Schusterman Foundation Raises the Bar with New Initiative

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (CLSFF) announced this morning that Atlanta lay leader and attorney Seth Cohen will join the senior leadership team of the Foundation as Director of Network Development. This well-planned move clearly leapfrogs the foundation to the forefront of global efforts to engage young Jewish adults and strengthen their ties to each other, and the broader community.

Over the past decade, our Jewish community has witnessed an accelerating pace of change and expanding opportunities for choice. This has come about through the launch of a diverse number of programs, initiatives and independent networks that seek to engage young adults and their peers through the many facets of their identities. The Foundation recognizes the time is ripe to begin finding ways to connect these vibrant hubs of activities, experiences and networks in service of its larger goal of building inspired, enduring Jewish communities.

In this new position, Cohen will initiate and direct efforts by the Foundation to work with existing and emerging networks of young Jewish adults around the world, an increasingly important and influential part of our global Jewish community. His responsibilities will include identifying, animating and linking those networks and their leadership to resources that will enable them to create meaningful Jewish experiences for themselves and their peers.

Working in close collaboration with colleagues at the Foundation, the Schusterman Foundation Israel and the ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators, Cohen will oversee a complementary mix of programs and partnerships designed to further the Foundation’s goal of helping as many young Jewish adults as possible connect with one another and work together to build vibrant Jewish communities.

The strategic approach Cohen will develop is a natural extension of the Foundation’s efforts over the past two decades to enrich the Jewish lives of young adults. It will build on and support its continuing efforts to fund and collaborate with Jewish institutions and organizations; to incubate, pilot and launch new programs and initiatives; and to empower young Jewish innovators to create new avenues of Jewish experiences through the ROI Community.

While Cohen’s mandate is global, with different challenges and opportunities in each country, those in the U.S. are particularly interesting. A significant part of the reason many of these initiatives launched was the failure of the “organized” community to adequately address the needs of this demographic. This, unfortunately, is still true today.

Therefore the implementation of this new network approach can not come soon enough. Our organizational world, at best, is treading water. Most are stuck in the past without adequate execution for the future.

While one could debate if programs such as the Jewish Federation’s recent TribeFest was, or was not, a success, the event – like almost all run across the organized Jewish world’s landscape – continues to mostly attract those who already have a connection. A long-term recipe for failure that even JFNA recognizes. In fact, their own strategy document says, “federations are not connecting effectively with young Jews and that the federation “message” does not resonate with this population.” The document continues, “Those young adults 18 to 34 will not “age into” federation involvement as previous generations did. In other words, there is something fundamentally different about this age group, and if our methodology does not employ new energy and innovation, they will be lost forever.”

The federation system is not alone; there is no role model organization, anywhere, to follow. Innovative programs are filling the gap, not only in London, New York and Los Angeles, but points in-between. Additionally, Limmud – offering a range of programs and opportunities – continues to expand around the world as it focuses on content relevant to this cohort.

Our established organizations, despite the statements of their leadership, continue to operate in their own past. The forward thinking, and more important implementing, in the Jewish world today is coming from a hand-full of foundations around the globe. Their nimbleness, their adapting to the realities of the world we live in – including embracing of younger professionals in key roles – all play a part in their execution.

In agreeing to this new initiative of the Foundation, Lynn Schusterman said, “We are committed to empowering young Jewish adults to take ownership of their Jewish identity and lives”.

With Cohen at the fore-front, and backed by the strengths of the Schusterman Foundation and their global networks, I’d say that the bar has just been significantly raised.

You can read Seth’s welcome post on the Schusterman Foundation website.

Based in Atlanta, Cohen is an accomplished professional, activist and author on topics of Jewish communal life and innovation. His current Jewish community activities include serving as a President of Jewish Family & Career Services in Atlanta and a Trustee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. He has also recently served as a member of the Strategic Planning Committee of the Jewish Agency for Israel and a member of the board of Joshua Venture Group, a New York-based non-profit supporting the development of outcomes-focused Jewish innovation.

For the past 13 years, Cohen has worked as an attorney, most recently as a partner at the international law firm of Holland & Knight LLP, leading its Atlanta corporate and M&A team with a practice that includes representing companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 10 telecommunications companies. Throughout his career, Cohen has also held numerous volunteer leadership roles in the non-Jewish community, including as a member of the Board of Directors of the 24/7 Gateway Center, Atlanta’s premier program for addressing chronic homelessness, and numerous other civic initiatives, including serving as a lead attorney in a federal lawsuit protecting the voting rights of Georgia citizens. He contributes regularly to and can be found on Twitter at @sethacohen33.