Debra Brunner - CEO of The Together Plan
Great Companies: Please tell me something about the business and how did you come up with such an idea?
Debra Brunner: The Together Plan is a UK Charity that I co-founded in 2013. Our mission would be the revival of Jewish community life in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with a focus on Belarus. I had discovered that, surprisingly, after WW2 and the ravages of the Holocaust, there were many Jews still living in Eastern Europe. Many of my own family had fled their homes in Poland because of deep-rooted anti-semitism and most members of my ex-husband’s immediate family were Holocaust survivors. So there were powerful experiences in my life that deeply influenced my sense of purpose. I had already been involved for some time in voluntary charity work and when I discovered Belarus, I felt a deep connection and I knew that I had found a true calling.
It was co-incidental that around that time I was invited, as part of my voluntary work, to establish a link with a Jewish community living in a town called Polotsk, in northern Belarus. Through this project I discovered that although there were charities already operating in the area, they were not encouraging self-sufficiency (as opposed to dependency) or giving people the voice they deserved. My approach was to be very different. Through my voluntary work, I was introduced to a Belarusian human rights lawyer and charity worker who was to become my colleague and co-worker. He shared my own ideas and approach to community development, and together we started The Together Plan.
Great Companies: What are the various services and products provided by your company?
Debra Brunner: Education and training through youth programmes and distance learning, collecting and sending humanitarian aid to Belarus, projects around memorials and community development, virtual global youth group, translating memory books from Russian to English, genealogical research services and building a Jewish Cultural Heritage Trail through Belarus.
What are you doing that others are not: Community Development and Education
Unlike our predecessors in the field, we have worked hard through a personal approach to get to know as many individuals in the communities personally, and to ensure that they know us along with the members of our team. We encouraged communities to become self-sufficient and use their initiative rather than bolstering the sense of dependency, which was a relic of their Soviet history. We realised early on that only by educating the young would we achieve success in this regard and so very quickly education become of prime importance in our remit. It was a struggle to change a mind-set inculcated of years of Soviet rule and the trauma of war but we are finally starting to see the results of our efforts.
Culture and Heritage - Once established on the ground we quickly realised that heritage was an issue that had not been tackled, in any major sense, by others. We were already taking British groups on tours of the region and discovering a demand from people around the world who were seeking familial roots in Belarus. So we also turned our attention to the development of heritage sites in the region.
Great Companies: Why should one choose you over others in this field?
Our approach is unique in many ways. We give attention to individual survivors, we get to know them personally and we empower them by telling their stories. Our hands on community building approach is up close and personal and it is our goal to help Jewish communities learn tools for self-sufficiency rather than keep them dependent and reliant on financial aid. Self- determination is key and we work with communities not only to help themselves but also to reach out to the wider non-Jewish community to build a more tolerant civil society.
Great Companies: What are the struggles and challenges you face?
Debra Brunner: Having adequate resources to be able to spend as much time as possible on the ground working with communities and individuals in Belarus is a challenge as well as being able to develop the charity working to a high level of professionalism. Increasing our visibility to widen our reach to enable us to access the charitable funding required building our programmes to the highest standard, and ensuring we have a professional work force to manage the workload to help communities in Belarus whilst developing our education programme. To reach Jewish Belarusians around the world who have stories to tell and who we can help to connect back to the homes they came from.
Great Companies: What do you think are the few main things which are most important for a
Debra Brunner: It is an absolute must to have leaders with a growth mind-set and passion, who will inspire, encourage and empower, and a valued team who share the vision. Belief, respect and a clear mission is vital, making sure that you never stray from that mission.
Website : https://thetogetherplan.com/