by Deborah Fishman
I must admit that I don’t go to very many conferences that aren’t “Jewish.” But [in the days just prior to Passover] I was excited to attend the Nonprofit Technology Conference of NTEN (#12NTC). I went to speak at a session in collaboration with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, Jim Joseph Foundation, and Darim Online, on networks, technology, and their application to non-profits – and yes, we were speaking about it particularly in a Jewish context. The truth is, with the attendance of over 70 non-profit professionals who are Jewish and/or working for Jewish nonprofits, this session and the social hour that followed had as much as or even more of the usual dose of Jewish geography, schmoozing/networking, and certainly the spirit of Jewish pride.
Why Jewish pride? The focus on how Jewish organizations are making an impact in this realm was impressive to many – especially those who don’t usually equate Jewish organizations as being at or even near the forefront of the technological cutting-edge. I give a lot of credit to the session sponsors, in particular Lisa Colton, the session facilitator, for recognizing the need to demonstrate how Jewish organizations are thinking about technology and networks, even fostering that energy beyond the session by using the hashtag #12ntcJews for the conference’s duration.
I don’t mean to say that the session insinuated that Jewish non-profits have all the answers when it comes to technology and networks. On the contrary, the timbre was very much expressing how we are all on a journey as we struggle with the issues 21st-century ways of communication pose to how we think and how we work. Actually, that was exactly what was so impressive – because in today’s interconnected, networked world, it’s not about the one-sided execution of perfection, but rather about engaging in a dialogue, asking the right questions, and reacting to that dialogue through constant experimentation. That sense of authenticity and candor about our work is so important to everything technology and networks represent.
The value placed on dialogue was evident in the diverse voices of the panel, featuring Josh Miller, Miriam Brosseau, David Cygielman, Lisa Colton and myself. The opportunity to learn from and share a podium with Jewish professionals making an impact in the realm of working in a networked way – as well as to hear comments and reactions from the audience members also engaging with these issues – was truly amazing. It sparked in me the sense that Jewish organizations have a lot to learn, not only from the scintillating conference attendees and presenters in nonprofit technology that surrounded us at NTC, but also specifically from each other. There are unique challenges and opportunities to working within the Jewish community, and we all are better positioned to take them on when we work together.
As part of my talk, I spoke about the need for a training program and community of practice for Jewish network-weavers, those in Jewish organizations working with networks to engage constituencies and foster connections and the sharing of resources and ideas between them. I believe this is very much needed in the Jewish world, especially as so many of us are already are on journeys to implement networked practice in our work.
Exemplifying these journeys, Miriam Brosseau and I spoke about our work with The Jewish Education Project and The AVI CHAI Foundation, respectively – both established organizations that are pivoting and really transforming themselves for the digital age. Miriam talked about how The Jewish Education Project is seeking not only to work with networks externally, but how they have realized that in order to do so they must also operate in a networked way internally, and they have created a community of practice to address this. She even brought in a Jewish concept – the idea of tocho k’varo, that just as the mishkan was required to be gold inside as well as outside, so too should we be the same internally and externally in order to be truly whole and authentic.
I spoke about AVI CHAI’s “communications revolution,” from top-down, one-way communication about our work to understanding that, in order for AVI CHAI to leave a legacy on the issues we care about, we must create dialogue and engage others in these issues. We are doing this through initiatives like ELI talks: Inspired Jewish Ideas ss well as grassroots brainstorms to generate creative ideas as to what would make day schools a more attractive option for parents not previously considering it.
In addition, Josh Miller from the Jim Joseph Foundation spoke about the foundation’s forays in working with networks, such as its investments in and lessons learned from the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund. David Cygielman from Moishe House exemplified an emerging organization that started from the beginning as a grassroots effort and continues to work in a networked way. Interestingly, being “native” to this mode of operation has not freed it entirely from network dilemmas. These have included how to incorporate technology as it scales and how to navigate the need to maintain a consistent level of Jewish educational content in its programming while remaining powered by grassroots needs and interests.
All of this, by the way, happened in my 12 hours in San Francisco. Why just 12 hours? It was actually a lot to spare on the day that my husband moved my family to a new apartment in a new city and two days before Pesach, over which we hosted two seders there. Why did I go at all? That’s just how passionate I am about this topic of networks, Jewish organizations, and technology. I am excited to be a part and witness the development of the emerging field of Jewish networks, and know it will lead us to be ever more effective and connected in the future.
Deborah Fishman is Director of Communications at The AVI CHAI Foundation, where she explores how network-weaving can be implemented to engage and inspire constituents to be more effective and connected. She dreams of implementing a network-weavers’ training program and community of practice to professionalize the field.