“Do you have the audacity to dream big? What risks will you take to make these big dreams happen? Who are the people who will help you along the way, and who can you help in return?”
These are the questions Lynn Schusterman posed at the opening of this year’s ROI Summit in Jerusalem, where 150 young change-makers from 32 countries have gathered for a five-day conference that invites them to both be, and create, much of its content. Proof of this peer-led approach lies in the fact that much of the Summit experience revolves around sessions rooted in peer-to-peer skill- and knowledge-sharing.
Participants are encouraged to get to know each other and benefit from the pool of talent at the Summit. The conference is designed to create vehicles for collaboration, collusion and partnerships in an open and non-judgmental fashion.
Innovations such as an online platform through which participants can arrange 30-minute meetings of the mind (“Brain Dates”) allow the creative juices to flow abundantly and freely at the ROI Summit. Other out-of-the-box sessions at this year’s gathering include Creativity Studios, Flip Panels and ROI’s staple Open Space Technology, where 150 people are invited to discuss – in self-selected groups – any and every issue of significance to them. The latter, a modality developed by Harrison Owen, operates by the Law of Two Feet: if you are neither gaining from nor contributing to a given conversation, feel free to pick yourself up and move to a group where you can.
The participants at the 2015 Summit are not just change-makers – many are also innovators in a wide variety of fields who have received high-level, international recognition for their projects and achievements. There are participants who are developing nanosatellites with NASA, LGBT consultants for the UN NGO Committee for Human Rights, Global Shapers with the World Economic Forum and a White House Champion of Change.
It is no stretch to say that with such high caliber and diverse participants, the future of Jewish creativity, innovation and Tikkun Olam is being fuelled from these Jerusalem Summits.
The current Jewish communal conversation is fixed on several important issues – in particular, Jewish continuity in the face of the recent Pew Report; battling BDS and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy; and the place, as well as the contribution, of Jews in wider society. While these are important issues, they are usually dealt with in a “top-down” approach, leaving little room for engagement with those most affected by them: tomorrow’s leaders and change-makers.
At the ROI Summit, the participants wanted to speak about many of these topics, but not from a traditional viewpoint or as a means to a slightly different end.
In the breakout Open Space sessions, the core themes and souls of the participants were laid bare. As one can imagine with this group, the areas of discussion remained anything but predictable.
Questions such as how to challenge the Jewish establishment to become more innovative, how to make initiatives transnational and “glocalized,” and defining a new approach to intermarriage demonstrated that many Summit participants share the concerns of the wider Jewish community, but are obviously not satisfied with the passive role they have been asked to play in these issues thus far – rather, they desire to take on active roles in tackling them in the future.
Other thoughtful (and thought-provoking) topics raised by the group – including improving the place of the disabled in the community, the role of cultural Judaism, the future of venture capitalism and social action in the Jewish world, and the need to foster greater leadership in the Jewish community – proved that there is a vital necessity to expand the communal conversation to engage Jewish millennials.
However, most importantly, the Summit provides a creative space for young Jews from differing backgrounds and expertise to connect with others, gain new and much needed perspective and discover opportunities for fruitful collaboration.
The defining principle uniting the participants is their deep care for change and progress, especially from a Jewish perspective; however, their approaches to this goal are incredibly varied and diverse. In this sense, the Summit has a very practical role to play, in that it offers participants so many opportunities for cross-fertilization.
For example, young people from smaller Jewish communities around the world, like Havana, Calgary and Athens, were able to discuss similar challenges regarding greater communal involvement and assimilation trends.
Musicians, social change activists, venture capitalists and artists are meeting, sharing ideas with their peers from across the world, and looking for areas of common interests and values to take their ideas and projects to the next level.
Moreover, in the narrative of irreconcilable differences between Israel and the Diaspora, the ROI Summit provides an important space for Israelis and Jews from across the world to focus on what defines us rather than that which divides.
The theme guiding this year’s Summit is shmita. Over the course of the gathering, participants are embarking on a journey of pausing, shifting perspective and re-visioning, leaving them with renewed motivation and energy to go back to their communities and better the world.
This “sabbatical” provides the creative impetus to dream anew, with the help of peers, and take up the gauntlet laid down by Lynn Schusterman to create the networks that will define the Jewish world in the years to come.