In his article “How PresenTense Defines Success for Ventures Launched,” Ariel Beery explains that when PresenTense claims that “11 out of the 27 ventures that PresenTense’s summer Institute launched in the first two years of existence are successes, we mean that 11 of those 27 ventures have received follow-on funding or merged into other organizations.” Rigorous methods to determine and measure desired impact is critical for the overall growth and ultimate health of the Jewish community.
UpStart Bay Area, whose mission is to advance early stage non-profits that offer innovative Jewish engagement opportunities, applauds PresenTense’s work, and encourages the Jewish community at large to think more about the elements of success for our community’s innovative ventures. If we use our burgeoning Innovation Eco-System, tapping into organizations such as Bikkurim, JumpStart, Joshua Venture, the Pears Foundation , and others that, like UpStart, offer ongoing support during these organizations’ identified vulnerability stage, we can work together to further increase PresenTense’s impressive statistics.
We must concern ourselves with a scrupulous definition of “success” for early-stage Jewish organizations. We must ask – will the organizations we are supporting have a lasting impact, addressing the most pressing areas of social need in the Jewish community?
Steven Cohen, in an article in the Institute for Jewish Global Affairs entitled “Changes in American Jewish Identities: From Normative Constructions to Aesthetic Understandings” writes, “In the recent past Jews used to marry five to seven years after leaving university. This now happens after ten to fifteen years, if at all…all this means that…there is a large percentage of unmarried people, almost always without children. In the past, childrearing has brought Jews to congregations and JCCs. Since this younger generation is spending many more years unmarried and without children, the Jewish community must develop institutions they can use.”
We are living in a unique time, during which the phase of “adulthood” is not synonymous with the phase of “parenthood.” Individuals in this phase, which averages about fifteen years, need meaningful Jewish engagement opportunities. This realm is fertile ground for Jewish social entrepreneurs. The question for those of us supporting entrepreneurs is, what work must we do to help them overcome the challenges of early-stage vulnerabilities, to help ensure their success?
UpStart feels that the following elements should be in the mix:
- Nourish the Idea: This process of launching an idea, moving it from the real to the idea, takes time and a tremendous amount of support. Among the determinants for an idea’s ultimate success are: meeting a demonstrated need in the community and a high impact potential, a compelling mission, an innovative business concept and approach, and a likelihood to achieve financial support and sustainability.
- Nourish the Entrepreneur: Ashoka has taught the world of social entrepreneurship that it is not enough to nourish an idea, organization, or institution. The social entrepreneur must exhibit tireless passion, strong leadership, and vision, and the human being behind the project needs support, and a community of like-minded individuals, grappling with similar problems, in order to have the stamina to succeed.
- Nourish the Community: Though there is nothing permanent except change, the influx of new Jewish ideas and organizations can be intimidating, even threatening, to existing institutions. If our ultimate definition of success is a thriving Jewish community, those of us who are supporting new initiatives must be in dialogue with existing institutions, to share the perspectives and experiences of the Jewish innovators with these existing institutions. In this way, the existing organizations can increase their own capacity to change in order to better serve the community’s needs, and we can develop a practice of information sharing throughout community.
UpStart is in the business of nourishing and supporting new ideas for Jewish engagement. We welcome PresenTense alumni who wish to explore the possibility, practicality, and affordability of obtaining the ongoing support we have found so valuable in achieving “success.” And we welcome our colleagues who support Jewish innovation, and those throughout the Jewish community, to continue this important dialogue.
Maya Bernstein is Director of Education and Leadership Initiatives at UpStart Bay Area, a San Francisco-based nonprofit whose mission is to advance early stage non-profits that offer innovative Jewish engagement opportunities. Maya is an occasional contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.