The Power of Network Development

by Deborah Fishman

After being a part of the ROI conference for Jewish innovators last June, David Brown, Social Action Coordinator at JHub in London, came home inspired – and filled with questions. How do these young Jews and the initiatives they represent relate to the establishment? And what is “Jewish” about Jewish innovation, anyway?

There are many approaches David could have taken to seek answers. Ultimately, I encouraged him to conduct a survey of around 70 innovators he was in contact with, the results of which he distilled for PresenTense Magazine. By utilizing the power of his network, David learned what his peers were thinking about the issues on his mind – resulting in a new consciousness of the “why” behind what he does that will inform his sense of purpose as he continues his important work.

Creative thinkers and doers are emerging as leaders of the Jewish people. But they can’t achieve change in a vacuum. They need to reach others – to leverage the power of those who care about the same issues they do. This could mean recruiting supportive connections to join their cause through instrumental commitments of money, time, or advice to help them grow for the future. It also could mean connecting with others engaged in similar work to explore best practices, ways to work together, and channels for emotional support from others likely experiencing some of the same challenges, frustrations, and rewards.

The process of reaching others happens by maximizing connections through a network – where together we can achieve more than we could as individuals.

Network development is an emerging area for Jewish organizations. Many are rising to the challenge of engaging the next generation. While establishing one-on-one relationships with young people is important, some organizations are additionally recognizing that they can achieve powerful results through enabling young people to connect with each other and leveraging the power of the emerging network.

I have come to fundamentally believe that this is best way to foster young leaders, within an individual organization or at large: through finding ways for them to collaborate, form communities, and connect personally and professionally, whether through social media, in-person, or in a conference setting. Through engaging in such network development work, an established organization can provide these new voices with an invaluable conduit to the wider Jewish world, enabling them to connect with and influence the larger, global conversation. At the same time, the organization itself benefits from the ideas, new energy, and passion of these up-and-coming leaders. It can also be recognized as a convening organization which brings thinkers and doers to the table and empowers them to realize their goals and dreams.

Over the past five years, I have had the opportunity to dedicate my passion and energy to the burgeoning field of network development through my work at PresenTense, growing a network of more than 500 community members organized principally around the production of PresenTense Magazine. I have been continually amazed and inspired by a richly diverse spectrum of contributors and their intense commitment toward solving the critical challenges facing the Jewish world.

Through the experiences of my work, I have distilled some strategies in network development, some of which include:

  • Recognize the importance of the process: Up-and-coming leaders are surely more than capable of networking and sharing ideas on their own. However, the effects of these efforts can be magnified by providing them with a set process and forum. This will allow for growth, connections, and the refinement of ideas – and training in how to network effectively.
  • Practice sharing ideas: In a world of social media and information overload, powerful messages communicated fast can go further than ever before – and the network can be the place for the research and development of compelling narratives.
  • Connect those with expertise in a given field: Peer learning can be extremely influential and avoids the unnecessary re-creation of the wheel.
  • Enable a prosumer ecosystem: Encourage each person to both “consume” and to “produce” – to learn, contribute, collaborate, and absorb. This creates a culture of activism and yields results that truly represent the voice of the network.

When done successfully, network development should instigate a vibrant conversation on important Jewish issues, where everyone can express themselves, learn what others are thinking, and find ways to collaborate to take action. It should also provide personal and professional development – where young leaders gain skills to communicate ideas effectively and to listen effectively to help refine the ideas of others. Finally, it will produce strong connections – individual to individual – which ultimately build an active network.

Deborah Fishman started at PresenTense Magazine as a volunteer writer, editor, and then Managing Editor, coordinating nearly 100 volunteers at a time; then as a PresenTense staff member in the role of Network Animator, finally the past few months serving as Editor & Publisher. During this time, she managed a grassroots network which grew to over 500 young Jewish volunteers delving into the burning issues of Jewish life today: from Social Action to Jewish Heroes to their latest Leadership Issue. She is looking for new opportunities to utilize her skill sets, networks, and drive to find ways to increase her peers’ impact so that their solutions will lead us all to a better future.