Our Story and Mission

American Jewish World Service is the first and only Jewish organization dedicated solely to ending poverty and promoting human rights in the developing world. Through philanthropy and advocacy, we've addressed some of the gravest global problems of our time—genocide, AIDS, violence against women and girls, hatred of LGBT people, and the horrific consequences of natural and human-made disasters.

Our Mission

Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world. Rooted in our mission, AJWS was founded in 1985 by American Jews who wanted to join together as global citizens to help some of the poorest and most oppressed people around the globe. Today, AJWS is the only Jewish organization dedicated solely to ending poverty and promoting human rights in the developing world.

How We’ve Made Change

AJWS started as a small organization, but now raises more than $50 million a year. And since our founding, we have provided more than $230 million to support thousands of social justice organizations in the developing world that have taken on some of the biggest global challenges of our time.

Today, AJWS is one of the top human rights funders in the world. We’re 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.

Highlights of our work include campaigning to stop the Darfur genocide, fighting global hunger, responding to the Ebola epidemic in Liberia and the earthquake in Nepal, and working to end violence against women, girls and LGBT people worldwide.

Check out the timeline below to see some of our key accomplishments over the past 30 years!

Our History


AJWS is founded in Boston, Massachusetts by Larry Phillips and Larry Simon.


AJWS responds to the volcano disaster in Armaro, Colombia—its first emergency response.


The UN World Food Program begins using technology and methods for safe grain storage developed by AJWS and Israeli scientists at the Volcani Center.


AJWS moves its headquarters from Boston to New York City.


AJWS launches five new international development projects in Mexico, Honduras and Haiti, offering training programs in improved agricultural techniques.


AJWS President Andrew Griffel is elected to the Executive Committee of InterAction, a consortium of over a hundred international humanitarian organizations.


AJWS launches its Volunteer Corps with the deployment of three volunteers, two to Honduras and one to Mexico.


Ten young Jewish men and women spend the summer helping villagers in Honduras build a potable water system. As a result of the success of this program, AJWS establishes the International Jewish College Corps, later renamed Volunteer Summer.


AJWS grantee TOSTAN's campaign to ban female genital cutting expanded significantly in Senegal. As a result of TOSTAN's work, the Senegalese parliament bans the practice.


AJWS responds to the flood emergency in Mozambique, returning to the site of one of its first emergency shipments of medical supplies.


AJWS launches peer exchange programs in Southern Africa bringing together community-based organizations from the region to exchange best practices in responding to the HIV epidemic.


In partnership with the Save Darfur Coalition, AJWS helps to organize a national anti-genocide rally in Washington, D.C. and a series of other rallies throughout the country.


President Bill Clinton is the honoree at AJWS's gala event.


New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof is the honoree at AJWS's fundraising luncheon.


AJWS President Ruth Messinger is invited to the White House to discuss the crisis in Darfur with President Barack Obama.


AJWS launches Global Circle—a network of young professionals and emerging leaders committed to repairing the world.


AJWS celebrates its 25th anniversary.


Leymah Roberta Gbowee, director of AJWS’s Liberian grantee, Women Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN), wins the Nobel Peace Prize.


AJWS launches the We Believe campaign to advance the rights of women, girls and LGBT people worldwide.


AJWS responds to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and raises $1 million to stem the spread of the epidemic in Liberia.


AJWS responds to the earthquake in Nepal and raises nearly $2 million to support earthquake survivors.


AJWS celebrates its 30th anniversary.