Announcing the Expansion of the Wexner Field Fellowship: Investing in Our Talent Across the Jewish Communal Sector

WFFsBy Ruthie Warshenbrot

The Wexner Foundation has always focused on developing talented leaders. In the last few years we have expanded our reach, launching Wexner Senior Leaders, for Israel’s most influential senior leaders in the public sector, and Wexner Summits: the Network in Action, allowing our alumni from all programs to work together to tackle major problems in the Jewish world. We have also piloted an important program to support emerging young professionals working in Jewish organizations and are now proud to announce the launch of the expanded Wexner Field Fellowship, a full-fledged program to develop Jewish professional leaders. We will be accepting applications in July 2016 for our first cohort of 12 – 15 Field Fellows, whose first Institute will be in March 2017.

The need for the Wexner Field Fellowship to grow from its pilot stage into a full-blown program was confirmed for me recently at the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s 2016 Leaders Assembly.

As someone who is not a camp professional (albeit a camp lover), I took on an anthropological stance at FJC’s Leaders Assembly. I observed what this subsection of our greater Jewish communal field was talking about in its biannual gathering of more than 750 participants, and spoke directly with many full-time professionals about their desired growth needs as Jewish communal leaders.

While there were breakout sessions oriented to very camp-specific issues (medical issues or using Hebrew language), the “big picture” messaging that I received through the plenaries revolved around: 1) workplace culture; 2) succession planning; and 3) leadership development. In short, the ecosystem of Jewish camps addresses the same areas that the broader Jewish community does.

Erica Javellana, from Zappos, shared at a plenary what the online shoe company has learned through its culture of service and mission to “deliver WOW through service.” Following her remarks, FJC Board member Mark Silberman drove home the point that “Jewish camp is a business” and that these tools can be applied by trained Jewish camp professionals – the talent – to create WOW moments for their constituents.

At a breakout group that I facilitated, I heard concerns from emerging professionals that are echoed not only throughout the Jewish communal sector, but in the nonprofit world more broadly. Namely, that there does not seem to be a clear path for growth to reach the top positions, bolstered by the fact that those positions may not be open for a decade or two. These young camp professionals articulated concerns about a lack of fair and appropriate compensation and about the gender pay gap. They wondered what they could be doing to develop themselves as stronger professionals in order to do the work they are inspired to do, to create those “WOW moments” that Javellana referred to. Interestingly, these professionals were motivated to take on the roles they are in today because of the very professionals they are aspiring to become.

If that isn’t a case to invest in our talent, what is?

While there are changes that need to happen to further invest in our talent on a systemic level, led by organizations, there are also efforts to be made on the individual level, for the professionals themselves. FJC Leaders Assembly underscored for me that there is no dearth of talent in our community. While I hope that each organization can do its part to invest in its professionals, I am proud that The Wexner Foundation, through the inspiration of its partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation, has recognized the great need in our field to invest in the growth of our professionals.

We are pleased to announce the expansion of the Wexner Field Fellowship, targeting emerging Jewish professionals who are working full-time in a Jewish organization in North America. Building on the cohort-based learning that has been the hallmark of Wexner Foundation programs for 30 years, the Wexner Field Fellowship will accept up to 15 talented professionals per year into a diverse cohort that will be exposed to different approaches to leadership, tools for discussing important issues in the Jewish community and access to The Wexner Foundation’s vast network.

During this three-year program, Wexner Field Fellows will receive intensive individualized coaching and Jewish education based on each Fellow’s specific needs. They will also have access to funds to pursue additional professional development customized to their needs.

We are proud to join our colleagues who have also made it a priority to invest in these emerging professionals through programs such as the Schusterman Foundation’s Schusterman Fellowship and UJA-Federation of New York’s Ruskay Institute. Together, and with the efforts made by many organizations in the field to make systemic change, we can ensure that emerging professionals who seek to advance and continue their important work in the Jewish community, can be equipped with the tools to do so, ensuring their retention – and more importantly – their ability to increase the number of “WOW moments” they deliver to the Jewish community as a whole.

For more information about the newly expanded Wexner Field Fellowship, visit  Eligibility requirements and additional details are available now and the application will be open this summer.

Ruthie Warshenbrot is Program Director at The Wexner Foundation. She is leading the development and implementation of new initiatives for the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program, including the Wexner Field Fellowship (in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation), alumni engagement and advising on Foundation-wide initiatives.

Cross-posted on WexnerLEADS