The Rothschild banking dynasty is trying to fuse business efficiency and philanthropy.
The Rothschild Foundations are giving $1 million to sponsor fellowships for two dozen Muslim and Jewish social entrepreneurs from the U.S., U.K. and France who will convene at Columbia Business School to address common socio-economic challenges such as health-care, gender inequality and education disparities.
Starting Monday and running through July 16, the participants will receive business training in such skills as raising capital and marketing, and will take classes in history and politics relating to Jews and Muslims. At the end of the two weeks, they will craft a plan to turn their nonprofits into revenue-generating, sustainable businesses.
"Globalization has made countries more interdependent than ever before," says Firoz Ladak, the Executive Director of the Edmond and Benjamin de Rothschild Foundations. "But rather than creating bonds between cultures, it has provoked a reactive retrenchment of cultural identity. Our program aims to address the tensions between communities—in this case, Jewish and Muslim—by encouraging collaboration in solving society's most pressing problems."
The fellowship is a collaboration between Benjamin and Ariane de Rothschild (the son and daughter-in-law of the late French financier Edmond de Rothschild), who are known for their contributions to Jewish philanthropy, and Firoz Ladak, the Muslim executive director of the Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild Foundations. After 200 years of the family's philanthropic history, Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, a banker herself and second in charge at the Edmond de Rothschild Group, now leads the families' philanthropic commitment to education, arts and culture, intercultural dialogue and social entrepreneurship.
Fellows were chosen to come to Columbia University based on the merits of their already-launched businesses, which range from an organization dedicated to improving cancer care for young adults to a center that counsels British women who have been forced into marriage or live in fear of honor killings.
"Business can dictate the way a culture and society works and how politics can function," said Ali Ansary, a 24-year-old Afghan-American participant who launched SeventyK, a nonprofit that works to get health professionals to adopt an international charter of rights for young people with cancer.
Mr. Ansary said he's been involved with many interfaith groups whose goal is to forge a dialogue between Jewish and Muslim people, but that they tend to harp on talking about the conflict in the Middle East or whatever else happens to be the news item of the day.
"By working on social businesses, building relationships and creating a network of leaders, we are able to build a foundation first and create some sort of common ground," Mr. Ansary said. "Where politics have failed, social businesses can improve long-divided conflicts."