By Bradley Caro Cook
Not long ago, Birthright Alumni experienced something of a social media tragedy when Facebook launched its new platform. Group policies shifted, and administrators were responsible for renewing their groups or they wouldn’t carry over to the new and improved site. Many administrators were unaware of the new policy, and the result was unfortunate: thousands of Birthright Israel alumni who had relied on Facebook pages to stay connected watched their groups disappear, and with no follow-up framework for them to reconnect, countless relationships were lost.
Hearing the stories of long-lost buses, I hoped to integrate a strong social media component into my organization, Project Beyond, a week-long personalized Israel trip extension, often tacked onto the end of a Birthright experience. During those seven days, Project Beyond participants meet and form relationships with leaders in their respective fields of interest through a variety of tracks such as Arts and Entertainment, Food, Culture, and Sustainability, and High-Tech, Enterprise and Innovation. We also help our participants extend into longer internship programs. I knew the immense value of maintaining these relationships, and envisioned an internal social media network for Project Beyond that would link to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. This network would be available in both an app and desktop platforms to enable all participants and staff, both American and Israeli, to keep all connections intact, regardless of changes in other social network policies. This online community would also provide me with a means to communicate with participants and their parents before the program even begins, to help them prepare and integrate as smoothly as possible, and to make connections both with me and each other.
There was no overestimating the value of an idea like this one. It would help tremendously with pre- and post- travel engagement, enhance the experience for the participants and their families, and maintain the relationships they made in Israel after returning home. It would also enable my organization to collect data, run reports, maintain the participants’ agendas, incorporate a GPS, facilitate bulk messaging, and more.
But as a startup with limited funding, I was brought up short by quotes from app developers to the tune of $50-70k. At the time, I was working 90 hours a week, had two people on my staff, had yet to receive any major grants, and wasn’t taking a living wage for myself. With numbers like that, my social media platform seemed like a pipe dream.
Still, I didn’t let that stop me. I took my idea to the Israel Dealmakers Summit 2015, the premier Israel-focused business event that gathers entrepreneurs, innovators, venture capitalists, investors, and major philanthropists from around the globe. It is indeed one of the most exclusive Israel related business events (as the $1,295 tickets will attest), and it is one of my top destinations to share my organization to Israeli business leaders, innovators, venture capitalists, and high tech executives. My first year at the summit, I was able to put together my initial advisory board, and I was honored to be invited back. This time, they gave me the gift of a lifetime.
In 2014, I had used LinkedIn to arrange meetings and make contact with participants at the Summit. But this year, Landmark Ventures, the host of the event, used Bizzabo, an Israeli company that creates what they call an “all-in-one event success platform.” The site for each event includes the speakers, provides contact information for all of the participants, includes a mobile app, allows participants to connect to social media, gives event feedback, creates a community, and more. This technology was precisely what I was looking to integrate into Project Beyond. At the conference, I met one of their executives and raved about the platform, telling him how much I needed it for my organization.
“So join Bizzabo,” he said. “You can host Project Beyond there.”
It was a brilliant idea, especially when I learned that it would only cost me $900 for the year for unlimited “events,” and related websites. It would also enable Project Beyond participants to pay the $699 fee to participate in Project Beyond. As a bonus, they charged a lower commission than the other service I had been using. So with my $900, I would multiply the value of my organization exponentially, not to mention streamline our accounting, bookkeeping, data collection, follow-up methods, and scalability in one fell swoop. Adapting Bizzabo for Project Beyond was a logical choice.
One of the aspects of using Bizzabo, especially for my organization, which is tied so closely to Israel, is that it incorporates a platform with which Israeli executives are already familiar. It made it simple for them to enroll in the Project Beyond community as well.
As a Jewish social entrepreneur living in Israel, I’m proud to be using a platform created by an Israeli startup. It makes me feel like I’m supporting my family’s business. Every time a Project Beyond participant contacts me via the Bizzabo platform, or when we use it to navigate our way around Tel Aviv, I point out that we are in Israel, where the hotbed of innovation. Our participants then have a context and experience within the Israeli startup ecosystem. The greatest part though, is when Project Beyond participants get to meet and form relationships with the innovators behind the technologies that we are using.
While resourcefulness and Israeli technology, rather than major funding, enabled us to implement this platform, I still hope to increase funding for Project Beyond so that we can increase the number of yearly Project Beyond participants that deepen their Birthright experience by developing relationships Israeli innovators using Israeli based solutions. I’m thankful that we now have a way to ensure that participants in our program have a solid way to stay connected to each other and the Israeli ecosystem, no matter what new changes the social media world may bring.
Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D., is the executive director of Project Beyond. He believes that the answer to all of the world’s problems can be found in Israeli innovation. Bradley can be reached via Twitter: @bradleycooks or email: [email protected]
See what we will be doing this May at events.bizzabo.com/ProjectBeyondMay/home