American Jewish World Service

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American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is a nonprofit, international development and human rights organization which supports community-based organizations in 19 countries in the developing world and works to educate the American Jewish community about global justice. It is the first and only Jewish organization dedicated solely to ending poverty and promoting human rights in the developing world. Its headquarters are in New York City. [1] AJWS has received a Four Star rating from Charity Navigator since 2002.[2]


Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.


AJWS has a two-pronged strategy: they provide over $35 million annually to more than 500 social justice organizations in 19 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and advocate for laws and policies in the United States that will improve the lives of people around the world.

AJWS’s international grantmaking and U.S. advocacy focus on five central issues, including civil and political rights, land and water rights, sexual health and rights, ending child marriage, and disaster relief.[3]


AJWS’ grant-making is guided by the beliefs that, first, grassroots organizations are best placed to envision, articulate and implement their own plans for the development of their communities, and second, that community development cannot take place when human rights are denied. In addition, AJWS believes women are critical drivers of community development and change, and that marginalized communities that are vulnerable to poverty and human rights violations are powerful agents of change and development when mobilized from within.


AJWS works to promote awareness and influence U.S. international policies and funding in relation to human rights, global health and poverty, by rallying members of the community to advocate for policies that will improve the lives of millions of people in the developing world.

AJWS is currently working to urge Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) and the International Human Rights Defense Act (IHRDA).[4]


AJWS was established in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 1, 1985 when Larry Phillips and Larry Simon, together with a group of rabbis, Jewish communal leaders, activists, business people, scholars and others came together to create the first American Jewish organization dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among people across the globe.[5]

The organization's first key achievement was its response to a volcano disaster in Armaro, Colombia in 1986. That same year, AJWS helped the Tibetan government exiled in India initiate an agricultural improvement project. In 1990, after moving headquarters to New York City, AJWS launched five new international development projects in Mexico, Honduras, and Haiti, which provided training programs in sustainable agriculture.[6] In 1991, then AJWS President Andrew Griffel was elected to the Executive Committee of InterAction, a consortium of over a hundred international humanitarian organizations.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, AJWS responded by receiving donations and making grants to groups that provide support to families of low-income workers. In 2004, AJWS responded to the Indian Ocean tsunami, and co-founded the Save Darfur Coalition. In 2006, AJWS helped organize a rally in Washington, D.C. against genocide[7] and has since conducted a series of other rallies throughout the country.[8] In 2010, AJWS responded to the earthquake in Haiti, raising nearly $6 million for Haitian-led recovery efforts, and in 2011 launched Reverse Hunger: Ending the Global Food Crisis, a campaign to reform U.S. food aid policy. Recently AJWS launched the “We Believe” campaign, a national advocacy campaign that calls on the U.S. government to do three things to promote human rights in the developing world by ending violence against women and girls, stopping hate crimes against LGBT people, and ending child marriage.


AJWS's president is Ruth Messinger, formerly Manhattan Borough President and the Democratic nominee for Mayor of New York City in 1997. She has been at the helm of AJWS since 1998. In late 2005, The Forward named Messinger in its annual "Forward 50" list of the most influential American Jews.[9] Messinger returned to the Forward 50 in 2009, also the year she was invited to the White House to discuss the crisis in Darfur with President Barack Obama. Currently, she sits on the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group and co-chairs the Sub-Working Group on Social Justice.


AJWS raises more than $50 million a year to address some of the gravest global problems-including genocide, AIDS, violence against women and girls, hatred of LGBT people, and consequences of natural and human-made disasters.[10] Since its founding, AJWS has provided more than $230 million to support thousands of social justice organizations in the developing world that have taken on such challenges.[11]

Today, AJWS is one of the top human rights funders in the world. AJWS is the 6th largest funder of organizations working to advance the rights of women and girls, the 8th largest funder of organizations focused on environmental and natural resource rights, and the 4th largest U.S.-based funder of international LGBT rights work.[12]

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