Embodying the Values They Espouse: A New Fellowship Focusing on Global Service

OLAM partner Energiya Global’s solar field on the campus of OLAM partner Agahozo Shalom Youth Village; photo by Yael Shapira.

By Dyonna Ginsburg

Countless organizations in today’s Jewish community affirm the values of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam. Their core mission is not service or social justice. It is Jewish identity, Jewish community-building, and/or Israel engagement. Nonetheless, they see the pursuit of a just world as worthy of inclusion in their organizational values, promotional materials, and discourse.

When it comes to translating these values into action, however, many of these organizations struggle.

Since Tzedek and Tikkun Olam is not their raison d’etre, they lack knowledge of the diversity of opportunities to engage their target populations with global service and international development through a Jewish lens. Even more significant, they lack a honed understanding of how a greater programmatic commitment to global service can enhance their core mission and extend their reach into strategically significant audiences.

How can these organizations better embody the values they espouse? What would it look like for an organization that engages young Jewish adults locally to signpost their alumni to volunteering opportunities abroad? How might an organization focused on Israel engagement expand its curricular offerings to include nuanced conversations about Israel’s role as a global citizen?

These are some of the key questions that led us at OLAM to recently launch the OLAM Impact Fellowship, a twelve-month program (June 2018 – June 2019) to educate, inspire, and empower Jewish communal professionals to become champions for global Jewish service and international development in their organizations and among their constituents.

The first cohort of OLAM Impact Fellows consists of 11 professionals, headquartered in 4 countries, representing organizations that work with young Jews across the world: BBYO, BINA, Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Boston, Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, JLGB, KAHAL, Mitzvah Day, Moishe House, Repair the World, and The Jewish Agency.

Later this week, the Fellows will travel to Rwanda for a first-hand look at several Jewish organizations – Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, Energiya Global, JDC Entwine, MASHAV, and World Jewish Relief – and individuals operating on the ground.

Over an eight-day period, they will explore a variety of case studies of Jewish engagement with global challenges, including volunteering, philanthropy, ethical tourism, and Israeli innovation for development.

They will also discuss Rwanda within its historical and development context. Learning about the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, for example, will allow Fellows to consider their responsibility, as Jews, to others across the world.

This study trip is part of a year-long process that includes two in-person seminars; a webinar series; and a “take action” component in which Fellows will build a personal action plan to embed a greater commitment to global service and international development in their organizations.

The Fellowship includes a “take action” component, despite the fact that it is the Achilles heel of many another fellowship. At OLAM, we know that once participants return to daily life – with its many competing priorities – they find it hard to devote the time and energy to translate their fellowship experiences into concrete and sustained action. But, we are hedging our bets now, by adopting the following three-pronged approach early in our Fellowship’s conception and implementation:

~ Standing on the shoulders of giants

  • The OLAM Impact Fellowship and its components were not created in vacuum. Many of the details – from the criteria for inclusion to the arc of the fellowship – were devised after consultation with some of our trusted partner organizations, such as American Jewish World Service and JDC Entwine, who have run and continue to run fellowship programs of their own. Their insights, gained from years of hard-earned experience, deeply inform our model and the programmatic choices we have made.

~ Positioning the Fellows for success

  • Since our fellowship is more about organizational change than it is about individual development (though we hope that too will occur), it was important to us that Fellows be positioned properly within their organizations to effect change. In selecting Fellows, we looked for those with sufficient authority to initiate new programs, shape staff training modules, and/or shift organizational priorities.
  • Even more importantly, we required that Fellows be nominated by or, at the very least, receive the blessings of their CEOs and/or board. Throughout the selection and launch process, we’ve maintained direct lines of communication with Fellows’ supervisors.
  • While the OLAM Impact Fellowship is heavily subsidized, there is nevertheless a fellowship fee paid by the sending organization, which functions as another way of ensuring organizational buy-in.

~ Creating a community of support and accountability

  • In building the inaugural cohort, we worked hard to ensure that every Fellow has at least one other person whose organizational structure, target demographic, and/or geographic focus is similar, enabling them to think together, support one another, and hold each other accountable. That’s why there are two UK-based organizations, two federations, two organizations that work with Jewish youth, etc. in our first cohort.
  • In addition, each Fellow is assigned an OLAM staff member to serve as a sounding board and resource throughout the year. During the post-trip seminar and the webinar series, Fellows will have ample opportunity to check in and share challenges they’ve encountered and successes they’ve achieved in implementing their “take action” plans in their own organizations.

In a pre-fellowship survey, 81% of our Fellows stated that Tikkun Olam and/or global service and international development is “somewhat,” “very much,” or “extremely” important as a core value in their organizations. When asked whether their organizations’ programming focuses on these areas, however, only 63% answered using these categories.

It is our hope that the OLAM Impact Fellowship – by standing on the shoulders of giants, positioning the Fellows for success, and creating a community of support and accountability – will help the Fellows and their organizations transform values they profess into those they practice, and values they practice into those they do so deeply and strategically.

Dyonna Ginsburg is the Executive Director of OLAM. You can learn more about OLAM, the OLAM Impact Fellowship, and the Fellows at olamtogether.org/fellowship