By Jennifer Lifshutz Lankin
Engaging young leaders is the natural way to ensure an enriched Jewish future led by intentional and enthusiastic members. The challenge? Leadership training can’t be broken down to any particular science, and training teens and young twenty-somethings can be particularly challenging.
At ORA, the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, we’ve learned (and continue to learn!) that a key component for engaging young leaders is to create a model in which peers teach and learn from each other.
ORA launched its Campus Fellowship program in 2015 with the generous support of the Aviv Foundation. Fellows are trained in agunah advocacy, the preventative solution of the halakhic prenuptial agreement, and issues of domestic abuse.
Now in its third year, ORA’s Fellowship program has shifted models several times, and learned a lot about what it takes to create meaningful and successful programming. If your nonprofit/synagogue/institution-of-any-kind conducts a leadership training program or something similar to it, this is for you!
1. Choose content wisely.
Remember that English professor who insisted that all of your arguments relate back to your thesis? The same goes for choosing content. There is SO much that you want to impart on your program participants, so how do you choose what to include in your curriculum? Ask yourself, what is the goal of discussing said info? Does it relate directly to the program’s goals?
2. Teach. Debrief. Repeat.
Making time for processing content is just, if not more, important than teaching the content itself. For us at ORA, this is especially critical after Fellows hear from former agunot and domestic abuse survivors. It is critical to structure into our tight schedules time for students to react to and debrief from what they’ve learned.
3. Feedback is your friend!
After every Fellowship seminar, we send out anonymous feedback forms to every Fellow to learn what went well and what can be improved. There are many different models for generating feedback, but be sure to use one that feels safe for your participants to answer honestly. You’ll be thankful for it.
4. Know what you don’t know.
Be sure to bring in experts to teach those topics that you are not trained in. You may have a degree in business but after years of working in social services you now know enough to write a book about it. When it comes to teaching that material, leave it to the professionals. The manner that they convey the information will stem from their education rather than experience, and that’s important. Your experience is important too! And should be shared. Just after students have been properly introduced to a given subject matter by professionals.
5. If you can’t join ‘em, stop trying so hard.
Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was best friends? No, not always. Maybe it’s the program participants who want to be friends with you, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s YOUR imperative to create professional boundaries from the outset to ensure a level of mutual respect and professionalism. Jewish nonprofits sometimes struggle with this; after all, Danny is your aunt’s friend’s son and Jessica went to school with your daughter! It doesn’t matter. You’re not friends and you shouldn’t try to be.
6. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
Work as a team. Even if you’re the best person to teach multiple topics, there’s a strong value in students hearing from others. In turn, you will have created more resources for your students to turn to with questions or feedback. If that person is not you, that’s ok. Don’t take it personally. Different people relate to others differently, and that should be embraced and facilitated.
7. Millennials engaging millennials … engaging millennials.
That’s right. Bring in young leaders to teach your future leaders. Have your cohort teach others. Provide them with an opportunity to use the skills that they’ve gained to interact with their peers. As part of ORA’s Fellowship, we require Fellows to execute programming on their college campuses. From our experience, this has played a key role in the development of their leadership skills and in exercising their collaborative working skills.
8. What next?
Build into your program something that outlasts your programming. At ORA, we guide Fellows to become notaries public during the course of the Fellowship so that they can fully facilitate the signing of a halakhic prenuptial agreement. This is not only empowering (and cool!), but it also provides for them the tools to lead on their own. If your program ends the day students leave your space, you are setting limits to their ability to use the knowledge that you’ve imparted. You need to provide clear guidance for them as to how they can continue to make an impact once your program is over.
9. Create a model for expansion.
While some programs are meant to be small, think, “Is this a replicable model?” Constantly ask yourself – not only, “how can I improve,” but also, or more specifically, “how can this grow?”
10. Believe in your model. Be open to change.
Ultimately, this program is not for you, it’s for the students. You need to be confident in the material that you’re putting out there, but also be open to change. Their needs may be different from what you anticipate.
Organizing and facilitating any sort of leadership training can be an extremely rewarding and meaningful endeavor. Best of luck!
Jennifer Lifshutz Lankin is the Assistant Director of Programming and Development at the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA). Jennifer is a facilitator of ORA’s Campus Fellowship program.