Want to be an Impact Investor? Begin with Values

Want to be an Impact Investor? Begin with Values

By Laura Maschler

Over three-quarters of millennials see their investments as a way of expressing their social, political, and environmental values. This is part of a growing movement that sees financial decisions, alongside career and consumption choices, as a tool for social change. But to align our investments with our values, we must first take the time to figure out what those values are, and which tradeoffs we are willing to accept.

Judaism challenges us to live our lives to the highest moral standard. We are instructed to pursue peace (rodef shalom), seek justice (tzedek tirdof), love thy neighbor (v’ahavta l’reicha kamocha) and save lives (pikuach nefesh). We can and should strive every day in our actions to live by these values and the countless others enumerated for us in Jewish texts and traditions. But no one has the resources to support them all. We are forced to make tradeoffs, decide which to emphasize, and which values to prioritize.

Before you think about making an impact investment, you need to begin by defining and prioritizing what you value. Think about the following questions as you take the first steps to making value-aligned financial decisions:

1. What values are most important to you when making financial decisions?

First, identify a small set of values that are most important to you when making financial decisions. Think about values in terms of how you choose to live your life, what expectations you hold for others, and more broadly, what you hope to see in your communities or society as a whole. While values can be hard to come up with in a vacuum, a ready-made list of possible values, such as those offered by the Rose Community Foundation, can be a good place to start.

Once you have prioritized a small set of say five values, take some time to define them for yourself. For instance, Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is very broad and can mean different things to different people. Does it mean standing up for those facing violence and oppression (Lo Ta’amod Al Dam Rei’echa) or helping to strengthen those less fortunate (V’hechezakta Bo)? Think through how your definition of the value may differ from someone else’s and what nuances you can tease out in determining its scope.

Reflect on how you narrowed down the list of values and what made you decide to choose these over others. Were there implicit beliefs or criteria you used to make these tradeoffs? See if a theme or pattern emerges across the values you prioritize.

2. How do these values connect to the issues you are passionate about?

Now that you’ve identified values that are important to you, think about the challenges in the world and identify a subset of issues you are most passionate about. As a starting point for exploration, you can use the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals , or the challenges facing the Jewish community around education, engagement, inclusivity, Israel, and affordability.

Did the values you identified earlier help guide your decision on which issues to choose? Did the issues you selected align with your prioritized values? If there is a disconnect between the values and issues you identified, try to isolate the value that is not being reflected or the goal that is out of place. This helps you test whether the values you prioritized are an accurate reflection of what is important to you when making financial decisions.

Next Steps

At LAVAN, we recognize that these are not easy or comfortable conversations to have. However, we also recognize that the first step to meaningful and successful impact investing is deriving a clear understanding of what we value and why. Furthermore, impact investing provides a welcome and necessary pause to our busy lives by asking important questions about who we are and what are our values.

Once you have identified what is important to you, the next step is exploring the impact investing landscape and determining which of the social challenges you chose can be addressed using market-based solutions. Only with clearly defined values as the foundation can we begin the exciting and challenging process of identifying the specific issues we want to tackle and the potential investment opportunities that address them.


Laura is a Program Coordinator at LAVAN, a growing community of impact investors guided by Jewish learning to pursue social and environmental change. LAVAN trains new and existing impact investors, facilitates Jewish study and exploration of identity, and provides a platform for learning and collaboration.

Changing the Face of Jewish Philanthropy, One Investment at a Time

Changing the Face of Jewish Philanthropy, One Investment at a Time

Photo: Youth workers aged 16-18 are employed by Derech Hayadaim (“By the Hands”), a landscaping company and Dualis investment.


By Avi Deutsch

The Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation is reimagining the role of philanthropic foundations, and people are starting to notice.

“Foundations can be so much more than private investment houses that give away 5% of their assets each year. We have the opportunity to put a larger portion of our assets to work for impact.” says Phillip Fisher, the Fisher Foundation’s Vice Chair. “There is a deep connection with tzedakah here. If philanthropy is truly justice work (the direct translation of tzedakah), then we need to use all the tools we can to repair the world (tikkun olam). I’m passionate about using both for-profit and for-impact strategies to accelerate positive community change”.

Acting on this inspiration, in 2012 the Fisher Foundation launched an attempt to get large Jewish foundations to begin aligning their assets with their missions. In collaboration with the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the campaign called for Jewish foundations to earmark just 1.8% (chai) of their assets as a first step towards mission-aligned investments.

“We truly felt we had to act our way into this new way of thinking, instead of trying to think our way into it. Starting with a very modest 1.8% carve-out seemed like a reasonable way to jump in and for us to learn together,” says Doug Bitonti Stewart, the Fisher Foundation’s Executive Director. Although other foundations expressed some interest in learning more about the effort, no other foundation joined the initiative.

While Jewish foundations have been slow to act, large non-sectarian foundations and traditional investors are leading the charge on impact investing, or investing for financial returns alongside measurable social, and/or environmental returns. Large foundations, including Rockefeller Foundation, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Clinton Foundation, and most recently, Ford Foundation, have created a powerful track record causing other, smaller foundations to follow suit.

The Fisher Foundation’s inspiration came from another leader in this movement, and one of the first private foundations to go ‘all in’ and pledge 100% mission-asset alignment, F.B. Heron Foundation. (For educational purposes, their entire portfolio is available on their website.) The idea that a foundation could use its entire portfolio to pursue its mission, in addition to the 5% distributed annually through grants, resonated deeply with Phillip Fisher.

Not deterred by other foundations’ reluctance, the Fisher Foundation proceeded with their own commitment to align 1.8% of their total assets, or $4.2 million, with their mission, using two strategies. The first, Program Related Investments (PRIs), are made from the foundation’s program budget, which is traditionally allocated to grants.

The second strategy, known as Mission Related Investments (MRIs), involves investments made from a foundation’s endowment, the 95% of assets not distributed annually. While PRIs are usually expected to achieve below risk-adjusted market-rate returns, MRIs must be expected to perform on par, or only slightly below, traditional investments in order to meet fiduciary standards.

Employing a combination of these strategies, the Fisher Foundation began successfully deploying capital to further the Foundation’s work in Detroit and the global Jewish community. Investments spanned loans to Hebrew Free Loan, and investments into variety of Detroit focused impact funds, including the Michigan Good Food Fund in partnership with W.K. Kellogg Foundation (see the full list of the Foundation’s impact investments).

By 2015, with a number of successful investments under their belt, the Foundation was ready to increase the percentage of assets allocated to mission investing. The new target was set at 3.6% of the Foundation’s assets, or $10 million. However, one important goal remained unachieved – making an impact investment in Israel.

The Fisher Foundation has long had a commitment to at-risk youth in Israel. So when in 2014 they met Allan Barkat, the Founder and Chairman of Dualis, an Israeli impact fund investing in social enterprises, (many of which employ at-risk youth in the service industry) an impact investment into Dualis seemed like a natural partnership. There was only one problem – no one they spoke to had ever made a PRI from the US into Israel.

Thus began a series of conversations with potential intermediaries and advisors, including donor-advised fund managers, private equity firms, Jewish philanthropic organizations, and philanthropy advisors. After two years of conversations, it turned out that the easiest way for the Foundation to make an impact investment into Dualis was by doing just that – writing a check directly to the fund using an expenditure responsibility agreement– a legal tool that allows foundations to make program investments into mission aligned organizations internationally.

The investment was concluded in late 2016 when the Fisher Foundation made a $250,000, 7-year loan, with a 3% interest rate, to Dualis. While the investment was not made through an intermediary, the Foundation is still intent on sharing what they’ve learned to help other Jewish foundations enter the impact investing space. To encourage collaboration, the Foundation helped launch an impact investing peer learning network which convenes quarterly at the Jewish Funders Network (JFN) – for funders interested in impact investing.

While progress on impact investing has been modest (more on that here), the past several years have seen a steady growth in both interest and actual investments made by Jewish funders. Increasingly, these are not limited to Israel. For example, Simone Friedman, from Emanuel J. Friedman (EJF) Philanthropies, is promoting better treatment for animals within the kosher meat industry by providing loans to kosher meat companies to help build supply chains for humanely raised beef.

The increasing demand for impact investments has not gone unnoticed. For the first time, this year the annual Jewish Funders Network (JFN) Conference — the largest annual convening of Jewish funders and philanthropists — featured an impact investing track developed in partnership with LAVAN.

Despite the slow start, impact investing is definitely showing signs of catching on in the Jewish world. “Mission-aligned investing is going to be an increasingly important tool for our shared work with partners; both for-profit and for impact”, says Bitonti Stewart, “progress is inevitable, and it’s just a question of what leadership role Jewish foundations want to play in this exciting evolution.”

So, What Exactly is Investing with Jewish Values?

So, What Exactly is Investing with Jewish Values?

By Beth deBeer and Avi Deutsch

Judaism is widely acknowledged for regulating every aspect of human life, including food, shelter, sex, rest, etc. Can it possibly have nothing to say about how we invest our money? True, there is nothing obvious about the idea of investing with Jewish values. What are Jewish values anyway? And how does one invest with them? While these questions have no simple answers, they require our attention.

When considering how to integrate Jewish values into investing, many of us naturally gravitate towards the final outcome of the investment process – the products we invest in. However, this approach misses important opportunities to integrate purpose and meaning into the different stages of the investment process. The final investments are only one piece of the puzzle, and while certainly important, exploring why and how we make investment decisions are crucial to finding purpose in our investing.

Following this framework, every investor should consider the following:

  • Why we invest – how are our investments an extension of our values? What, specifically, are the values in our lives that govern our investment decisions?
  • How do we invest? What are the procedures, institutions, and stakeholders we engage in the investment process?
  • What do we invest in? What types of products and vehicles do we invest in? How do these investments impact the world?

The answers to these universal questions are obviously deeply rooted in subjective value systems. At LAVAN we consider how Jewish values, traditions, and motifs, inform our response to these questions so as to guide and infuse meaning into individual and communal investment decisions.


The motivations and intentions of investors have long been part of the dialogue around meaningful investing. The generally accepted definition of impact investing requires intentionality as a prerequisite, even in investments that clearly have a positive impact. How then can we identify the Jewish values that should guide our investments?

We can begin by exploring the themes underlying Jewish economic thought. Perhaps the most fundamental principle of the traditional Jewish economic system is the Divine origins of wealth. Judaism sees humans as merely temporary stewards of wealth, therefore permitting individual wealth to be directed towards religious and communal ends. The best known example of this principle is the shmitah—the practice of forgiving all debts and ceasing agricultural work during every seventh year.

Judaism recognizes the individual human pursuit of basic needs, so long as this pursuit happens under the sanctity of Jewish law and in a manner that also contributes to collective welfare and gains. This idea is first found in the story of the creation, where Adam is given dominion over the earth and the animals on it, but at the same time is commanded to “tend it and keep it”. Our individual responsibility is to grow and protect individual and communal resources.

In short, Judaism does not accept the separation between an individual’s actions as an economic agent and as a moral agent. The Jewish values that guide investing must both encourage personal gains, and fulfill one’s responsibilities as a steward of wealth. We invest out of a belief that our actions can influence both our individual and collective future, in a manner that is aligned with the Jewish ideal of a virtuous life and just society.


The impact investing movement has been a part of several trends in investment practices, namely, the emergence of investing groups and clubs, and an unprecedented demand for transparency. At LAVAN we build off these trends and work to enrich our investment practices by drawing on Jewish practices and the motifs of community and integrity.

Few ideas are more associated with Jewish life than community (Kehila). In both law and practice, from the ancient tribes, through the shtetls of Europe, to modern-day vibrant Jewish communities, Jewish communal life and collaborative learning and debate have been the backbone of Jewish continuity.

The strengths and benefits of Jewish community can be integrated in different ways into the investment process, according to the different types of investors, asset classes, and investor preferences. However in all forms, the benefits of the communal structures include:    

  1. Explicit framing of motivations and intentions. The community allows dialogue and reflection that is hard to achieve in isolation.  
  2. Sharing of best practices and the opportunity for communal learning.
  3. Multiplying the impact of investments through the synergy of a communal effort.

Finally, Judaism reminds us to stay true to our values throughout our business dealings. When discussing matters of money, the Bible makes a point of referring to the other party as your brother, to remind us that our actions affect the wellbeing of people like us. Investment decisions are moral decisions, and throughout the due-diligence process, screening of investments, negotiation of terms, we must continue to treat our counterparts as our brethren, and not a means to an end.


Like the boarder impact investing sector, the final outcome of investing with Jewish values includes a wide breadth of investment. These can impact Israel, the global Jewish community, or non-sectarian causes related to Jewish principles.

For some investors, the Israeli economy, either as a whole, or in specific impact themes or sectors, is an obvious impact investment choice. For example, Israel bonds or investing in Israeli public companies offer both financial returns and furthers their Jewish agenda. At LAVAN, we highlight the work of Israeli startups tackling global challenges in education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and the environment.

Other investors use their capital to affect change in Jewish communities and institutions outside of Israel. For example, Simone Friedman, Head of Philanthropy and Impact Investment for Emanuel J Friedman Philanthropies, has advocated the use of shareholder voting rights held by Jewish investors and institutions to influence the treatment of chickens by kosher meat companies. Additional investment opportunities may include microfinance for Jewish communities, loans to Jewish non-profits, bonds to support Jewish day-schools, and more.

Finally, investors may choose to make investments that may not be labeled as Jewish, but are otherwise aligned with their Jewish values. It is difficult to draw a definitive line around these types of investments which are open to personal interpretation. Jewish philanthropy and civil society have a long and rich history of supporting non-sectarian causes, though not without debate. Some may choose to invest in their local neighborhoods, as a manifestation of the principle that the poor of your city take precedence (ani’i ircha kodmim), or investing in clean energy bonds as an expression of do not destroy (baal tashchit).

While this final category of investments may seem too amorphous or controversial to be of value, it is none the less important to consider and debate. Under no prudent investment strategy would a portfolio consist solely of investments in Israel and the Jewish community. The majority of the Jewish private and communal assets will always be deployed in diversified financial products, and we must consider how to align these with our Jewish values to the best of our ability.


Investing can be a Jewish practice when guided and executed by intention, meaning, and purpose. At LAVAN we take a holistic approach to integrating Jewish values into all stages of the investment process by looking at the “Why, How and What” of our investing. We see our investments decisions as an extension of our values, and as an expression of our Jewish identity.

How do Jewish values influence your investment decisions?


This article was co-written by Beth deBeer and Avi Deutsch

Beth deBeer is a board member of LAVAN and founder of iImpact Consulting Network, finding innovative ideas and sustainable solutions to today’s global challenges. 

Avi Deutsch is the Co-Founder and CEO of LAVAN, a global community bringing together Jewish values and the power of business to repair the world. 

This article was originally published in the Times of Israel

Thank you for joining us at our Startup Impact Booster!

Thank you for joining us at our Startup Impact Booster!

A big thank you to everyone who attended our Startup Impact Booster last night! We could not be more inspired by our fantastic entrepreneurs - Danny Weissberg of TalkItt and Eran Orr of VRPhysio - who are working to give a voice to the voiceless and to bring physical therapy to those who need it most. That's Tzedakah!

To the amazing members of the LAVAN community who came to offer their guidance and support- thank you for working with us towards our vision of a global impact community bringing together Jewish values and the power of business to repair our planet!

Leaders or Laggards: The Role of Jewish Institutions in the Impact Investing Movement

Leaders or Laggards: The Role of Jewish Institutions in the Impact Investing Movement

If you participated in a conversation about philanthropy in the past couple of years, you probably heard the term impact investing. This once niche subsector is quickly moving towards the mainstream of the philanthropic world, with prominent foundations such as the Gates, Rockefeller, Kellogg, and others, publicly voicing their support.

Conspicuously missing from this mix are large Jewish institutions. These have chosen to remain on the sidelines of impact investing, foregoing powerful opportunities to significantly increase their impact in their core giving areas and to engage the next generation. This is especially surprising given the Jewish community’s social consciousness and financial savviness. In the immortal words of my second grade teacher, it seems they are not achieving their full potential. How can we turn Jewish institutions from stragglers to leaders of the impact investing movement?  

LAVAN Community Makes First Impact Investments

LAVAN Community Makes First Impact Investments

Just weeks ago, members of the LAVAN community gathered in New York and San Francisco for two unique evenings bringing together Jewish values and the power of business to repair our planet. Following presentations by four outstanding entrepreneurs, members of the LAVAN community are now making impact investments in three Israeli startups tackling global social challenges! 

Our New York event, held on May 16th at the beautiful WeWork Ballroom overlooking Braynt Park, brought together over 50 investors and leaders in the impact investing space, including representatives from Investors' Circle, Acumen, Presentense, UJA Federation, and more. Two days later, we held our San Francisco pitch at the offices of Cushman & Wakefield in downtown San Francisco, with over 30 savvy tech professionals, investors, and young professionals. 

Benjamin Pinkhasik, Chief Operating Officer for Equity Asset Management Services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and a member of LAVAN's New York community, said that "the event provided great exposure to well deserving up-and-coming companies built on Jewish values. I am excited to be part of the impact investment movement and the work that LAVAN is doing to bring it to the forefront. I am already looking forward to the fall event!"

Highlights from our New York event

Our Spring 2016 Pitch Events set the cornerstone for the creation of a global community that sees social entrepreneurship and impact investing as meaningful expressions of Jewish identity. Investing with Jewish values means supporting entrepreneurs that are providing a safety net for patients with chronic illnesses, teaching kids of all backgrounds important tech skills, finding cures to rare diseases, and rehabilitating victims of brain dysfunction.

We thank everyone who joined us at the events and in our journey to build the LAVAN community. A special thank-you to our amazing entrepreneurs: Yishai Knobel of HelpAround, Jonathan Schor of CodeMonkey, Dr. Son Preminger of Intendu, and Guy Seemann and Yuval Tabach of Rethink Pharmaceuticals.

LAVAN will be holding pitch events and educational workshops regularly. To learn more about joining the LAVAN community, please visit our website or contact Avi Deutsch.