February 27, 2020

The Municipal Government Disruptor

Bar Gissin could change the world but for now she’s focusing on social change in Israel. She has the ability to simultaneously isolate a problem and craft a corresponding solution. She challenges the status quo. She is a disrupter.

Her passion for social justice began at an early age in a youth movement and continued during her time at university as a student activist. She was a community organizer for the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution, and a fundraiser for Givat Haviva — The Center for a Shared Society.

With two partners, Gissin co-founded Mekomi, which means both “my place” and “local,” to “disrupt municipal government and shift power.” In Israel, there are two levels of government: one national government in Jerusalem and 267 municipalities throughout the country. These municipalities function much like the national government, with a mayor as the chief executive and the city council holding portfolio positions. However, these city council members are unpaid. 

According to Gissin, many of the challenges of Israeli democracy lie in the lack of accountability mechanisms. “In Israel, there is no constituency,” she says. “Elected officials don’t have their own districts. There is no word in Hebrew for constituency. And, in turn, there is no accountability.”

However, Gissin and her Mekomi colleagues think they have the solution. “We realize we can create constituents organically if we organize communities,” she says. “We want people to have elected officials in their municipalities who feel connected to their constituents and vice versa.”

“We want people to have elected officials in their municipalities who feel connected to their constituents and vice versa.”

This idea of bringing the power to the citizenry and creating relationships that engender accountability is coupled with the understanding that municipal officials need support. Mekomi provides a “one-stop shop” for elected municipal officials. 

“We try to overcome this huge flaw in the system by building a support system for the elected officials to enable them to serve,” Gissin says. “A team who helps these city councilpersons fulfill their governmental functions, like writing legislation and budgeting.”

In the fall 2018 municipal elections, Mekomi candidates were elected to 12 city councils, including two mayoral positions.  Gissin says these elections have created reverberations throughout the country. “This is exactly the vision of Mekomi,” she says. “We are looking at this pyramid the wrong way. It cannot be top to bottom anymore. We cannot wait for Jerusalem. We have to build power from the bottom up.”

Recently, Gissin co-founded Momentum, a training academy and accelerator for nonprofit leaders in organizations focused on social justice, equality and peace. 

“We think if we enhance the skills and expertise of executives, they can influence their nonprofits in whatever they fight for,” Gissin says. She believes that by supporting these under-resourced change-makers, she can help disrupt the nonprofit sector the way she helped disrupt municipal government. 

“The civil sector is the backbone of society,” she says. “This is what makes a strong democracy.”