Social and Economic Justice

SHATIL's New Program: Training Municipal Leaders for Democracy in Action

By New Israel Fund

SHATIL's "Step up: Elected Officials can Influence Cities" training is making an impact. Thanks to the course, newly elected officials are empowered and enabled to make a real difference in the communities they serve.

Ruth Lapidot, a city council member in Binyamina/Givat Ada, went into the training thinking about how to serve her constituents, asking, "How can we return to them the feeling that they can influence their lives?"

"The training gave me a lot of strength," says Lapidot. "Until today, the political world scared me. Through SHATIL, I saw that there are good people here."

Yuvi Tashome, a community activist and Gedera City Council Member, said that as a result of the training, she's planning a collaboration with people with whom she doesn't agree.

The training was designed to give council members the tools and knowledge to do their jobs more effectively. SHATIL Associate Director Naomi Schacter says, "If you decide you want to get involved, that doesn't mean you have the skills to do so. This is a way of making the ideas, skills, and networks more widely accessible."

Many of the most critical issues adversely affecting the vibrancy of Israeli democracy can more readily be addressed at the local level: discrimination against minorities and women, violation of religious freedoms, limited political representation of marginalized groups, centralization of power and resources, and much more. Ultimately, SHATIL hopes the "Step Up" training will support leaders in tackling these issues in their own communities and eventually uniting for national impact.

Tashome is opening a volunteer project in collaboration with Kol Zchut, a volunteer-built online encyclopedia - which was launched by high tech participants in SHATIL's Economic and Policy Shapers course several years ago - listing rights and entitlements in Israel. She hopes the volunteer project will grow into "a center where citizens can learn about their rights and how to fully realize them." To build her project with Kol Zchut, she'll be collaborating with people from across the political spectrum.

One of the projects Lapidot was inspired to help initiate after the training was a citizen-planned Shavuot celebration in Givat Ada. "It was a huge success," says Lapidot. "It generated local pride and showed people they can do things." Lapidot has plans to open a citizen's hotline and to work on the status of women and environmental issues.

In six four-hour sessions, the training covered topics like budgeting, fundraising, municipal council work processes, how to increase citizen participation, and getting one's legal rights respected by municipal and national government. Participants were introduced to experts on issue areas in which they might wish to engage, and they discussed how to cultivate meaningful and lasting partnerships with NGOs, philanthropic organizations, and other municipalities.

SHATIL Project Coordinator Eran Klein, who conducted the training, says it represents "the beginning of a different kind of work" for SHATIL, which has recently started focusing on municipal democracy. Since the first training was in the center of the country, SHATIL will be repeating it at locations in the north and the south in coming months.