Two Montreal businessmen have a vision that Israel can become a global leader in the fight against climate change.
Friends Jeff Hart and Jonathan Goodman are the initiators of an annual US$1-million prize to be awarded to a not-for-profit Israeli researcher or organization with the most promising idea for reversing what the two men believe could be a catastrophe for their children and grandchildren.
The Climate Solutions Prize (CSP), described as the largest incentive prize in Israeli history, will be officially launched in Israel on March 1 at a gathering of the country’s experts in green technology and in the presence of President Isaac Herzog. The inaugural prize is to be presented this fall.
Hart, CSP’s executive chair who conceived the project, and Goodman, its campaign chair, tapped Jewish National Fund Canada (JNF), with its 120-year history of environmental stewardship as the obvious charitable partner.
Goodman said close to $3.75 million has been raised toward the $8-million goal set by JNF’s Quebec Region, including $1 million from an unidentified Montrealer and $500,000 from his own Morris and Rosalind Family Foundation.
This sum includes a 25 percent matching commitment from Keren Kayemet, JNF in Israel.
Specifically, the prize will recognize breakthroughs in greenhouse gas emission reduction and removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A panel from JNF, Keren Kayemet and the Peres Centre for Peace and Innovation will select the semi-finalists and an international scientific and business jury will decide the winner or winners, which may be up to four, sharing the million dollars.
The prize ceremony will be the highlight of the Climate Innovation Festival in October.
“This is literally tikun olam, fulfilling the Jewish mandate to repair the world, a way for Israel to become a global hub for green tech that it will share and a source of pride for the Jewish people, especially young people whose No. 1 concern is the climate crisis,” said Hart, the father of sons aged 20 and 15.
“It’s my belief that if anyone can make miracles happen, it’s the State of Israel.”
Goodman said it was his 17-year-old son Noah who convinced him that this battle has to take precedence over other philanthropic endeavors because Earth’s survival is at stake.
Noah is on the CSP youth committee which also includes Israeli-born, Montreal-raised Leehi Yona, a PhD candidate in environment and climate policy at Stanford University.
“This is an opportunity for them to marry their love of Israel with their desire to make change,” said Goodman.
CSP’s advisory panel consists of Stephen Bronfman, long involved in the David Suzuki Foundation; Yossi Abramowitz, a pioneer in Israel’s solar power industry; and former Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg, co-founder of the Greentech Festival held annually in Berlin.
Former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre is chair of the CSP Governors’ Circle fundraising division.
Israel comes relatively late to green tech, not for lack of ingenuity, but rather financial incentive, noted Goodman. Israel excels in digital, medical and financial technology because they attract greater investment.
As JNF is a charity, the CSP must be bestowed in the nonprofit sector, such as universities, research institutes or incubation centres, said Goodman, but this initiative should spur more private funding in green tech.
Another CSP partner, Start-up Nation Central, which connects Israeli entrepreneurs with businesses and governments abroad, has pledged to raise funds for a similar prize for companies’ development of climate solutions.
It was important to Goodman and Hart to include a companion prize in Quebec, which has a strong commitment to renewable energy and a thriving tech sector.
Goodman is founder and executive chair of Knight Therapeutics Inc. and Hart is president of Victoria Park Medispa.
Hart was encouraged by his recent meeting with MNA Benoit Charette, whose official title is, significantly, Minister of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change. “He’s very aligned with our idea that this could be a catalyst to make a difference, of bringing science and business together.”
Hart and Goodman hope the CSP Quebec prize, to be awarded in November, may foster more collaboration with Israel, which benefits both economies.
While the CSP is spearheaded by Montreal, JNF chapters across Canada have come on board and interest has been expressed by JNF supporters in Australia and Europe, they added.