To help explain what it’s like to be the CEO of the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), Sagi Balasha, who took on the role in September 2011, offers a comparison to his previous job at Beit Hatfutsot, a small museum in Tel Aviv (once known as The Diaspora Museum, now The Museum of the Jewish People), where he was vice president of finance and development.
“Once in two months the board comes in, they eat bourekas, they discuss,” Balasha said of the museum’s procedures. “They approve whatever the CEO suggests.”
At the ILC, now in its fifth year, Balasha said, the wealthy and powerful on the board of directors are far more engaged with the organization, and with Balasha, who can quantify how much so with a quick look at his inbox. “I wake up early, and I see, already at 7 in the morning, 45 e-mails,” he said. “By the time I have my coffee, it’s 65. At the end of the day, it’s 100 or 150.”
Thin and bespectacled, Balasha spent years traveling and living outside of Israel, including, along with his wife, spending two years as an emissary for the Jewish Agency to the Jewish communities of the Volga Region of Russia.
In 2001, he joined a unit of elite young economists in the division of Israel’s Ministry of Finance that draws up the nation’s annual budget. Balasha first oversaw the health budget, then later moved to work on budgeting welfare and immigration.
Balasha was there when Benjamin Netanyahu, who became Israel’s finance minister in 2003, instituted free market reforms, including moving people from welfare to work. Those same changes, in part, provoked last August’s social protests.
“I thought people [the protesters] were just brainwashed by the left-wing propaganda,” he said. “It was spin. I thought all these reforms that we accomplished just 10 years ago were in danger.”
Balasha, 39, was born and raised in Haifa. His wife, who is now doing post-doctoral work as a cancer researcher at Caltech, was responsible for moving the family to Los Angeles last year.
Balasha said he hadn’t heard of the ILC before he applied for the CEO job. But the ILC, which presents itself as a small, nimble agency that takes a hyper-businesslike approach to nonprofit work, is very much in line with Balasha’s ethos. He praised the way ILC grantees are required to submit, among other materials, detailed spreadsheets that outline a project’s margins of profit and loss.
“This is, I think, the future of the nonprofits of the Western world,” Balasha said.