Ten summits in the Making: ROI Community has developed a diverse, Universalist, open-door community that strives to better the world

ROI Summit 2016 2-2Long-timer ROIers share their views

By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

How do you take a multidisciplinary, cross-cultural group of people and create a common language? According to Shimon G. Levy, an Israeli-born resident of Detroit, Mich., one could take a lesson from ROI Community.

A Schusterman initiative, ROI is currently celebrating its 10th ROI Summit in Jerusalem, bringing 150 young Jewish – atheists, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, businessmen, entrepreneurs, chefs, artists, civil rights activists and politicians – into one meeting space. A fusion of networking, skill-building and ideation, explains Levy, the ROI summit is creating community.

ROI Summit 2016 2-1“ROI community is about communicating, resolving, understanding and creating a long-lasting impact,” says Levy, who first got involved with the program in 2011. “As a member of ROI, you use the same language and that language is one that allows you to communicate about different subjects with a level of sensitivity and willingness to learn and budge. It is communicating your stance but with the true goal of achieving a better world.”

At the current ROI conference, you can see Levy’s words coming to fruition. Leading young Jewish change makers from 29 countries are tackling issues such as sexual abuse in the Jewish community, immigration, Middle East peace and more in the halls and social halls of Jerusalem’s Hotel Yehuda. The commitment: building a more vibrant, inviting and inclusive Jewish future for the benefit of the Jewish people and the broader world.

ROI 2016Levy, who is attending this year’s conference, has harnessed his ROI background to do just that. Working full-time in the private sector – he runs an investment fund – Levy spent some years as a senior strategic advisor for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. He says he leveraged connections made through ROI to equip him with the necessary toolkit for personal success and to carry out his passions.

For example, Levy took part in a Jewish-Muslim dialogue program in Israel, working to building bridges among the different streams at different levels of society. He also tackled what it means for Israel to be a Jewish state.

ROI 2016 morning exerciseAriela Lijavetzky, a Jewish innovator and entrepreneur now living in Buenos Aires, joined ROI in 2008, attending a Latin American ROI conference. Since then, she says she has used elements of ROI summits and program, such as creating open spaces, networking and inspirational speeches – to inspire her local community. Today, she works for Ashoka, the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, with nearly 3,000 Ashoka Fellows in 70 countries putting their system changing ideas into practice on a global scale.

Lijavetzky says ROI Community taught her the best thing a Jewish innovator can do is “to start opening the doors of our community.”

“We are in a world that needs a lot of people with innovative ideas, with energy and that are willing to better the world,” Lijavetzky said. “I think the best thing we can do as a Jewish community is to share our richness with the entire world.”

2016 Summit 2-3She continued: “We cannot just think of ourselves as Jews. We need to think of ourselves as human beings who live in this world. We need to think of each other.”

Stephen Shashoua has a similar mindset and skillset, which he picked up since joining the ROI community in 2010. Back then, he was running a small-scale interfaith and intercultural organization in the United Kingdom, Three Faiths Forum. The program was impacting thousands of youth in the UK, and Shashoua was building it up, increasing staff from two to 20 members, adding new educational and art programs, training and policy work. However, once he joined ROI and expanded his network worldwide, he was able to take the Three Faiths Forum worldwide, too.

The program has now been replicated in Sweden and the model is used as a reference point for several other interfaith educational initiatives.

2016 Summit 2-3“ROI gave me a space where I could explore this Universalist idea, rather than just being in Britain,” said Shashoua, who recently moved to Amsterdam and does work in Israel, D.C., L.A. and the UK, among other places.

“ROI was a door into the larger Jewish world,” he said.

Shashoua recently left Three Faiths Forum to pursue a job as a consultant for interfaith and intercultural work. He helps companies deal with religion in the workplace, tackles with NGOs and for-profits how to help counter prejudice, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Shashoua said he may have once been a Jewish innovator, but he has dropped the “Jewish” label – though his work is rooted in ROI’s Jewish values. Today, he sees himself as “simply an innovator,” and someone who can help bring about a new wave of interfaith dialogue that can be “more authentic and a little louder.”

2016 Summit 2-4“We feel lucky to be able to look back on a decade of community activity, to learn from our challenges and success over the years and to see the tangible impact that our members have created in communities across the globe,” said Justin Korda, ROI executive director during his opening remarks at the Jerusalem summit. “This group of change makers is injecting the Jewish world with a boost of energy and creativity that will shape the Jewish future for years to come.”

Photos by Snir Katzir