“These young people are uniquely and almost perfectly positioned to help us all. We don’t need to figure them out. We need them to help us figure it out.”
By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
Every Jewish nonprofit organization is looking for the secret sauce to engaging and empowering millennials. One legacy organization, JDC, just might have the answer. At its May 15 board meeting, 15 young adults in their 20s and 30s will start their first terms as board members – full members.
The JDC Global Leaders Initiative, established last year and launching with this meeting, takes a diverse cohort of up-and-coming Jewish lay leaders from across the US (New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Phoenix, among other places) and empowers them to be a part of JDC’s decision-making process by serving a two-year term on JDC’s Board of Directors, with support from seasoned board partners. The cohort simultaneously receives in-person and virtual learning opportunities about global trends, interventions and Jewish values.
“This is not just getting more people involved, but doubling down and investing in the young people we have engaged,” said Sarah Eisenman, executive director of Entwine and an assistant executive vice president at JDC. She noted that all but one new member is an Entwine participant.
“We are moving away from the ‘observership’ or internship model,” Eisenman continued. “We have to acknowledge that these young people that we in the Jewish community are constantly training, in real life, they are making key decisions, running families and businesses. We [the Jewish community] need to put them in decision-making positions now.”
The conclusion to establish the Global Leaders Initiative was based on several years of conversation and examination. JDC CEO Alan Gill said the board had been investigating ways to make itself more inclusive of different cohorts of American Jewry and of world Jewry, in general. During this process, millennials were identified as an important group. The board engaged its Entwine participants in coming up with an idea for how millennials could be a part of this more inclusive board.
“They came up with a beautiful model,” said Gill. “After a lot of discussion by board leaders and the board itself, that model is pretty much what we adopted.”
To make it happen, the board had to vote to change its by-laws, which now require up to 15 young adults to sit as full members of its 179-person board. After their initial two-year term, millennial members can apply for the four-year standard membership.
“It’s critical to note that while this effort had been developing for some time at JDC, it was under the leadership of Alan Gill as CEO that this was fast-tracked and brought to fruition,” said Eisenman, who noted that long-time board member and philanthropist Arlene Kaufman stepped up to generously financially support the first years of the program.
To select the new members, JDC sent out requests for nominations to its board, staff, key Entwine leadership, young leaders already involved with the organization, and select partner organizations. A small committee helped narrow down the nominees and requested a cohort apply. Members of the Global Leaders Initiative advisory committee interviewed the top picks and provided the board nominating committee with a final list of recommendations. The nominating committee accepted the members as they would any other non-millennial member.
According to Gill, “We were looking for leaders.”
According to the new members’ resumes, this is exactly what JDC got. There are chief operating officers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists.
“JDC will gain the perspective of this generation,” said Eisenman.
The new members say they, too, are looking forward to sharing and learning.
Jay Chernikoff, founder and CEO of DeskHub and the founder of the Young Jewish Funders Network of Arizona giving circle, has participated in Entwine’s Learning Network and took part in an Insider Trip to Cuba.
“I hope to be able to bring a different perspective and angle to the board on problems we face and the solutions we propose,” said Chernikoff.” A good board … is an amalgamation of people, opinions and skillsets.”
Sabrina Merage Naim, said she too believes her perspective as a millennial community member can bring value to the organization.
The founder and principal of ECHO Capital Group and vice president of corporate strategy at Consolidated Investment Group, as well as a member of the Moishe House board of directors, Naim said she will use the next two years to both give back to JDC and to take new skills from JDC that she can use in any future roles she might hold.
“This is an incredible learning opportunity to join a conversation that I find to be timely and important in the broader Jewish world and to gain insights from those who have been serving on this particular board for many years,” Naim said. “I imagine there will be a learning curve to find where my voice and experience will fit in with a room of more than 150 strong opinions and belief systems.”
She continued, “Every generation has a certain amount of rebellion against the generation before. … The cohort that has been chosen to join the board is excited to … sometimes ask the difficult questions. Being malleable and open to change can be challenging at times, but my hope is that the desire exists to evolve in a positive way for the benefit of all involved, whether shareholders or stakeholders.”
Eisenman said she knows of several Jewish nonprofit organizations grappling with the same questions as JDC about how to empower millennials to lead, but she does not know of any other organizations who have taken such a bold step. Gill said he knows that “we will be watched,” but he is “pretty optimistic” that the initiative will be successful.
“For a number of years, the Jewish community has been very focused on how you involve young people in organized Jewish life,” explained Eisenman. “In some regards, our effort to do that was to approach young people as a problem to solve.”
The Global Leaders Initiative, said Eisenman, takes a different slant.
“Let’s approach them as the solution to some of the critical challenges our organizations are facing today,” Eisenman said. “These young people are uniquely and almost perfectly positioned to help us all. We don’t need to figure them out. We need them to help us figure it out.”