Creating a Global Network: Kaplan Leadership Initiative teaches international fellows leadership skills and ‘why we do what we do’

Photo credit: Barry Kafka

By Maayan Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

Luciana Pattin, a Madrid-based fundraiser at the local Jewish school, said after her year-long participation in the Kaplan Leadership Initiative, she better understands “why we do what we do.”

Pattin completed her fellowship in late fall. Several months later, Pattin said she still feels its effects.

“Being a Kaplan fellow has helped me strengthen my self-awareness and enhanced my capacity to add value to organizations,” she said. “The program advanced by sense of belonging to a network of wonderful people throughout Europe, Israel, the United States, FSU countries, and soon, Latin America. We can share practices, experiences, questions and debates.

“I bring back to my community a global vision of community and where I think my community should go,” she continued. “I know what kind of Jewish community I would like for myself and for the people around me – one based on the values of inclusion and respect for diversity, solidarity and commitment to those in need.”

Slava Slutsker, founder and CEO of the JEvents app from St. Petersburg, said he has brought back to his community new methods of leadership rooted in emotional intelligence and improved fundraising skills.

The Kaplan Leadership Initiative is a program of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in coordination with the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. It also leverages established infrastructure for Jewish professional leadership training in Europe and Latin America – Yesod and Leatid.

The initiative, funded by the Kaplan family, provides tools and support needed to cultivate leadership among Jewish community professionals in Europe, the former Soviet Union and Latin America. Fellows work in Jewish social service and welfare groups, Jewish community centers, Jewish schools, synagogues, educational programs and Jewish media.

According to Shani Leiman, a project manager in the Global Program and Planning department at JDC, the program reflected what JDC has long seen as reality: that while in many ways Jewish communal professionals around the world face similar challenges, there are other things that are very different in the experiences and demands of a Jewish communal professional in Europe versus the former Soviet Union versus the United States.

The Kaplan Leadership Initiative focuses on four competencies: Jewish knowledge; community development tools; program management skills; and the crafting of individual leadership styles. The year-long experience is divided into regional seminars – focusing on distinct geographic cultures and narratives – and a global seminar at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago.

During the Spertus seminar, participants had opportunities to visit innovative Jewish organizations with local professionals. The institute held a special evening program about learning from failure and engaged the students in peer-to-peer learning and poster sessions.

Inside the classroom, participants studied with many of Spertus’ top faculty, including Dr. Hal M. Lewis, former president and current chancellor of Spertus, who is one of the world’s leading experts on Jewish leadership.

The first cohort was 26 people from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Germany, France, United kingdom, Italy and Spain. The next cohort, which will officially start in February 2019, is expected to be as many as 40 people.

“We were so moved to see our collective vision for the Jewish future coalescing in the work of the first cohort of Fellows,” Carol and Ed Kaplan said. “Meeting with the fellows and seeing how their talents are being leveraged to strengthen their individual roles, the communities they work in, and other global Jewish professionals is nothing short of inspiring.”

Leiman said that she, too, “definitely see the ripple effects in our own organizations and we received letters from managers and fellows reporting on the amazing progress the fellows had during the year.”

While Leiman said that JDC is still working on its formal evaluation of the project’s impact, “I have a gut feeling that there is a lot of new collaboration going on between the fellows and that this is enhancing the impact of the program.

“We have created a global Jewish network,” she said.

Dean Bell, president and CEO of Spertus, expressed similar sentiments. He recalled that at the concluding session in Chicago, students talked at length about what they learned and how they will apply their learning back home.

“For example, they learned new approaches to and skills of leadership – including listening, empowering others, and being humble,” said Bell. “They gained understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, laying a platform of becoming more intentional and self-aware, more comfortable in their roles, and more confident in where they are going professionally. They indicated that they will take with them the importance of investing in ongoing learning, power sharing, self-awareness, the need to challenge themselves, and the importance of mentoring and seeking regular and meaningful feedback.”

When asked if this is really going to work, Bell had a simple answer. He said, “It already has.”