Both Organization-Centric And Network-Focused Design: A Response to Lisa Colton and Miriam Brosseau

Photo credit: Dana Friedlander / Israeli Ministry of Tourism

By Arinne Braverman

The Tribe is a values-based, experiential education program for families with Jewish children in kindergarten through second grade. Without prior knowledge of their work, The Tribe’s pilot program in 2018 incorporated many of the network-focused design principles highlighted in eJP‘s important article, “From Organization-Centric to Network-Focused Design: A Response to Drs. Kingston and Windmueller,” by Lisa Colton and Miriam Brosseau. As demonstrated below, the Jewish community can invest wisely by incentivizing network-design focused start-ups that meet participants’ stated priorities and provide quality Jewish content, to innovate in partnership with existing Jewish organizations.

The Tribe takes a “both/and” approach of both being presented through existing larger Jewish organizations and being personally driven by its members’ contributions in small groups. Parents take turns leading Jewish experiential education sessions once per month in the intimacy of their homes, in partnership with existing Jewish organizations. The bridges between the parents and hosting organization are the accessible curriculum, with meaningful Jewish content, and the organization’s Tribe Coordinator, trained as Colton and Brosseau identify the “Role of Staff.” As they wrote: “Their role becomes one of activating people, supporting them, coaching and making connections.” Even when families’ monthly gatherings are supported by unrelated Jewish teens assisting with a tribe’s educational games and activities, the families’ participation enhances their community experience. After nine months of Tribe participation, families reported a 260% increase in feeling connected to the Jewish community.

Numerous studies have concluded that the next generation participates less in membership organizations, like synagogues and JCCs. Kingston and Windmueller’s concluding sentence highlights why The Tribe still invests in these institutions: “At least in the near term, other forms of social engagement will replace the idea of affiliation and the role of membership.” (Emphasis added.)

Has replacing affiliation and membership in community organizations been beneficial for individuals who have done so? For years, social scientists and public health officials have been sounding alarms about higher levels of anxiety and depression experienced among adolescents than by previous generations, citing a “loneliness epidemic” currently impacting multiple generations simultaneously. It likely is not coincidental that the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness are widespread while people are affiliating and joining less. Colton and Brosseau share what is true now, and what is broken, in the same sentence: “The ‘sovereign self’ has replaced the collective obligation to be part of a communal order.” Consequently, we must creatively engage generations through network-focused design principles, where, as an ancillary benefit, Jews experience being part of a community.  

Tribe participants presently experience the joy of community, even with the institutional affiliations. The Tribe’s Net Promoter Score is 88%. For comparative purposes, Measuring Success reported that the Net Promoter Scores of Jewish institutions in 2009 were as follows: “Camps average 78%, Day Schools average 54%, JCCs average 48%, and Federations average 29% (for donors who gave $1-10,000 gifts).” Tribe families are prioritizing personal relationships and connection with their local Jewish community over prioritizing connection with Jewish knowledge and Jewish institutional relationships and affiliations, as was more traditional in the past. At the time of enrollment, 78% of Tribe families were not affiliated with a synagogue and only 14% of Tribe families then expressed interest in learning about Jewish values. However, these same families learned about Jewish values when provided with a Jewish engagement opportunity that met their primary goals. After nine months, Tribe families reported a 69% increase in the frequency of intentionally engaging in “living Jewish values and doing ‘good deeds’” on a monthly or more frequent basis. 

While parents are connecting differently through The Tribe for many reasons, including that it provides what Colton and Brosseau refer to as “niche opportunities to find ‘people like me,’” it certainly helps that The Tribe meets parents’ stated goals. The top reason parents identified in the baseline survey, and again as the top outcome for joining The Tribe in the end-of-year survey, was: “meeting more Jewish families in my community.” The next top reasons selected were: “To have fun” and “To spend more quality time with my child(ren).” After just nine months, Tribe parents reported more than a 50% increase in feeling satisfied with the amount of quality time they spent with their children. Perhaps more significantly, more than half of Tribe parents reported that their relationship with their child(ren) was better or closer because of their Tribe participation.

As Drs. Kingston and Windmueller cite, “Rather than joining legacy institutions and synagogues, younger American Jews are expressing their religious, cultural and political interests through start-up or boutique organizations and on-line causes.” (Emphasis added.) However, it is woefully inefficient to establish a nonprofit organization for every new Jewish educational and engagement experiment. Instead, we can learn from the new “share economy” and from experienced entrepreneurs and management consultants about maximizing outcomes through strategic partnerships utilizing existing under-utilized organizational resources. 

Strengthened by the knowledge of our people’s resilience across generations, where we have overcome far greater obstacles than an epidemic of loneliness, we must forecast beyond current circumstances of disconnection and fund innovation to bring about a more deeply connected, community-affirming Jewish future.

The Tribe is an initiative of the Gemunder Family Foundation, created by From Strength to Strength, LLC. The Tribe was additionally made possible through the support of The Armonia Foundation, The Lesser Family, The Adam and Gila Milstein Foundation, and The Frieze Family.