By Matt Bar
Two years ago, when I learned that I had been selected as a 2012-2014 Fellow for Joshua Venture Group’s (JVG) Dual Investment Program, I couldn’t believe that I would be joining the ranks of such respected, successful, and impactful individuals. The vote of confidence it gave me that I, too, showed promise like the founders of Sharsheret, JDub Records, Keshet, G-dcast, Challah for Hunger, and numerous others who were a part of the program’s prestigious group of alumni was invaluable.
I was thrilled to receive validation of my venture, Bible Raps, and of my potential as a social entrepreneur. The $80,000 in unrestricted funds, and $14,000 in funds specifically designated to growing my endeavor and my own professional and leadership development, were equally as exciting. This comprehensive support allowed me to frame my next two years in the Program, putting the wind in my sails to take great strides forward – personally, professionally, and organizationally.
Evolving to a Place of Strength
While, like other visionaries, my strengths had always kept me afloat, the long-term capacity building support combined with significant funding from JVG was critical to take my venture to the next level. With this sustained investment, instead of ceaselessly touring, I finally had the time and space to focus on growing the strengths of Bible Raps and shoring up its weaknesses. For me, building the infrastructure of Bible Raps was always my biggest challenge and to have the consistent mentorship of coaches, a cohort of peers, and an extended network enabled my ideas and systems to really take root. For example, I worked for over 18 months with JVG Alumna Tobin Belzer, a noted sociologist and consultant, to build our capacity for program assessment. With her guidance, I created and disseminated evaluations and worked to effectively understand, communicate, and leverage the impact of Bible Raps. This was work that could never have been done at a two-day leadership seminar.
The stability of the Dual Investment Program’s multi-year funding allowed me to experiment and to consider my next steps with a long-term vision. As a result, both my professional skills and Bible Raps have made enormous strides. I’ve worked diligently to improve my management style and after 4.5 years of touring with the same songs and workshop, I have now infused the Program with a freshly recorded album featuring 32 new tracks. I am also currently piloting new curricula built on a digital platform, which will serve as a nexus for Bible Raps programming and its network of educators.
When I first began Bible Raps, I quickly experienced that the world of entrepreneurial Jewish ventures can be a very lonely place. Through connecting with my cohort and with the program’s alumni, I found that there are many others like me with their own struggles and going through similar things that I was experiencing. Getting to spend quality time with seven people with similar passions and frustrations to me was very helpful personally and professionally. Through these friendships, my anxiety dissipated and transformed into inspiration. Being a part of the JVG community made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself, which added fuel to my venture and to my confidence. Seeing the other Fellows’ growth not only motivates me, but it also will help me to grow in the next five years by utilizing the steps I saw them take in my path as entrepreneurs. I saw what they accomplished – and now I know what my next challenges and opportunities are.
Identifying the Next Generation of Jewish Social Entrepreneurs
When JVG asked me to be a part of the nine-member selection committee for the incoming cohort of the Dual Investment Program, which has always included alumni representatives, I jumped at the chance, because frankly, I was intrigued to get to see behind the curtain. I realized that being on the other side of the funding table would humanize the process and that the experience would be invaluable. I also wanted to give back to JVG, an organization that has given me so much. Moreover, I believe that this organization is vital to creating ventures that will last well into the future. Therefore, I felt that it was my responsibility, as someone who cares about the Jewish people, to help select appropriate candidates who can take advantage of these two years and thrive personally and organizationally – thereby introducing and growing organizations and tools that will help our community to flourish.
Selecting the cohort of 2014-2016 Fellows was not easy. When I met the finalists, they were all very impressive human beings with remarkable organizations and inspiring presentations. Now that the process is over and I have some time to reflect on it, I’m so happy that I was able to be a part of it. I have a lot of confidence that the cohort selected is made up of incredibly strong women, and I am so excited for them to take advantage of the new opportunities that are about to be presented to them. I look forward to seeing them embark on their own professional and organizational evolutions over the next two years.
To me, this is the key to Joshua Venture Group’s Dual Investment Program: it impacts both the Fellow and his/her organization in huge and different ways. In my experience, and from what I have heard from other alumni, participants come out of the Program feeling like their ventures advanced significantly during the two years but what is even more valuable is how enormously their personal capabilities have advanced. The real impact of Bible Raps and my cohort, then, is still yet to be seen, and in the five years to come, our organizations will truly take off because we are in a better position to take them there.
Closing Words of Wisdom
My time in the Dual Investment Program has come to a close, but for the six new Fellows, it is only just beginning. My advice to the six of you is this: Use the time, the coaches, and the support wisely and intentionally. Find the right teacher for you, as this is always critical to the best learning. During my first year in the Program, I was open to everything: exploring, talking with people, and trying to determine what my vision should look like. Then, during the second year, I was able to really focus in on the essence of Bible Raps and where I wanted to be. Use the first year to look at data and opportunities without preconceived notions. We chose you, the 2014-2016 Fellows, not only because of your strengths, but because we think you’re open to taking advice from counsel and implementing good ideas. Beyond this, be very excited – you’re about to meet a group of friends you’re going to hold dear to your heart for years to come!
Matt Bar is the founder and executive director of Bible Raps, an educational initiative that uses hip-hop music to breathe new life into the teaching of core Jewish texts. He was a 2012-2014 Fellow in Joshua Venture Group’s Dual Investment Program.
To learn more about Joshua Venture Group’s 2014-2016 Fellows and their ventures, please visit www.JoshuaVentureGroup.org/fellows.