Inspiring Jewish Connections

by Wendy Kahn

A weekend devoted to innovation; 24 hours devoted to stretching the mind, broadening experiences and challenging assumptions. A space in time to think differently and be exposed to diverse individuals from different backgrounds, with rich experience and perspectives. I gained so much from the Schusterman Foundation’s South African Young Jewish Innovators Gathering on February 11-12.

The weekend provided an opportunity to be exposed to remarkable individuals, each inspiring in a unique way. We were introduced to a vast array of impressive projects that are making a meaningful difference to the country in which we live. Some of these projects operate within our community, some in the broader South African environment. The Schusterman concept highlights these projects and becomes a powerful vehicle for a cross-pollination of ideas and a strengthening of initiatives through constructive connections. The sharing of ideas augments the existing concepts.

Some of the participants were allowed to pitch their ideas using four slides, with just 30 seconds allowed per slide. I was able to pitch our Project Motlanthe concept and ask the group for any ideas or projects that we could integrate into this initiative. The two minutes resulted in a flurry of inspiration – so many meaningful projects and impressive community members that are working to improve education and skills development in our country.

It was so refreshing to have a space to focus on innovation and let the mind grow in interesting new ways. I attended a session that focused on initiating new ideas for entrepreneurship. We learned how to generate innovation as a response to needs derived from the newspaper. How wonderful to focus on solutions rather than problems.

The weekend epitomised for me so many of the qualities that I am so proud of in our community. Again and again we considered, pondered and agonised over ways of addressing challenges in our community and in our country. I think it is so encouraging to see young South Africans deeply committed to finding solutions to make our community and our country better. It is also so encouraging to know that such talented young people are willing to give up a weekend to explore ways to improve life in South Africa.

And then we were exposed to some of the true heroes of our community; Helen Lieberman and Taddy Blecher. These two great South Africans channeled their innovative minds and devoted themselves to address the real challenges of our country. Both have built up successful organisations that have as their sole focus the need to improve the lives of fellow South Africans. Both have done this on a large scale that has touched many South Africans who are so enriched by their efforts. What incredible role models to present to up-and-coming innovators.

And then enter centre stage the legendary Mrs. Lynn Schusterman; the proverbial dynamite in a small package. This is the visionary behind this phenomenal concept.

What amazed me about Lynn is her immediate grasp of the challenges of our environment. In one of her comments to us she acknowledged the competing demands we as South African Jewry face; our responsibilities to the needs of our community as well as the resounding needs in the broader South African society.

I pay tribute to the Schusterman Foundation for their commitment to spreading innovation internationally and for selecting our country as an innovation centre.

Wendy Kahn is the National Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. You can find the SAJBD on Twitter at @SAJBD.

This piece first appeared on the website of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.