Jewish Innovation in International Collaboration

Launchpad 2015; eJP archives.

By Stefanie Rhodes and Simone Szalmuk-Singer

One of us is a Jewish professional from New York and the other, a lay leader from Melbourne. We are both Schusterman Fellows and over the course of an intense two weeks we forged a connection that highlights the potential of international collaboration in Jewish innovation. To be sure, we are at the beginning of exploring all that we have to learn from one another, but during our initial travels together we were struck by how much can be gained from working together.

Not long after we met at the JFN Conference in Atlanta, we were reunited in Virginia along with 30 other international not-for-profit leaders at the Schusterman Fellowship kick-off. As new Schusterman Fellows, we were joining a network of Jewish professionals and lay leaders eager to strengthen their own leadership capacity and bring change to their organizations and Jewish communities.

The Fellowship, now in its third cohort, is leading the field in its design. It is hyper-tailored to fit the needs and draw out the strengths of each Fellow, while also driving towards a collective impact. It includes an international cohort who have myriad roles in Jewish life.

One week later, we found ourselves together again in Melbourne, Australia, where we served as facilitators and leaders of the annual LaunchPad retreat. LaunchPad empowers bright, young and entrepreneurial Australians to take an active role in shaping the Jewish future. Since launching in 2013, LaunchPad has engaged 250 young Jewish change-makers, inspiring participants to get involved with Jewish organizations and boards across the country and launching such Jewish communal initiatives such as Flying Fox, The Jam Project and Jewish Women of Words.

As Schusterman Fellows and LaunchPad leaders, we are gaining an insider’s perspective on the value of international collaboration and partnership in Jewish life. At the core of what we are learning is the true gift and opportunity that our geographical distance provides for us when coupled with our shared commitment to Jewish innovation. We are able to be curious and authentic because our shared goal is learning so that we can have the greatest possible impact on Jewish life. And we have much to share and learn from one another.

These two leadership experiences are already providing us with key lessons about how best to foster creativity and contribute to the progress of our separate and collective Jewish communities. We are excited to share them here:

  • When there are open and honest communication lines between professionals and lay leaders, the whole community benefits. The potential for creativity and innovation increases when traditional boundaries are removed. Normally, complicated dynamics surrounding the topics of funding, staffing, individual performance and salaries can hinder productive conversations. But when we meet as peers, we get the opportunity to learn from each other and dream together.
  • Hungry for meaningful connection, Jews thrive when connected to the entire global Jewish community. Traditionally, the focus has been on strengthening connections between Diaspora communities and Israel. Our community would also benefit from looking past this dichotomy and seeing the potential of diverse connections among Jews from around the world.
  • Jewish change-makers of all ages are most effective when they are empowered to make decisions. Specifically, we have seen how beneficial peer-to-peer leadership models can be in building the authority and followership of emerging leaders. It is vital to make sure everyone has a voice and that those voices are heard.
  • The most successful models of engagement are those that respond and speak to the growing diversity of their communities.

At both the Fellowship and LaunchPad retreats, we met many deeply motivated and driven people focused on the Jewish future. We were inspired by the power of these collaborative programs to produce outcomes that will likely be transformative for global Jewry. We should celebrate and replicate the ways in which leaders from around the world are connecting, learning and building together.

Stefanie Rhodes is a Schusterman Fellow and Executive Director of Slingshot.
Simone Szalmuk-Singer is a Schusterman Fellow, a Board Director of the Australian Jewish Funders, Jewish Care Victoria and Co-Founder of Jewish Women of Words.