WANTED: More Spaces to Harness Leadership Talent

by Justin Korda

The application process for the ROI Summit is simultaneously one of the best and hardest times of the year for me – best because it reinforces the incredible young Jewish talent coming of age in communities around the world; hardest because I’m reminded that the Jewish world still does not have enough compelling opportunities to nurture all of it. Until we do, far too many young Jews who want to contribute to strengthening the Jewish future will be told “no, but” rather than “yes, and.” Faced with a negative response, many will choose to focus their time and talent elsewhere – a loss for them and for our community.

The ROI Summit, which takes place every June in Jerusalem, is the entry point into the ROI Community, a global network of more than 800 Jewish innovators from 50-plus countries. We launch our application process in December, turning first to members of our community, who reach out to their networks, widening but also deepening our global connections.

In crowdsourcing the process, we have created a bottom-up approach that allows our members – rather than our professional staff – to recruit the talent pool. Indeed, they are the ones who chart our organization’s course. And it is working: every year, the number of applications from passionate young Jews increases, reflecting a surge among people looking for an active seat at the communal table. The applicant pool spans interest areas, skill sets and geographic locations – with ideas coming from beyond just Israel and the U.S.

This process has created what some might consider a good problem: the number of qualified candidates far exceeds the number we can take. We easily could have accepted at least half of the applicants without compromising on quality. We limit ourselves to 150 because we have learned it is the optimal number for creating the type of intense in-person experience that will result in deep connections, lasting partnerships and tangible outcomes.

We are, of course, in good company in this space. Over the past decade, there has been a steady uptick in Jewish programs like Limmud, PresenTense, Moishe House, Joshua Venture and Paideia, to name but a few, that share a passion for empowering a new generation of engaged Jews to explore their identity in exciting and challenging frameworks. Collectively, we are welcoming and helping to prepare a growing number of young Jews who are ready and able to take on leadership roles in defining the future of Jewish life.

And yet, even with the increase in the number and capacity of organizations working to provide compelling opportunities for young people, demand continues to outpace supply.

That, of course, is good news because it speaks to the richness – both in numbers and quality – of talent out there. But it also underscores the responsibility to create more spaces to accommodate this exciting explosion of ideas. After all, as American sociologist, Martha Beck, once said: “Basic human contact – the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words – is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain.” When passionate young people come together, share their dreams and make enduring connections, the excitement they create becomes contagious and the impact tangible.

As a community, we need to commit ourselves to connecting with these reservoirs of talent and creating meaningful opportunities for them to apply themselves to improving their Jewish communities and the world at large. Like many organizations operating in this space, we are thinking long and hard about how we can best do so in ways that will speak to the diversity of needs and talent out there. One idea we have been experimenting with is empowering our Community members to host ROI-inspired gatherings in their home communities. This past year, we supported seven in places like Berlin, Mexico, Israel and Canada.

In addition to the Jewish spaces we as a community are creating, there is great potential in providing opportunities for young Jews to share with and learn from those leading change initiatives across a variety of sectors outside of the Jewish community. To explore this strategy, we are working with all of our colleagues in the Schusterman Philanthropic Network to offer Jewish framing and contexts at secular gatherings of young adults such as South By Southwest – a film, music and technology conference – and NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference.

We look forward to sharing the results of these efforts more broadly and to learning more about additional strategies being explored by many others working on this critical challenge.

Indeed, it is clear that there is no shortage of young people who, given the right opportunities, will devote their time and talent to strengthening the Jewish world. The surging demand highlights the need for more spaces and places for new talent to converge. The question is whether we as a community will collectively step up to the plate to provide them.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it is no wonder it will take a concerted global Jewish effort to foster these young leaders.

Justin Korda is the Executive Director of ROI Community, an international network of activists and change makers who are redefining Jewish engagement for a new generation of global citizens. ROI is a part of the Schusterman Philanthropic Network.