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‘Network’ The New Buzzword Of Nonprofit World

by Tamar Snyder
Published on May 18, 2011 in The Jewish Week

I help people plug in USB cables,” quips Seth Cohen as he begins to describe his new role as the recently appointed director of network devel­op­ment for The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

Seth Cohen, top, is new director of network devel­op­ment for the Schusterman Family Foundation; Rabbi Melissa Weintraub bottom.

The title, he says, “is much more cryptic than some of the thinking.”

We recog­nize that as the nature of Jewish life continues to change, more and more of the way people are iden­ti­fying them­selves and expressing them­selves is not just through affil­i­ating with orga­ni­za­tions but with networks,” Cohen says. “They are tapping into formal networks, like ROI [Community] and the National Young Leadership Cabinet of the [Jewish Federations of North America], or through orga­ni­za­tions like Moishe House, networks of folks that are created independently.”

The Schusterman Foundation has been a leading propo­nent of the power of networking as a tool to encourage inno­va­tion among young Jews. Since 2006, the foun­da­tion has funded the ROI Global Summit, a confer­ence held each summer that brings together more than 100 young, inno­v­a­tive, and creative Jewish leaders from around the globe for skill-building, profes­sional devel­op­ment and, of course, networking. To encourage collab­o­ra­tion among members of the ROI commu­nity, the Schusterman Foundation has doled out more than half a million dollars in grants, with pref­er­ence given to projects like Jewcology​.com and Jewish Salons, which are launched by a group of ROIers, rather than an individual.

Taking a cue from the “Jewish Innovation Economy” report published by Jumpstart, The Natan Fund and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, which found that many of the networks in Jewish life are isolated from one another, the Schusterman Foundation is among the first Jewish phil­an­thropic orga­ni­za­tions to publicly invest in efforts to link its commu­ni­ties with other promi­nent networks of young Jews.

We have a unique set of rela­tion­ships through ROI and programs like the REALITY Israel Experience for Teach For America Corps Members and Kivun [a five-month profes­sional devel­op­ment program], and unique visi­bility,” Cohen says. “We have the respon­si­bility and a role to play in helping to weave together networks in stronger and more inten­tional ways.”

Cohen brings with him crucial ties — both as an active lay leader within the Jewish commu­nity and as an attorney in private prac­tice in Atlanta. He is a board member of The Joshua Venture Group, which provides a select group of Jewish social entre­pre­neurs with more than $100,000 in funding and support to help them create inno­v­a­tive and sustain­able orga­ni­za­tions that will benefit the Jewish community.

Transitioning from lay leader to Jewish communal profes­sional wasn’t some­thing he initially envi­sioned. “I had a very fulfilling law career,” says Cohen, who was a partner at inter­na­tional law firm Holland & Knight LLP. But the more he spent time with what he dubs “Team Schusterman,” the more the idea excited him. “You don’t need to wait until your encore career to enter the world of Jewish communal work,” he says.

A regular commen­tator on issues of social change and inno­va­tion in Jewish life for eJew­ish­Phil­an­thropy, Cohen is no stranger to “estab­lished” networks within the Jewish commu­nity. The 37-year-old is a member of JFNA’s Young Leadership Cabinet and is also a trustee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. He’s served in volun­teer lead­er­ship roles at AIPAC, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Israel Chamber of Commerce. He’s also an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage program.

There are amazing networks out there that are not specif­i­cally Schusterman networks,” he says. “JFNA has some very smart profes­sionals who are devel­oping a strategy to further network young Jewish adults. Where possible, we will partner with those orga­ni­za­tions.” The goal? “To achieve a more networked Jewish community.”

The first task on the job will be to take an inven­tory of all the connected efforts within Jewish life that “work.” Then, Cohen will work with the foun­da­tion to brain­storm ways to weave them together. The idea is to help young Jews under­stand and tap into the resources that are avail­able to them to create more Jewish expe­ri­ences for them­selves and for their peers.

There are an amazing number of young adults doing an amazing number of things, but often the way they find other fellow trav­elers is serendip­i­tous,” he says. “They meet someone who says, ‘You should talk to so and so.’”

The foun­da­tion “wants to help take the serendip­i­tous network devel­op­ment created in the Jewish world and make it more inten­tional,” he says.

The ques­tion of how best to knit groups of people connected through various rela­tion­ships is one that is a growing field of study within the nonprofit commu­nity, on a whole. Allison Fine and Beth Kanter’s best-selling 2010 book, “The Networked Nonprofit,” explores the inter­sec­tion of social media and social change.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation have each commis­sioned numerous studies focused on how best to tap into networks of people to create informed, engaged communities.

We hope that the Schusterman Foundation becomes recog­nized as a place where the heart of Jewish people­hood meets the science of network theory,” Cohen says.

Lynn Schusterman has a vision that young Jews will endure for a very long time; it’s part of our theory of change,” he says. “We need to invest in deep­ening and strength­ening those networks for the Jewish people to endure.”

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub Wins $100,000 Social Justice Prize

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, the co-founder and co-executive director of Encounter, has been awarded the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize. The award comes with a $100,000 prize, half of which will be earmarked toward sustaining and growing Encounter’s programs in Israel and North America. The remaining $50,000 will support Rabbi Weintraub during the next year as she writes a book and provides work­shops, train­ings, and presen­ta­tions at syna­gogues, univer­si­ties and Jewish communal institutions.

Encounter (www​.encoun​ter​pro​grams​.org) aims to trans­form the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through face-to-face under­standing. The group has brought more than 1,000 Jewish leaders on trips to Palestinian cities in the West Bank to listen to Palestinian narra­tives and witness the real­i­ties on the ground. The goal of these trips is to foster a more construc­tive engage­ment with Israel by helping leaders gain a more nuanced under­standing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It was an exhil­a­rating surprise,” Rabbi Weintraub, a 2008 “36 Under 36” designee, told The Jewish Week. “We hope that Grinnell’s award will spot­light Encounter’s accom­plish­ments, vision and values. We see greater visi­bility as a key to the broader trans­for­ma­tion we hope to help create, building more informed, inclu­sive American-Jewish Israel engagement.”

References from promi­nent leaders, such as American Jewish World Service’s Ruth Messinger and Peter Weiss, an attorney who serves on the exec­u­tive committee of Americans for Peace Now, played a role. Messinger also nomi­nated one of the other winners, James Kofi Annan, who founded Challenging Heights, a nonprofit that provides educa­tion and reha­bil­i­ta­tion for chil­dren who have survived slavery and horrific forms of child labor. Messinger “is such a supportive, veteran social justice leader cham­pi­oning the lead­er­ship of young inno­va­tors for change,” Rabbi Weintraub said.

Grinnell College also honored Boris Bulayev and Eric Glustrom, the pres­i­dent and the exec­u­tive director of Educate!, an orga­ni­za­tion that empowers Ugandan youth.

More than 1,000 nomi­na­tions were received from 66 coun­tries for the award, which was designed to honor indi­vid­uals under 40 who are working to foster posi­tive social change.

Rabbi Weintraub’s simple yet inno­v­a­tive approach focuses on creating dialogue and empha­sizing civility and discourse to tackle contro­ver­sial issues,” says Dr. Raynard S. Kington, who was recently inau­gu­rated as pres­i­dent of Grinnell College. “Her ability to foster greater under­standing regarding one of the most complex, divi­sive areas in the world is bold and trans­for­ma­tive, and she has created a model that can be emulated to address other global issues.”

Israeli Principal Wins 2011 Charles Bronfman Prize

Karen Tal, prin­cipal of the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, Israel, was awarded The 2011 Charles Bronfman Prize for her work in trans­forming a failing school with an econom­i­cally chal­lenged and socially diverse student popu­la­tion into a successful educa­tional model.

I can think of no one who better exem­pli­fies the most funda­mental of Jewish values,” said Nahum Barnea, Yediot Ahronot chief colum­nist and recip­ient the State of Israel Prize, who nomi­nated Tal. “Karen has embraced the weak native Israelis, as well as outsiders and strangers, and welcomed them into a frame­work which accepts, recog­nizes and loves. Karen is an inspi­ra­tion for those who believe that being Jewish and Israeli implies social action that contributes to repairing a damaged world.”

Tal’s school was the subject of the docu­men­tary film “Strangers No More,” which won the 2010 Academy Award for short-subject documentary.

The Charles Bronfman Prize is an annual $100,000 award for a young human­i­tarian whose work is informed and fueled by Jewish values and has broad, global impact that can poten­tially change lives. Previous recip­i­ents include Jay Feinberg, founder and exec­u­tive director of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation and Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, co-founders of the Knowledge is Power Program charter schools.

Click here for the orig­inal article. 

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