Change the Conversation
The following is an excerpt from Joshua Venture Group’s newly released report, Change the Conversation, Change the World: Reinvigorating Our Communities through Investment in Social Entrepreneurship – a look inside the organization’s own impact assessment, with implications for JVG’s work and the field.
If we truly want to achieve a more just, vibrant, and inclusive Jewish community in our lifetime, it is our responsibility to support the changemakers whose visions reflect this reality – and we will need to do it together.
For Greater Communal Impact, We Must Organize Collectively to Support Entrepreneurs
JVG recognizes the power of entrepreneurial ideas to shift the Jewish landscape and commissioned two important studies – 1) a two-year, comprehensive evaluation of the 2010-2012 Dual Investment Program and 2) a larger survey of the social innovation field – that demonstrate the value of our capacity-building activities to further these efforts; surface common challenges that many of our entrepreneurs face as their ventures transition out of the startup phase; and offer ways that JVG and the broader community can provide more effective, tangible resources to support social entrepreneurs and their ventures as they mature.
Beyond the direct assistance that post-startups require, a common theme among experts is the need to shift how the Jewish community views the innovation sector and to create a more efficient model of doing business. Joshua Venture Group (JVG) is committed to working together with community leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs to develop a shared vision and to create actionable steps to help sustain the impact of young entrepreneurial ventures over time.
Opportunities for us to organize collectively to measure and achieve greater communal impact include:
Create Shared Goals, Language, and Definitions for Success
There are scattered opinions of what ‘success’ could or should look like in the innovation sector. These discrepancies stem from various fundamental problems, not the least of which is the lack of a shared vocabulary to help shape the sector, such as clear definitions and benchmarks for stages of development. Additionally, funders and program providers do not always share common goals or clear visions for the sector’s role in the broader Jewish community. Without proper language and collective planning, it becomes a challenge to capture the true value of an investment and to suggest that there is limited potential for growth.
Moving the needle: Several initiatives are underway in the Jewish community to bring together thought leaders and experts within specific fields to develop shared visions and language to advance common goals. Within the Jewish innovation sector, following the recommendations of Bikkurim’s report, From First Fruits to Abundant Harvest, Slingshot Fund has convened capacity builders and funders of innovation to increase collective communication and to advance shared goals. Intertwined with this effort, several of these support organizations, including JVG, have collaborated to provide a shared network and professional development event for all of our past participants. This event, appropriately named The Collaboratory, leverages the sector’s shared resources, connections, and expertise to strengthen and broaden the networks of innovators working to impact Jewish life. To broaden communal conversations about shared goals and best practices for collaboration, reflections and learnings from this process will be shared in Summer 2013.
Provide New Ways to Measure and Demonstrate Impact
‘Impact’ is difficult for many executive directors to define, let alone measure. Most begin by measuring outputs and by focusing on quantitative metrics such as audience size and reach, number of programs, number of cities, and budget growth. When it comes to outcomes and impact measurement, however, most ventures are too young to begin to measure and report the social, cultural, or educational change that might be taking place. As Alumni transition out of the startup phase, this poses significant challenges for fundraising, campaigning for new audiences, or expanding programs and services.
Moving the needle: JVG encourages funders to provide resources for benchmarking and evaluation, in addition to program and operating expenses. The commitment of funders like the Jim Joseph Foundation, which recently funded a field-wide study of environmental programs, is essential to moving the needle on this issue. Through this study, small start-ups such as Wilderness Torah, Jewish Farm School, and Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs will gain knowledge and data about the impact of their respective programs and the field at large to further their own development. Similarly, Fellows engage in impact assessment training and coaching as part of JVG’s Dual Investment Program. Access to these assessment resources greatly impacts how social entrepreneurs think about, measure, and articulate their goals and accomplishments – even on a very limited budget.
More broadly, we must also look at the influence these groundbreaking ideas and projects have on our communal conversations to appreciate their impact. JVG believes that through assessment of the change that has occurred in our communities since the introduction of these ideas, we can see the significant influence our social entrepreneurs have on how we talk about, engage with, and respond to these issues on a communal level. The third section of our report, To Assess Impact, explores some of the ways JVG assesses the broader communal impact of our investments.
Encourage Realistic Growth Trajectories
Growth is not synonymous with expansion, and entrepreneurs need to learn to set realistic growth trajectories for their emerging ventures. Ideas that sprout startups evolve over time, and it is up to the entrepreneur – with guidance and support from the community – to ensure that the structure and long-term strategy in place will achieve the desired impact.
Many of us recognize that not all ideas should be built into independent organizations; rather, there should be a new methodology to differentiate between ventures that should be enduring organizations and those that should grow as programs embedded within mainstream institutions. The Jewish community, and nonprofit sector as a whole, should not incubate innovative ideas that exist in silos, and must work together to facilitate, where appropriate, mergers, partnerships, collaborations, and opportunities to grow new ideas from within established institutions.
Moving the needle: As startups grow and landscapes evolve, entrepreneurs have found strategic collaborations and mergers to be effective to advance shared goals. The mergers of Hazon and Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, and of Keshet and Jewish Mosaic, are two examples of young organizations that have moved forward to align missions to increase impact. While these efforts are resource-intensive and may not be the answer for every situation, it is important that the broader community support the appropriate growth for each project.
You can download the full report at joshuaventuregroup.org/changetheconversation.
Since Joshua Venture Group re-launched in 2009, its network of entrepreneurs has grown to include 32 Alumni and Fellows whose collective work continues to demonstrate impact on the Jewish community and on the world. To learn more about JVG and the entrepreneurs who reinvigorate Jewish life, visit JoshuaVentureGroup.org.