chal­lenge re­lates to the chang­ing Jewish world. World ORT is a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, ex­plains Ganon, and 70% of do­na­tions come from the United States and Canada. The pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, he says, gave un­stint­ingly to Is­rael, World ORT and other Jewish char­i­ties. That gen­er­a­tion is gone, and World ORT has to turn to the next gen­er­a­tion.

“The new gen­er­a­tion – jus­ti­fi­ably so – wants full trans­parency to know where their money is go­ing. Most do­na­tions to­day are des­ig­nated for spe­cific projects.” Ad­di­tion­ally, many in to­day’s Jewish com­mu­nity feel that their char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions should be turned in­ward, sup­port­ing their com­mu­ni­ties them­selves, rather than do­nat­ing to or­ga­ni­za­tions in other places.

Ganon sug­gests that do­na­tions to World ORT are an in­vest­ment in the fu­ture of Jewish life ev­ery­where.

“If one is look­ing for a good in­vest­ment, it’s best to in­vest in the fu­ture – in Jewish ed­u­ca­tion – in an or­ga­ni­za­tion that with this in­vest­ment, can pro­duce grad­u­ates who will ex­cel in academia and in in­no­va­tion. The re­turn will be worth­while.” The added Jewish ed­u­ca­tional value that is present in World ORT schools, he adds, is a coun­ter­bal­ance to the dan­gers of as­sim­i­la­tion and in­ter­mar­riage.

Ganon is pas­sion­ate about the im­pact that World ORT schools make in their com­mu­ni­ties, and views World ORT as a type of world­wide min­istry for Jewish ed­u­ca­tion.

“A good Jewish school is the nu­cleus for the lo­cal com­mu­nity. When World ORT comes into a com­mu­nity, it makes the school into an ex­cep­tional Jewish school where par­ents will want to send their chil­dren.”

In the past year, World ORT has signed agree­ments to af­fil­i­ate with schools in Madrid, South Africa and Colom­bia, and is con­clud­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions for sim­i­lar agree­ments with Jewish schools in Sin­ga­pore, Hol­land and Bel­gium.

“I want World ORT to be the first choice of ev­ery com­mu­nity head who wants to com­bine Jewish ed­u­ca­tion with sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy,” says Ganon.

Ganon is com­fort­able in his role as World ORT’s leader and is de­ter­mined to en­sure its con­ti­nu­ity and suc­cess.

“If I want to leave a legacy, it would be that when Jewish com­mu­ni­ties have a ques­tion or is­sue about Jewish ed­u­ca­tion, that World ORT will be the place where they turn first.”

Re­mark­ably, World ORT’s mis­sion state­ment re­mains the same as it was at the end of the 19th cen­tury. In May 2020, it will cel­e­brate its 140th an­niver­sary at its gala Gen­eral Assem­bly in Moscow. What is Ganon’s goal for the fu­ture?

“That it should last for an­other 140 years,” he smiles. More se­ri­ously, he says, “The Jewish world needs an or­ga­ni­za­tion like World ORT.”

World ORT has changed the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of its grad­u­ates

(Pho­tos: Cour­tesy World ORT)

WORLD ORT di­rec­tor-gen­eral and CEO Avi Ganon meets a tech­nol­ogy stu­dent at Es­cola ORT in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

(FROM RIGHT) Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin, World ORT pres­i­dent Dr. Con­rad Giles and Ganon in 2018.

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