By Jori Mendel
Creativity is the process of using imagination and critical thinking to generate a new idea of value. And ironically, similarly to innovation it is often the most misunderstood muscle at most organizations, for-profit and nonprofit alike. Innovation is the creativity driver; it is the most valuable tool in our toolbox. It allows us to question everything, embrace complexity, attend to human needs and impulses, and have the courage to forge a new path through – and into – uncertainty as we rebuild for resilience in a post-COVID reality.
For the nearly a decade we have grown innovation for this community, funded 50 organizations and initiatives, and built infrastructure to enable creative minds to learn from and with each other. The challenge is how can we build on this work in an exponential manner, in this moment? How can we best bring those with creative ideas and innovative solutions together, to guide us as we stand at the precipice of opportunity for the Atlanta Jewish innovation ecosystem?
The solution is that together we must dedicate ourselves to rebuild for resiliency; we must double down our efforts to facilitate the right integrations, build bridges, partnerships and possibly Mergers & Acquisitions in our community.
First, we define new practical and creative goals together, which will continue to require innovative roles for lay and professional leaders to problem solve together in a remarkably agile manner. We do this by letting go of our egos, our logos, and – for some – our pride.
Second, we must deeply understand what our customers want most so we as the collective and individual organizations can define our value propositions. We do this by increasing our R&D (Research and Development), so we can use the right data, user-centered design and emerging trends, such as the post-COVID baby boom, to drive this strategy.
Third, we build a new understanding of the marketplace, by understanding unmet needs and leveraging different resources than ever before. We incent and build a thrive-together model based on shared purpose, enabling organizations with different resources and assets to share for the collective good. In addition, we turn to a different set of potential partners who are shuttering their doors now, such as universities, for wisdom and assets. As the tremendous leaders at UpStart shared, it is no longer about just investing in the idea, platform or program; we must invest in the people who work in this field like never before.
Lastly, we must continue to act now, while also planning to nimbly and strategically execute in the coming year. This must be done based on a new understanding of the marketplace that we collectively create.
To accomplish this, we must build on the work we have already done as a community. JumpSpark is a great example of this. This year they built a community partner network of 30+ organizations (synagogues, camps, and Creating Connected Communities, to name a few) to learn together and share their data about our teen ecosystem. This resulted in increased partnerships and the ability for the teen ecosystem to deliver programs to match the changing needs of their customer, which has proven to be a game changer during this pandemic. Other great innovators in our community, Jewish Kids Group and In The City Camps, immediately forged new roads for campers and families during this time, because of their agile platforms they have built to support their organizations. Or Moishe House bringing local perspectives global and vice versa, via “Near, Far, and Wherever You Are”, or OneTable more than doubling shabbat dinners via Shabbat Alone, Together and in partnership with 18Doors making Passover alone a beautiful ritual, or the creation of a multifaith support system for clergy created by Rabbi Joshua Lesser. There is so much creative inspiration now, let’s keep up the momentum and figure out how to go even bigger together.
The solution seems simple; but as we know, whether we have been a part of this community for a few months or many years, there is a lot we need to overcome to creatively solve these problems for the long term together. As the wise Bari Weiss, writer for The New York Times, eloquently wrote, “This pandemic demands something bigger of all of us … Let this be a re-calibration.” It is our time to lead, and it is more imperative now than ever that we increase our investment in the innovation ecosystem to do so. With the right strategic investments, a thrive-together partnership model and resources, we have an opportunity to rebuild a resilient community, driven by the collective for maximum impact.
Jori Mendel is Vice President of Innovation at Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. She leads the Innovation team to help the community ignite, grow and celebrate the ideas and leaders throughout the Atlanta community.