Do Leadership Programs Work?

photo courtesy UJIA

by Nicky Goldman

Perceived by some as traditional and risk averse, the mainstream UK Jewish community has nevertheless long devoted much resource to youth leadership development and empowerment. This is illustrated through substantial investment in leadership development for the Zionist youth movements and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) through UJIA. This has enabled young people to take responsibility as madrichim (leaders) on a local level (age 15-16), to lead camps (age 17-20), and Israel tours (age 20-21); each year around 40 post-university graduates undertake paid positions as “movement or UJS workers” for a year or two, with financial responsibility for budgets of millions of pounds and human responsibility for thousands of young people at camps and on summer tours.

The madrichim are inspired and inspiring. Part of their leadership learning comes through bespoke programmes, while a huge amount comes through their hands-on leadership experiences. Both programs and experiences are clearly successful in developing talented, motivated, and committed young adults on a year-to-year basis who inspire the next generation of madrichim.

Yet only some of the hundreds and thousands of former youth movement and UJS leaders find their place and get involved in the wider community once they leave their movements; many do not find a gateway. Some do not seek a way in, skeptical if they will soon or ever find another role with such a level of empowerment or for which they have the same passion.

For those who do seek a way in, can they only find true leadership responsibility outside the mainstream or can the mainstream community find the gateways to bring them in?

One of the community gateways has been the Adam Science Foundation Leadership Programme (ASFLP). Now entering its 20th year of operation, the ASFLP is named in honor of a young lay leader, Adam Science, who was tragically killed in a car crash in October 1991. With the aim of enabling participants to acquire knowledge, understanding, and experience of the British Jewish community to become its future leaders, the ASFLP recruits each year 10 – 12 young professionals in their mid 20s to early 30s with some leadership experience in the Jewish or wider community. Participants come with a wide range of involvement in synagogues, Jewish charities, student unions, as well as youth movements and UJS.

During and following the year-long, part-time program, comprising monthly sessions, mentoring with a lay or communal professional leader, and an international seminar currently held in Boston in partnership with CJP, ASFLP participants are encouraged to find a role in an organization, community, or initiative that they are passionate about or to set up a new one if none exists.

Does this program work? In summer 2011, independent research conducted amongst alumni and stakeholders showed that almost 100% of the alumni who responded have been involved in a Jewish organisation since their participation in the ASFLP. Involvement primarily includes lay leadership and professional roles in synagogues, UJIA, Jewish education, and fundraising. Almost 90% of ASF alumni are currently involved in one or more community organizations; close to 50% of alumni are currently committee members; over 40% of alumni have been involved in project start-ups; while close to 15% have been founders of a Jewish organization or initiative. Furthermore, as a direct result of participating in the ASFLP, almost 80% of alumni are more likely to encourage others to take on leadership roles or responsibilities.

So the program can demonstrate success in meeting its aims, with a lot of potential for far more.

“Without doubt the Adam Science programme restarted my leadership journey in the Jewish community, having previously been involved with a youth movement. It was an excellent crash course in how the community works, the challenges it faces and how to change it,” said Ben Ullmann (2009), co-chair of Adam Science Alumni. “Having graduated from the programme two years ago, I have begun to develop relationships with a few community organizations that best reflect my interests. I am able to bring my own set of skills along with those I picked up in the programme to support and enhance the work of those organisations.”

Ullmann continued, “The Adam Science programme doesn’t create leaders; it finds leaders and makes them great.”

Ullmann’s final comment is most significant. If leadership programmes are to be successful, people have to want to make a difference, to inspire and engage others and to “just do it.” Leadership programmes can facilitate knowledge, skill development, networks, and experiences, but at the end of the day, you need to have the passion to commit to something, to make it happen, and to bring others with you.

Ross Fabian (2005) became Treasurer of JCoSS, a cross-communal secondary school then in development, after leaving the program. He sought a role and was fortunate to find a mentor who saw his potential, brought him in to this £50m million project, and has nurtured him since. But Ross is still more the exception than the rule.

Carolyn Bogush (1995) is the global Chair of Limmud, which is ‘inspired, led, and run by volunteers. We’re committed to harnessing the energy of people from right across the Jewish community – all ages, all religious affiliations and none – and from across the world.”

“I have since taken everything I have learned (on the ASFLP) and applied it to several different communal roles, including the UJIA and my local synagogue, but predominantly within Limmud. I first attended Limmud with ASFLP and have been volunteering within Limmud for the last 16 years, in roles ranging from Co-Chair of Limmud Conference, Limmud Director, and currently global Chair of Limmud, responsible for everything we do across 50 different communities around the world,” Bogush said.

It is not coincidental that many alumni and youth movement graduates have found their place within Limmud, because there is a genuine empowerment and the ability to take on significant leadership responsibility if you are committed and have the ability to do so. Limmud is one organization which is an essential part of the community but doesn’t see itself a mainstream.

New initiatives also appeal to ASF alumni who don’t find what they need in the community. Gabriella Pomeroy (1999) started up the Carlebach Minyan, an independent minyan, because she experienced one in Israel and did not find the same experience on her return to London. She is also involved with Grassroots Jews which holds independent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services in London. Grassroots is ‘PARTICIPATORY AND FRIENDLY’ and ‘an avowedly inclusive community’.

What of the mainstream organisations themselves – how open are they to talented young professionals joining their ranks?

Steven Lewis is the incoming chair of Jewish Care, the largest Jewish communal organization, who has mentored numerous ASFLP participants in honour of Adam Science who got him involved in the community over 20 years ago:

“Lots of people talk but few actually do. Unless people have it in them to be driven and motivated to make a difference, their potential will not be realized. We are delighted to bring younger people into Jewish Care leadership but they need to be prepared to work their way up to taking on significant responsibility”.

Leadership programs can propel people into involvement in mainstream or independent initiatives, yet self-motivation is a key factor in whichever path they choose. You can’t be a leader unless you have a desire to do, to give and to make a difference.

Nicky Goldman is Director of the new Centre for Jewish Community Leadership in the UK.

This post is from the just-released PresenTense leadership issue; you can also subscribe to PresenTense Magazine and receive this, and future issues, delivered directly to you.