Outside Perspective, Inside Gain

[Over the next few months, eJewish Philanthropy will be sharing a thought-provoking series of articles written by Schusterman Fellows in an effort to offer a glimpse of leaders in our midst who are approaching work in the Jewish sector with inspiring levels of care, strategy and heart. You can read the framing piece here.]

best-in-classBy Rebecca Youngerman

Today, the working world is more diverse, more dynamic and more creative than ever before. Individuals and organizations in the Jewish sector must take advantage of that fact.

In order to truly gain the skills that we need to build and lead 21st century organizations, we must seek out diverse learning opportunities and adopt best practices from other sectors. As Adam Simon wrote in a recent article, “To Keep Jewish Professionals, Let Them Go,” individuals and organizations alike have much to gain from exposure to new kinds of thinking and fresh ideas that are born “outside” the Jewish sector.

My experience provides a prime example. In 2010, I decided to change my career path and leave the Jewish professional community, a world that I had come to know and love over the previous ten years. My decision was driven by a curiosity about what I might learn from new surroundings, new people and a new sector with different norms.

Today, I am the Executive Director of the Ben Appelbaum Foundation (BAF), an organization that supports early-stage small business owners and nonprofit entrepreneurs in the Tri State area by providing them with mentoring and business advisory services. We work with mentees whose survival depends on leveraging a diversity of cutting edge ideas and business practices formed in a variety of fields. Our mentees have no choice but to borrow the latest tools from a broader toolkit.

What if more people in the Jewish sector felt that same urge?

Based on my experiences, particularly during the past five years, I have identified five examples of best-in class-practices that those who currently work in, may work in, or may one day return to the Jewish sector can adopt:

  1. Seek diverse perspectives: Public and private companies are going out of their way to build teams with diverse experiences that draw upon different perspectives and orientations. For instance, I have seen the relevance of military experience to the small business world. Often, ex-military entrepreneurs demonstrate a distinct sense of discipline, and a different set of leadership skills and level of precision. These same characteristics that once benefited them in the service are now proving to be a draw for potential investors.
  2. Accelerate development: Leading design shops like IDEO take a design to prototype in a matter of days. Companies and individuals who are comfortable with rapid innovation and “test and learn” mindsets are able to improve their products, services and ideas in real time. Concepts “fail” only to lead them to the next great idea. Imagine what large community organizations could do with a shorter or more fluid planning cycle and a fresh perspective on failure. Imagine how we could shift the culture of established Jewish organizations and the experience of their employees by encouraging this kind of practice.
  3. Explore new models of funding: From crowd-lending to crowd-funding, the face of financing is undergoing a major transformation. When Kiva NYC’s Program Associate came to speak to a BAF Master Class, she talked about microfinance and different forms of lending that are making new ventures accessible for people who may not have previously thought they could afford to take the entrepreneurial leap. As a result, we’re seeing a greater diversity of people launching initiatives that benefit many.
  4. Build broader networks: A year ago, the Ben Appelbaum Foundation moved to a WeWork coworking space in downtown Manhattan. BAF’s office is now located at the core of NYC’s share economy. Changing our surroundings has impacted the way that we do business in terms of operations, programing and relationship building. We naturally find ourselves in the center of an entrepreneurial community with access to diverse expertise and business tools that help our organization run more smoothly and save money.
  5. Form new partnerships: The importance of connecting within and beyond our usual circles to make new relationships and forge new partnerships cannot be underestimated. In an October 2015 article, Forbes underscored the importance of partnerships between traditional businesses and social enterprises: there is “growing evidence that business-focused partnerships between these two unique allies can create sustainable, scalable solutions to take on the world’s toughest problems such as poverty and disease, while meeting core organizational objectives.” These types of partnerships can also add value to the nonprofit and Jewish professional sector, where the mutual benefits span well beyond the financial.

These five practices are just some of the ways for-profit companies are serving their bottom line. For nonprofit organizations, including those in the Jewish sector, the bottom line is about much more than earnings. That is why it is so important to be open to new methods for deepening our impact. Part of this includes being open to hiring (or letting go of) individuals who prioritize seeking out new experiences and new skills.

To the organizations who are reading this, I encourage you to think outside the box for your next hire. And to the professionals who are considering their next step, think about the growth that will best round out your abilities. We owe it to the causes we believe in and to ourselves to bring the absolute best thinking and most effective skills on our professional and communal journeys. After all, the more each individual is able to strengthen their skills and diversify their talents, the stronger the talent pool will be for for-purpose organizations, Jewish and beyond.

Rebecca Youngerman is the Executive Director of the Ben Appelbaum Foundation in New York City. She spent the first ten years of her career working at the Holocaust Center of N. California, the Anti-Defamation League, and BBYO, Inc. Rebecca is a Schusterman Fellow and a member of the ROI Community. She currently serves on the Big Tent Judaism Board of Directors.