Innovation Thunders Down Under

By Courtney Cardin, Bradley Caro Cook, David Cygielman, and Eyal Halamish

What if we, in America, could turn back the clock to a time when adult Jewish literacy was high, intermarriage was low, and Jews performing Jewish traditions was the norm rather than the exception? How would we innovate proactively to ensure an engaged Jewish future?

Enter Australia – A country with 120,000 Jews, ~65% percent of whom marry Jewish, ~55% of whom attended Jewish day school and 91% who have visited Israel at least once.  Six years ago, with bold foresight, Tracie Olcha, CEO of Australian Jewish Funders stepped up to create LaunchPad – A Platform for Jewish Innovation in Australia, with the support of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation and more recently JCA to inspire greater Jewish connection and engagement in Australia. LaunchPad Retreat is a gathering of diverse Jewish communal and lay leaders who over a three day intensive, collaboratively design simple solutions to the complex problems facing the Australian Jewish community. Then throughout the year, the LaunchPad Network, consisting of participants from past LaunchPad retreats gather to implement those ideas.

This article doesn’t fully describe the LaunchPad Retreat, which you can read about here, but rather is a reflection by four American innovators:

  1. The Australian societal, Jewish, and philanthropic landscape
  2. The ripe opportunities to prevent the downward spiral of Jewish engagement experienced in America
  3. What Americans can learn from Australian innovation to strengthen innovation in America

Eyal Halamish: A Sociological Perspective

To understand Australian innovation, we first need to understand how the Australian community operates. In Australia, there is a natural appetite for teamwork and collaboration to identify ways in which there is a social connection and benefit in whatever they do. Unlike the American model, which is a winner-take-all or “I can do it alone model,” the collaborative model is embedded in Australia’s social fabric.

The positives are higher education levels and more consideration for environmental and social impact before taking action. The negatives are that, as a smaller community, there is less funding available and so less opportunity to take risks. Thus, very few people are stepping out and taking bold action. LaunchPad creates an environment in which risks can be safely taken in a collaborative manner which is conducive to designing initiatives to address the problems facing the Australian Jewish community.

David Cygielman, American vs Australian Jewish Innovation

Jewish innovation looks different because the majority of Jews in Australia are already engaged in Jewish life. It becomes more of a question of how to keep new generations engaged in a way that is meaningful and relevant for them.  

Jewish life with friends and neighbors already exists, so this needs to be fostered and nurtured. On the funding side, there is only one major “federation” in Australia, the JCA, which serves New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, which includes Sydney and Canberra. As well, unlike America, there are not large numbers of mega-funders and the existing funders fund more traditionally, generally through financial support of established organisations.

In addition, you’ll find that the legacy organizations sit in the same space as startups and new ventures, which is virtually unheard of in the U.S. For example, the National Council for Jewish Women in Australia, and others, are actively partnering with Australian startup initiatives to address the community issues together, with LaunchPad as the instigator and facilitator of these partnerships.

Courtney Cardin, Island Mentality

As far as innovation is concerned, the Australian Jewish community shares a great deal with Israel’s innovation community. Both countries operate with an island mentality. One is surrounded by water and the other is landlocked by hostile neighbors; the result is the same – internal reliance on resources and support to be successful. Australians and Israelis look internally for information and support and approach innovation more collectively rather than individualistically. There is a collective, “us against the world” mentality and you’ll find that LaunchPad leverages that mentality to bring together Jewish leaders with diverse backgrounds and interests asking them to leverage their own unique skill-sets to solve problems for the community.

By providing Jewish leaders permission to ideate and innovate, LaunchPad compels them to do so for the good of the broader community. LaunchPad reminds us that in the Jewish community, success is celebrated. There is a tremendous value placed on being a thought leader and provider and using all of one’s gifts to contribute to the community. LaunchPad serves as a reminder that all Jews, regardless of where they live, have a responsibility to be the best version of themselves and contribute fully to the Jewish community.

Bradley Caro Cook, Applied Jewish Wisdom

At the intersection of Jewish Wisdom and innovation, there are defining, deeply Jewish characteristics of the Australian Jewish community.

  • AnavaHumilty: In Australia, the funders involved during the days of LaunchPad were indistinguishable from non-funders both in their engagement and airs. The funders took a similar “all hands on deck” approach to designing the innovation solutions.  
  • Achdoottogetherness: Unlike America, which has a Shark Tank approach to innovation, aka, the “best” idea gets $10,000, and the rest get none or significantly less. At LaunchPad, each initiative developed on the LaunchPad Retreat or a new idea following on from the Retreat (which involves a collaboration between at least 2 LaunchPadders) can apply for a Dave Grant. These grants are up to $7,500 to seed their innovation.
  • Nachshons amongst the Orthodox being the first: I was surprised when the leader of LGBTQ proposal was an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, not one sitting on the fringe of Orthodox Jewish life, but one who leads a major orthodox congregation. He rallied others to step into the conversation with him on how to support the local Jewish LGBTQ community. He led this collaboratively and humbly with others across the spectrum of Judaism, seamlessly with a common cause.

Australias Bold Opportunity

With a fertile foundation of high day school attendance and other successful Jewish education endeavors, there is a major opportunity for Australian philanthropists and foundations to fund-boldly and capitalize on the energy of activists and leaders like those in the LaunchPad network moving forward. Bold moves to fund innovation on the part of these funders will ensure a vibrant Jewish Australia and connection to Israel for future generations..

Call To Imagination

Imagine if there was a LaunchPad in North America which collaboratively brought together innovators, funders, legacy organization leaders, and activists across the Jewish spectrum to collaboratively create simple solutions to the complex problems faced by North American Jewry. The LaunchPad model goes straight to the people who are actually seeing the problem and asking them to craft the solution together.

How great the impact would be on American Jewry if we had a LaunchPad – What a wonderful world it would be.

All four authors are members of the Schusterman ROI Community and attended the LaunchPad Retreat in Australia in May, 2019.

Courtney Cardin is an attorney and progressive advocate working at the intersection of law, policy, politics, and finance to build a more inclusive, holistic economic system. Courtney works with impact investors, funds managers, and social enterprises to design, implement, and assess impact measurement frameworks, policy campaigns, and strategic plans for investing in solutions to complex economic, environmental, and social challenges.

Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D. has a 20 year history of developing and implementing cross-sector simple-solutions to complex social problems. He is the CEO of Growth Exponential which is pioneering growth-hacking methodologies for Jewish engagement, co-founder of Career Up Now, founder of the city of Beverly Hills’ Entrepreneurship Incubator, as well as a Birthright Israel, Eli Talks, and Nahum Goldmann fellow.

David Cygielman is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Moishe House. He has been a nonprofit innovator since high school when he started Feed the Need, a nationally recognized homeless feeding organization. David has garnered many honors including the Avi Chai Fellowship, the JCSA Young Leadership Award, the Bernard Reisman Award for Professional Excellence and was the recipient of UCSB Hillel’s inaugural Alumni Achievement Award.

Eyal Halamish is an entrepreneur, activist and executive leadership coach raised in Chicago and living in Melbourne, Australia. Eyal has built a number of businesses which sit at the intersection of government, technology and policy. He has worked with entrepreneurs across the US, UK, Australia and SE Asia to take their businesses from startup to investment.