Daniel Lubetzky J.D. ’93, founder and CEO of KIND, returned to Stanford in September to speak at Stanford Law School’s convocation.
A recurring investor on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” New York Times bestselling author and human rights activist, Lubetzky wears a lot of different hats. But most recently, his focus has been on working toward a two-state solution to the Israel-Gaza conflict.
“Daniel had the kind of innovative career that the law school prepares our students for,” said Provost Jenny Martinez in an interview. “He’s been an entrepreneur, he has worked in the nonprofit sector, as well as founding an incredibly successful company.”
Lubetzky’s entrepreneurial journey began at Stanford. During his time at the law school, the idea for PeaceWorks — an organization that used business to create peace in conflict regions — was born.
The organization used the not-only-for-profit business model, which inspired KIND’s mission to be “kinder to our bodies, kinder to our communities and kinder to our planet,” as described by the company’s website.
“The most important lesson I learned here is that there’s a very, very big opportunity for us to replace rigid thinking with flexible thinking and equip students to solve problems,” Lubetzky said in an interview with The Daily. “KIND was an offshoot of PeaceWorks, and PeaceWorks was very much born at Stanford.”
While at Stanford, Lubetzky wrote a legislative proposal for using business as a force for breaking down divisions between Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian and Turkish people. In the research process, Lubetzky came across a sun-dried tomato spread in Tel Aviv.
“It was delicious. I tried to go buy some more, and there was no more product on the shelves. Long story short, I found that the company had gone out of business,” he said.
Lubetzky contacted the owner of the business to propose a partnership.
“I told him about the idea that instead of sourcing his glass jars from Portugal, he could source them from Egypt for half the cost,” Lubetzky said. “Instead of sourcing his sun-dried tomatoes from Italy, he could source them from Turkey. He could source his olive oil from Palestinian farmers and Palestinian growers and same with the eggplants and so on and so forth.”
This partnership led to the creation of PeaceWorks. The company, which operated for 25 years and predominantly focused on the food industry, sought to bring neighbors in conflict regions together.
“We created incentives for economic cooperation to create prosperity for all the people in the region, with equal relations and respect for all,” Lubetzky said.
“I really appreciated Daniel’s approach to issues of community and the way in which, through KIND and also through his non-profit work, he really tries to create community,” Martinez said. “Focusing on how people, through compassion and curiosity, can have better relationships among people who come to problems from very different perspectives.”
Lubetzky also founded the OneVoice movement in 2002. Since 2015, the organization has provided more than $15 million in funding to Israeli and Palestinian grassroots activists working toward a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Active internationally, OneVoice raises resources and visibility for its regional partners.
“The concept of OneVoice is to amplify the voice of moderates that want to end the conflict and build a better future for all the people of the region,” Lubetzky said.
The ongoing Israel-Gaza war has had a deep impact on OneVoice staff.
“I literally have not been sleeping over the last two, three weeks because we’ve lost a lot of our family and friends to this war,” Lubetzky said in an interview in October. “We have Palestinian and Israeli staff and colleagues whose lives have been impacted.”
“We have Palestinian staff in Gaza that we’ve been trying to evacuate, but Hamas has blocked the exits and prevented them from leaving. We have Israelis, both Jewish and Muslim Israelis, that were killed by the Hamas terrorists.”
The #wearebuilders movement, which he started in October, hopes to bridge differences by framing the conflict around extremism rather than a conflict of political or personal identities.
“We cannot allow this to be a conflict of Israelis versus Palestinians, Muslims versus Jews or Left versus Right. It is fundamentally about Moderates versus Extremists — about Builders versus Destroyers,” the movement’s mission reads.
Some students disagreed with the framing of #wearebuilders.
“In general, I agree with the idea that it is fundamentally about moderates versus extremists,” said Hamza El Boudali ’22 M.S. ’24. “But I think that’s also true of any issue, so I don’t think that it’s specific to this conflict in particular.”
El Boudali thinks that the conflict is still related to aspects of identity.
“I would agree the conflict is not purely along nationalistic lines or religious lines, in the sense that not every member of that group has the same views, but that’s almost a trivial point. Most Palestinians are pro-Palestine, and the majority of Israelis are pro-Israel,” he said.
Lubetzky left students with a message on the value of humor and light in fighting darkness. He recalled a story of his father, who was a Holocaust survivor in the Dachau concentration camp.
“I said, ‘Dad, it never crossed my mind to ask you. When you were in Dachau in those bunkers, in subhuman conditions, did you ever laugh? Were you able to laugh?’” Lubetzky said. “It was three years — imagine somebody living three years, and having no moment of laughter.”
Lubetzky’s father started to cry, speaking to the importance of laughter during difficult moments.
“His father, my grandfather, used to tell jokes to the inmates to keep their spirits up,” Lubetzky said. “He even used to tell jokes to the German soldiers, to try to give them a little bit of a modicum of humanity … Laughter was one of the most important things that kept him alive.”