Introducing Smart Money: Recommendations for an Educational Technology and Digital Engagement Investment Strategy

By Kari Alterman and Josh Miller

In just a few days, Jewish philanthropists, foundation professionals and communal leaders will join together in Atlanta at the Jewish Funders Network (JFN) 2017 conference. We will learn, question, and explore a range of topics of import to our collective work. For our foundations – the Jim Joseph Foundation and William Davidson Foundation – JFN 2017 will provide a special opportunity to share and discuss just-released findings from Smart Money: Recommendations for an Educational Technology and Digital Engagement Investment Strategy, a new report based on research conducted by Lewis J. Bernstein and Associates this past year.

Our foundations chose to commission this study to address a core set of questions that feel pertinent in a world where technology has become such a prevalent part of our daily lives. How are new technological developments affecting learning – and Jewish learning in particular? How might funders develop the expertise to invest strategically in new tools, and in the people developing those tools, to advance our Jewish educational missions?

While we knew that significant opportunities existed for Jewish education in this space, we also knew there was much that we simply did not know. So as we decided to co-invest in research about educational technology and digital engagement, we sought to keep our minds open to new ideas. We were eager to learn from the experts.

Initially, we intended this report to be solely for our foundations’ internal purposes. However, after reviewing it, we understood that the learnings are highly relevant to others in the field: funders, practitioners, community leaders and anyone interested in how tools of Ed Tech could advance cultural and religious learning and engagement.

The report offers fascinating insights that begin to answer the big questions with which we wrestle. And it brings to the fore new questions as well. Divided into two sections, Smart Money first includes a set of recommendations for funders to consider, such as investment strategies, priorities, different structures for collaborations, and more. The second section provides a landscape analysis of educational technology and digital engagement tools and trends – both secular and Jewish. We find this section to be of particular interest, as it showcases the field’s efforts to date, the vast room for growth, and successful models from the secular world that we could adapt to Jewish contexts. As a whole, we believe Smart Money is a substantive starting point to explore this space and to build collaborations around shared interests to leverage these new tools to their fullest.

To that end, we are excited to release this report in coordination with Jewish Funders Network. We are pleased that JFN leadership has commissioned a series of white papers that will probe deeper into different topics raised in the report. This will stimulate additional conversation about the learnings. Over the course of the next few weeks, we all will have the opportunity to read some of those papers as they are unveiled in eJewishPhilanthropy.

Additionally, our partners at JFN are taking the leading role in developing a website to house this report and related white papers, and to keep the field updated on developments and collaborations around educational technology and digital engagement as they emerge. We look forward to sharing the website when it is live.

Finally, just as the findings and recommendations in Smart Money already have spurred us to advance this conversation publicly, we hope they also inspire you to consider dedicating time and resources to learn more and experiment with these ideas. We hope that together we can find new ways to use these powerful tools to help advance our collective work within the Jewish community and beyond.

Kari Alterman is Senior Program Officer of Jewish Life and Continuity at the William Davidson Foundation. Josh Miller is Chief Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation. Read Smart Money: Recommendations for an Educational Technology and Digital Engagement Investment Strategy.