Jeffrey Richard of Riverdale is the new executive vice president of the American Technion Society, the national organization that supports the Haifa-based Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Richard, 43, has more than two decades of fundraising experience, including serving as vice president of university development at Columbia University and as an associate director of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston. He spoke recently to The Jewish Week. This is an edited transcript.
Q: How will promoting one of Israel’s premier high-tech institutions differ from your years of fundraising for Columbia University?
A: One of the reasons I chose to work at the American Technion Society is because of the institute’s technical leadership in science and technology; in that way it is similar to Columbia.
I believe that a gift to higher education is one of the best ways to use the philanthropic dollar. A gift to higher education — whether it is for financial aid, faculty recruitment, laboratories or research projects — enables the brightest minds and ambitious folks to transform the world.
In assuming this position in May, you have learned a lot about the research going on at the Technion. What was most surprising?
The most surprising was the breadth and depth of what the Technion’s students and faculty are working on. Biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, energy, communication technology and aerospace are just a few of the areas the Technion is leading in. I always knew it was a top institution, I just didn’t know how many fields they are top in. Thirty of the 100 largest companies in Israel are headed by Technion graduates, and half of Israeli companies on the NASDAQ are led by Technion graduates.
Is the Technion working on something that you are particularly excited about?
There are quite a few programs. There are ones that cover everything from water recycling and desalination, renewable energy, alternative fuels and energy conservation and an integrative cancer research program. What is really interesting about this is that the Technion integrates science, engineering and medicine to [try to] find a cure for cancer. We have Nobel Prize-winners in this area, and integration is critical to finding a cure and treatment.
And the Technion partnered with Cornell University two years ago to create a new applied science educational institution in New York.
With so many charities to chose from, how do you plan to sell the Technion as an institution worthy of support?
I agree there are many wonderful ways to make a difference in the world and to support science and technology and Israel. But the Technion brings it all together. It provides an opportunity to invest in people who are going to change the world. You are investing not only in Israel’s security, economic vitality and health, but the amount of research and the discoveries and the treatments it develops go well beyond Israel’s borders.
One of the reasons I took the job is that I really believe the world realizes that the solution to so many of the challenges facing humanity — energy, water, food, disease, security and poverty — lie in science.
You succeed Melvyn Bloom in this position, a man who led this organization for 28 years. What do you plan to do differently?
I intend to build on Mel’s success. The organization has raised nearly $2 billion since it was founded in 1940. I think our challenge today is to expand our base and engage the next generation of philanthropists, bringing in new individuals who are just learning about the Technion.
What do you say to those sympathetic with the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement against Israel and therefore want nothing to do with supporting the Technion?
The Technion is about research and discoveries. It is tackling some of the greatest challenges facing humanity and is truly transforming the world. Israel and its universities have made and continue to make positive contributions, especially in science and innovation that benefit all people around the world.