Meet UJA’s VP, Research and Affordability Initiatives

UJA tries to build a community in which everyone can afford to participate in Jewish life. We also take a data-driven approach to maximize the impact of our dollars in the community. Evan Mazin oversees two unique and crucial areas of UJA’s work: research and affordability. He brings his vast experience as a lawyer, accountant, and Jewish professional to each of these fields. Evan spoke with UJA’s Tali Goldberg about the fascinating work his team does, the value of research in understanding our community, and his goals for affordability.  

What does your team do?

The affordability team does a few different things. We work on the UJA Community Scholarships portal, which is the one-stop shop for dozens of scholarship and affordability initiatives in the GTA. That’s a whole project in itself—running that portal and trying to make those programs more accessible. We also look to expand access by partnering with organizations to come up with pilot programs, advertising, and trying to get more people in the door when affordability is the challenge. In addition to that, we oversee the Day School Scholarships system for UJA-funded day schools.  

On the research side, we work to collect, analyze, and disseminate the information we need to make data-driven decision making for all our local investments. So—understanding Jewish engagement, understanding poverty, understanding housing needs. And that's where we're able to see trends like the increase in food need over the last few years, and the increase in mental health challenges. It's not just anecdotal. We can actually gather that evidence and data to see what's going on in the community so we can make proper adjustments and prioritize what needs to be prioritized.

Do you have examples of ways that you utilize findings and implement research?

Over the pandemic, food and mental health needs massively increased. So UJA developed and launched a food program and mental health needs program. Ultimately, the value is that as we see various issues come up, we can react and implement solutions. Sometimes challenges become an absolute crisis before people realize it. Here, we're able to see as concerns slowly increase and we can step in before it gets to an emergency level.

How do research and affordability feed into each other?

Affordability is very data driven, as you can imagine. We look at housing costs, we look at salaries, we look at the cost of living generally. Someone pointed out to me that cell phones only started becoming common 20 years ago. If you have two spouses and a few kids on a family plan, that can be $200—20 years ago, that wasn't even a household expense, right? And now it's a very significant expense. It’s the same thing with the cost of Internet. It’s not just inflation—there are new services that just cost more. As well, we did a lot of public surveys to understand what parents are thinking. This data collection all led into my role and to the work we’re doing to research and measure needs—it’s all to get a practical understanding of the community so we can address the issues.

What is the goal with UJA’s affordability initiatives?

The goal of affordability is actually Jewish engagement. Affordability is one subset of that. The best programs out there are the most immersive, most impactful ones. And because they're so immersive and impactful, the reality is, they're expensive. For example, summer trips to Israel can cost thousands of dollars—but there’s no one making money on that. That’s just how much a four- or five-week trip to Israel costs. But those programs are also incredibly impactful. So the affordability goal is to, as much as possible, reduce the affordability barrier to participation and get more families taking part in these amazing Jewish experiences.

On the research side, how do you gather your information? Where are you getting your data from?

We gather data from a few sources. First and foremost, all our grantees provide us with data. It's not individual data—there is complete privacy for those who go to a human services agency. They never share names or individual characteristics. What they do share is, how many calls are we getting for mental health? How many calls are we getting for housing? From there, we get an understanding of the services they provide, how common the services are, and how much they're spending. We also get publicly available data. For example, if we see Toronto as a whole has an increase in poverty rates, we can then assume that the Jewish community has an increase in poverty rates. Finally, when there's missing information that we need, we go out and collect it ourselves.

What would you say is the unique value-add that research can lend our community?

The plural of anecdote is not data. Lots of people will talk about the issues in the community and they all usually have a kernel of truth. But you can't make decisions based on people's individual opinions. You really need to understand what is factually happening, especially if you want to have a real impact. You need to know what’s real and what's a temporary blip, what's really a problem and what's not really a problem. And that's what the research does. It allows us to really get a finger on the pulse of what's going on in the community so we can be as effective as possible in supporting and growing Jewish Toronto.

Tali Goldberg serves as UJA’s Content Manager, Jewish Programming.

Evan Mazin serves as UJA’s VP, Research and Affordability Initiatives.