By Dan Fast and Adam Pollack
Since 2012, we have witnessed the growth of local networks for Jewish engagement professionals – “engagers” who are responsible for Jewish millennial engagement and programming – in cities across the country, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia, and more. These networks serve as local engager hubs, complementing a national network such as the NEXTwork. They also uniquely further engagement efforts by:
- Increasing trust, mutual respect, and transparency among local engagers;
- Accelerating knowledge, skill-sharing, collaborations, and connectional intelligence – a term coined by business/leadership consultants Erica Dhawan and Saj-nicole Joni that emphasizes “driving innovation and breakthrough results by harnessing the power of [our] relationships and networks”;
- Diving deep into the nuances and needs of Jewish millennials and engagement issues; and
- Serving as local platforms for professional development and peer mentoring and support.
For engagers – most of whom are millennials – working connected “to get things done and develop creative solutions to challenges” is a natural concept that supersedes any organizational politics and related barriers to collegial partnerships and collaboration. In successful local networks, we’ve seen engagers and their organizations move past perceived differences, and into mutual respect, trust and openness, leading to the creation of new, innovative engagement strategies and programs. After some time, we’ve seen these outcomes lead engagers – and their communities as a whole – to better engage young Jews by building more integrated and cooperative landscapes.
We realize others may seek to create networks in their own communities, so, from our experiences, here are the key steps to get a local engager network off the ground:
Step 1: Determine if you are well-positioned to convene a network. A well-positioned organization and leader needs to convene the network. This means an organization with a solid grasp on the local Jewish landscape, strong collegial connections, and the bandwidth to coordinate the group. We’ve seen JCCs, Hillels, Federations, and others take on the convenor role in different communities. It’s a great opportunity to collaborate!
Step 2: Create a list of local professional engagers and meet with them individually. If you already meet and communicate regularly with fellow engagers, that is a good start. If not, now is the time to open those lines of communication, which will help you understand their specific interests and needs. Practice active listening in these conversations: find out what each person wants to achieve, what they value, and what frustrates them. In order to create a supportive network, you’ll first need to deeply understand the needs of the local landscape.
Step 3: Meet up! Convene the group to increase everyone’s understanding of the local landscape and to establish a shared purpose for the network. This meeting should be led by you or another strong facilitator in your community. Elise Peizner, Director of Jconnect in Seattle, told us that having a “third-party facilitator [NEXT] helped level the playing field – it made people feel equal which was an important goal for us.” Regardless of who facilitates, be sure to:
- Communicate the meeting’s purpose in advance.
- Use safe space guidelines to encourage open conversation among participants.
- Start with a relationship-building activity to establish new professional relationships and strengthen existing ones.
- Map out the community, identifying areas of both engagement saturation (overserved geographic and/or program areas) and opportunity (underserved areas).
- Determine meeting frequency, duration, and focus through consensus, to set expectations and keep the group focused moving forward.
Step 4: Define priorities. Let the network’s shared purpose and core values, which should be discussed and agreed upon in a subsequent meeting, be your “true north.” Evaluate the network’s effectiveness in responding to engager needs periodically through individual and whole-group check-ins and surveys. Be sure to capture and track this data, as it tells the network’s growing story and can highlight successes and where additional progress is needed.
Step 5: Continue cultivating relationships. Utilize your individual check-ins as a method to monitor participants’ feelings on their involvement (is it meeting their needs?) and continue building the participant list (who else should be at the table?).
As your network continues to meet, additional needs and questions will emerge (such as, “can we create a forum for our volunteer leaders?”) and your role as network convenor will continue to evolve. But these steps build the foundation for strong networks in which new communication lines between organizations have opened, deeper collaborative relationships have blossomed, and most importantly, young Jews find it easier to navigate the Jewish life landscape and get involved!
If you run a local engager network, what advice would you give to a new network convenor? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Adam Pollack is the Senior Western Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Fast is the outgoing Senior Northeast Regional Director at NEXT and can be reached at email@example.com.