New York, NY — Building Together, a nonprofit organization dedicated to forging connections between Palestinian and Israeli farmers and nurturing their joint economic development, has named Roland Lewis as its first President and Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Lewis will guide the organization in its dual mission to foster opportunity in the Middle East and engage Americans of all faiths to support the work.
Mr. Lewis has made a career of bringing together diverse stakeholders for the greater good. Most recently, as the founding President and CEO of the Waterfront Alliance, he built a coalition of more than 1,000 partners and spurred a region-wide movement that united myriad viewpoints to transform New York Harbor, creating more public access, promoting a resilient ecosystem and fostering better job opportunities. Prior to his work at the Waterfront Alliance, Mr. Lewis was the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity NYC, reenergizing that dormant affiliate and showing how the Habitat model could work effectively in an urban setting. He began his career as an attorney representing multi-faith organizations working to revitalize devastated New York City neighborhoods. A lifelong New Yorker, Mr. Lewis is a graduate of Columbia University, with a Master of City and Regional Planning and a Juris Doctor from Rutgers University.
He takes the reins of an organization with a strong track record. With early support from the Bloomberg Foundation through its Genesis Generation Challenge, Building Together put together several successful projects over the past five years, including a solar panel installation on the West Bank featured in The New York Times. Today, Building Together is working with Palestinian villages to increase date production by improving farming capacity with environmentally friendly pesticides, and developing a joint venture with an Israeli kibbutz and Palestinian farmers to produce date honey.
“During my tenure as chair of Habitat for Humanity International, I met thousands of local community leaders with outstanding accomplishments. Roland Lewis was very near the top of that list in terms of rebuilding local communities and being a persuasive advocate for those families most in need,” said Nicolas P. Retsinas, Director Emeritus of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, retired senior lecturer of the Harvard Business School and past Chair of Habitat for Humanity International. “Roland has focused and succeeded in one of the most challenging environments of the world: New York City. His record of performance and perseverance is outstanding. Roland has brought together thousands of New Yorkers from every faith, race and background, and his contributions nationally and locally have left behind large footprints.”
“Reinventing a harbor is no small task. In an unprecedented way, Roland created a coalition in which kayakers, shippers, developers and environmentalists all had a voice — and this coalition grew into a potent constituency that achieved a more vibrant, more accessible and more resilient New York Harbor and waterways,” said Chris Ward, Waterfront Alliance Chair. “Roland’s gift is to find common ground and inspire others to claim it.”
Monther Hind, founder of the Palestinian Wastewater Engineers Group and consultant to Building Together, said, “Farmers on both sides of the border rely on sun and water to grow their crops and they face the same environmental challenges. Recognizing this commonality, Building Together is guiding communities to collaborate, for shared benefits. I am thrilled to work with them.”
“Building Together’s goals of creating environmental and economic gain for Israeli and Palestinian farmers has great promise,” said Clive Lipchin, Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies' Center for Transboundary Water Management, which focuses on transboundary water and environmental problems facing Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. “This organizations has proven its good faith and determination with successful projects. I look forward to collaborating with Building Together on many more projects.”
“Our faith calls us to have greater sensitivity to the differences and struggles of others,” said Andrea Elliot, Principal of Bishop Brady High School in Concord, NH. Last fall, in partnership with Building Together, Bishop Brady High School participated in a Day of Dignity during which students and faculty engaged in learning activities and discussions focused on respecting diversity, overcoming obstacles, and resolving conflict. The Building Together curriculum helped raise awareness and support the school’s mission as a caring community dedicated to the service of others as well as the global mission of Building Together. “We look forward to furthering our partnership with Building Together and helping our students become lifelong community servants,” Ms. Elliot said.
“By working directly with Palestinian and Israeli citizens on tangible projects, we are cultivating healing interpersonal relationships as we cultivate the land. Here in the United States, we are working with mosques, churches, synagogues and schools to gain support for this important work,” said Benjamin Jablonski, founder and Chair of Building Together. “With Roland’s leadership, we will bring about more good in the world.”
“Throughout my career, I’ve worked to bridge differences and find common ground,” Mr. Lewis said. “In America, in the Middle East, around the world, there is a great need for connection, trust and hope. Demonstrating the power of person-to-person connection, Building Together is working to improve the quality of life for the people of Israel and Palestine, and I’m honored and ready to serve.”