Reflections on the Collaboratory

Collaboratory headerby Laura Baum

Being a Jewish innovator can sometimes feel like an isolated experience – as it often requires a great deal of focus and hard work. But there are days when innovators also feel connected and part of a larger network. One of those days is the Collaboratory – which puts 100 young Jewish leaders in a room for a great day of learning, networking, and connecting. Voila! You emerge with great new skills, ideas, and colleagues!

Last week, I attended my second Collaboratory. It’s a joint effort to activate networks and propel young leadership forward. Generously supported by the Schusterman Philanthropic Network, the day is spearheaded by Upstart, Bikkurim, Joshua Venture Group, PresenTense Group, ROI Community, and Slingshot – an impressive group of groups of innovators (how’s that for scale?!).

The morning keynote, “Saboteurs and Sages: Quieting the Brain to Make Space for Wisdom, Deep Insights, and Untapped Mental Power,” was delivered by Rae Ringel, one of the most dynamic speakers I have ever heard. Rae asked us to reflect on our own thought habits – and to better understand how our thinking affects our feeling which affects our acting which affects our results. As a tennis fan, I appreciated the formula she shared from tennis expert Timothy Gallway: we maximize potential when our performance has the least possible amount of interference.

After Rae inspired us, we broke into four sessions covering everything from fundraising to the language of leaders to sustainability and energy management. I went to “Date Your Donors” with Jonah Halper. Of course, this session wasn’t literally about dating your donors – but did talk about applying relationship skills and paradigms to engaging a new generation of philanthropists. Jonah opened the session by asking us to marry him – he was just kidding though and creating a “teachable moment” about relationship building.

In the afternoon we got a real treat from Dave Wish, founder and executive director of Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization that funds and runs one of the largest free instrumental music programs in US public schools today. Dave has initiated and managed the launch of campaigns to restore and revitalize music education for more than 250,000 low-income children in ten states.

When I first saw the agenda for the day, I wondered why Dave was on it – what did his organization have to do with Jewish nonprofits? Not much, in a concrete way! But, Dave has an amazing success story of creating a real change movement within music teaching. He’s got a fantastic entrepreneurial spirit that he has channeled into social good – and is an inspiring speaker. On top of that, he even got all of us to be part of his band! See the video of our talents.

We ended the day with a round of lightning fast case studies. I’ve done these several times before at various events; they’re an opportunity to sit with three others, share a dilemma, and get some insights from them. Of course, I loved meeting three new people, hearing stories, and supporting one another.

One of the quotations that we started the day with came from Rae Ringel’s presentation:

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” (Henry Bergson, French philosopher)

Thanks to the Collaboratory and the organizations involved in it, the day allowed us to change, to mature, and to continue creating ourselves as leaders of Jewish organizations. Now that’s what I call a successful day!

Laura Baum is rabbi and co-founder of OurJewishCommunity.org, an online synagogue that reaches hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Follow her on Twitter @Rabbi.