Three More “i” Words: Innovation in Isolation is Irrelevant

(This item by Joshua Avedon is cross-posted from the blog at eJewish Philanthropy.)

A recent article on the eJewishPhilanthropy site, (Innovation Isn’t Dead, It’s Working February 5, 2013) raised concerns that last year’s merger of Hazon with the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center has sparked casual conversations about the end of the innovation era. The authors of that post, my colleagues Lisa Lepson and Will Schneider, correctly argue that there is continuing evidence that Jewish innovation is going strong, and, more importantly, beginning to make a real impact on the broader Jewish world.

Like my friends from the Joshua Venture Group and Slingshot, I also believe that funding Jewish innovation should not be a zero sum game in which the community is forced to choose between supporting startups or more mature organizations. They articulated what worries them about the current moment – as a fellow traveler in the same space, let me share what worries me. I am less concerned that an emerging awareness of the need to fund second-stage organizations might cause community focus to “shift completely away from support of early-stage entrepreneurial initiatives.” For that to be happen, first there would actually need to be a demonstrable focus on funding new Jewish initiatives, and then some evidence that money was shifting away from it. I’m much more concerned about the total dollars available to Jewish innovation in all shapes and sizes.

While it may get a good deal of ink and airtime, the data suggests that Jewish innovation, of both the startup and post-startup varieties, remains underfunded in proportion to both its reach and its growth. The 2010 Survey of New Jewish Initiatives in North America (published as The Jewish Innovation Economy by Jumpstart with The Natan Fund and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation) found that Jewish startups engaged more than 9% of the North American Jewish population with less than 2% of the roughly $10 billion spent annually in the Jewish nonprofit sector. The average year-on-year growth rate in the number of Jewish startups between 2002 and 2010 was 29%. The amount of funding available to them does not seem to be keeping pace with that trajectory.

In 2011, the Bikkurim report From First Fruits to Abundant Harvest issued a clarion call for second stage funding, based on data that showed a sector-wide recognition of the need, and an increasing number of deserving organizations that are ready for scaling investment. Over a third of respondents to Bikkurim’s survey indicated that funding for both startups and post-startups was inadequate. While there has been a growing interest in the creation of mezzanine funds, The Samuel Bronfman Foundation’s Second Stage Fund is the first that I know of to have made grants with that explicit focus. The Bikkurim report also highlighted the persistence of a philanthropic preference for newness, and that funding often falls off for projects once they’ve reached that awkward adolescent stage of growth, just when they need it most. This is especially unfortunate since reaching that stage is usually a sign of market relevance and programmatic success.

Of course, innovation isn’t limited to newer organizations. Support for innovation within larger, more established Jewish organizations seems to have increased over the past few years. This is evidenced through collaborations such as the PresenTense Community Entrepreneur Partnership, through targeted funding/microgrant programs, and via new intrapreneurial efforts. The Slingshot Guide is a good indicator for this. The ’12-’13 publication includes more projects operating under the auspices of established organizations than ever before. Although it is more difficult to quantify this type of innovation than it is to survey startups and autonomous initiatives (where a sample can be easily defined by founding date and organizational structure), there are promising signs that innovation is making inroads where it is needed most.

The Jewish innovation boom has happened in spite of limited monetary resources, relying mostly on the ingenuity, skill, and social capital of its leaders. Given that passion seems to fuel new Jewish initiatives more than money, there is no reason to think that innovation is dead, or even slowing down. But the nature of innovation is changing, and the organizational forms it takes must evolve in the new epoch to meet the needs of the community. When a promising new idea comes along, the question is not only whether it will get traction in the market, but also whether it needs to be an independent entity, or might better be pursued in partnership with, or even as a project within, an existing organization.

Innovation in isolation is irrelevant. It’s the transformative potential of Jewish innovation to shape and define the Jewish community in the 21st century that gives innovation its resonance and power. No one I know who works in and supports Jewish innovation is saying that innovation is on its way out. But most of us believe that a maturing marketplace requires a more strategic approach to funding as well as an increased focus on collaboration and consolidation. My colleagues and I agree that innovation is working, precisely because the established community is increasingly adopting it as a priority. Once we have succeeded at making innovation a central principle of the entire system, I’m optimistic that the community will find the resources to fund it at all stages – and in all forms – accordingly.

The New “I” Word

(This item by Joshua Avedon is cross-posted from the blog at eJewish Philanthropy.)

Two announcements in my inbox this week confirmed what I’ve suspected for a while: the next phase of 21st century Jewish re-invention is upon us. In those emails Hazon and Isabella Freedman proclaimed their merger, and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation revealed the recipients of its Second Stage Fund grants for post-startups (Hazon among them, alongside Keshet and Mechon Hadar). Together these two developments signify a maturing marketplace in which consolidation and investment in existing value may be a more important driver of change than newness.

What the three recipients of TSBF’s grants have in common – beyond having stellar leadership – is that their leaders are more focused on creating movements and mobilizing participation than on institution-building. Perhaps that kind of mission-driven organizational humility is an indicator for success in the emerging Jewish landscape.

Mechon Hadar grew out of a single independent minyan that realized the power of self-organized learning and spiritual community. Hadar’s path to growth was traditional scaling; acceleration in program and revenues over time to broaden reach and deepen impact. Beyond creating a wellspring for serious adult learning, Hadar’s leaders are focused on empowering individuals to seize control of their own Jewish journeys and on giving them the tools to learn and build community with their peers.

Similarly, Hazon has evolved to be the undisputed thought leader and convenor of the modern Jewish environmental and sustainability movement by putting people and relationship at the center its program design. Hazon’s trajectory has been defined by crafting life-changing experiences, forming networks of purpose, and enabling like-minded social entrepreneurs to work together. By nurturing many diverse brands through partnerships, fiscal sponsorship, capacity-building, and collaborative programming, Hazon has created an integrated and holistic experience of modern Judaism. The merger with Isabella Freedman (itself the product of a merger with Elat Chayyim) is the next logical step in that progression.

Keshet, which began life as a grassroots LGBT group in Boston, aspired to go national when it realized the programs it provided could radically advance inclusiveness in Jewish communities everywhere. Keshet’s growth was furthered by a well planned merger with Jewish Mosaic, bringing together complementary toolkits and talented leaders under a single banner. Two years on, the new Keshet is reshaping communal priorities around inclusion not only across the United States but now, through affiliates, in the UK and beyond.

Three success stories, justly celebrated this week. They confirm that the real value of innovation isn’t the creation of new organizations, but when the people and perspectives behind them are woven into the communal fabric, and transform it in the process. Indeed, the global emergence over the past fifteen years of hundreds – likely more than a thousand – of new Jewish startups is powerful evidence of both creativity and interest in the Jewish world.

However the reality is that the impact of Jewish innovation on mainstream Jewish life so far is just a fraction of its potential. For every successful story of a startup that makes a great leap to a new stage, there are dozens that fail, struggle to survive, or simply linger on without finding a pathway to sustainability.

Jewish startups have successfully attracted talent, piloted concepts, and pioneered new ways of engaging both committed Jews and those who are new to, or even ambivalent about Jewish community. But that success has come at the expense of the creation of a large and fragmented marketplace with numerous redundancies and missed opportunities. This makes for a very confusing philanthropic playing field, one that lacks the coordinated power and strategic oversight to re-arrange the organizational pieces to achieve efficiencies and economies of scale.

The underlying economics haven’t changed. Even as Jewish startups have proliferated at a geometric rate over the past decade, funding for them has not kept pace. The fierce competition between them for very limited resources – including money, organizational development, and public attention – means that many effective and promising projects fail to thrive (while some less promising ones hang on anyway).

Strategic mergers and second stage funding are just sensible ways to aggregate value, which will reduce costs while deepening impact. The arrival of the next epoch in the current Jewish renaissance means more organizations are either scaling up, merging, or going out of business. The sector will be stronger because it.

However this process is likely to happen the same way the ecosystem came into being in the first place, that is: organically. As with many organic processes, it’s messy. And it’s likely that much that is good will be lost in the process if it simply unfolds without direction or intentionality. The risk is that while unguided market forces work to rationalize and reduce the number of new Jewish offerings, a treasure of human and knowledge capital may slip through the cracks and get lost.

I believe that it’s incumbent upon those of us who have supported Jewish startups for these past years to work together, as well as with more established organizations and philanthropists, to rationalize this process. After all, the goals of the startups are the same as those of the rest of the Jewish community – to make Jewish life vibrant, relevant, and enduring. We must find ways to make sure we keep the talent, ideas, and creativity within the community, while accepting that there must be a process of both natural and engineered selection to pare down the offerings, and to strengthen the organizations (both new and established) whose survival is most critical to the Jewish future.

Jumpstart at the White House

Jumpstart Co-founder Shawn Landres speaks to White House gathering
of faith-based social entrepreneurs

Jumpstart presented a Jewish perspective on social entrepreneurship at the July 11th White House Faith-Based Social Innovators Conference. The afternoon’s discussions offered new insights about the important role that faith-based social innovators play in expanding opportunity and addressing social issues.

Senior White House directors Jonathan Greenblatt of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation and Joshua Dubois of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships convened the gathering of more than 100 leaders from a diversity of faiths and organizations.

Jumpstart at the White House: Emily Leventhal, Shawn Landres, Jonathan Greenblatt, Joshua DuBois, Joshua Avedon, Paul Vandeventer
Emily Leventhal, Shawn Landres, Jonathan Greenblatt (White House), Joshua DuBois (White House), Joshua Avedon, & Paul Vandeventer (Community Partners)

Shawn was one of only nine featured “spotlight innovators” chosen to address the entire conference because they and their organizations “are finding innovative ways to make a positive impact on our society and economy.” His remarks were about Jumpstart’s work, and about bridging the gap between faith-based and secular social entrepreneurship.
“Faith-based need not mean faith-bound,” Shawn reminded the room. “And secular social enterprise need not isolate itself from faith-born creativity.”

Jumpstart was represented by Shawn and Co-founder Joshua Avedon, as well as board members Emily Leventhal and Rachel Cohen Gerrol (who just started her term as Chair this month). We were joined by Paul Vandeventer of Community Partners, with which we operate the Project Partnership, a joint venture to fiscally sponsor emerging Jewish and interreligious organizations. Also present was Perry Oretzky, President of the Angell Foundation.

Learn more:

Media & Blog Coverage
Follow the conversation on Twitter: #WHInnovation, #FBSocInn

Shawn Landres’s White House remarks

Video and excerpts from Shawn Landres's remarks from the White House Faith-Based Social Innovators Conference – July 11, 2012

I am here because my personal and professional journeys as a human being and as a citizen are profoundly shaped by faith and covenant. Judaism stands for dignity, opportunity, freedom, and responsibility. It calls us to work for the healing of the wider world. The remarkable mosaic in this room attests that our values and visions are not unique but shared by many.

Shawn Landres speaking at the White House
L-R: Salman Ravala (Dollar-a-Day Scholarship Fund), Heather Larson (Willow Creek Community Church), Shawn Landres, Sajan George (Matchbook Learning)

…For generations, the Jewish communal sector has been at the forefront of social innovation benefiting all Americans. … Over the past 15 years, however, an important shift has occurred. The primary engine for innovation no longer is found in centralized communal institutions working to meet collective Jewish needs. Today, that energy has shifted outward to independent grassroots initiatives, many of which seek to express Jewish values through service, education, and social & civic advocacy. Put another way, if 20th century institutions ensured that Jewish Americans are seen and served as equal citizens, then 21st-century innovators are demonstrating Judaism’s unique value propositions and contributions to our nation’s open, diverse, democratic society.

…None of our impact is attributable to ourselves alone. All of Jumpstart’s work is collaborative, with partners and networks that complement our strengths and extend our reach. Indeed, Jewish tradition obliges us to work for change that is beyond any one of us to achieve independently.

One of those innovative partnerships is with Community Partners, a nationally recognized fiscal sponsor, grantmaking intermediary, and civic catalyst. …[Our] Project Partnership connects faith-based and community organizations in ways that reflect the strength of each without duplication or encroachment.

That’s because faith-based need not mean faith-bound. And secular social enterprise need not isolate itself from faith-born creativity.

…Stephen Carter once observed that religion in the public square sometimes stops conversations when it should start them. But our values can and should help shape the common good. But our values can and should help shape the common good. Jumpstart’s leave policy supports natural and adoptive parents. It honors both the bereaved and those who care for mourners. Jumpstart’s non-discrimination policy includes all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. All for Jewish reasons.

…Today’s Summit is welcome recognition that there now are more creative, passionate, authentic, and compelling ways to connect faith & community to action in the world than at any other time in recent history. We merit recognition and respect, not only to be heard but also to have a say.

Together we can harness and sustain their energy to power the transformation of our communities, our nation, and our planet. If the momentum in this room is any indicator, we have an extraordinary future ahead.

Full coverage of Jumpstart’s White House appearance, including video of Shawn’s complete remarks….

Rededication – Hanukkah 5771

by Jumpstart co-founder Joshua Avedon. This item is crossposted on the ROI Community blog.

Rededication – the act of restoring something to holiness – is a defining element of Jewish life. More often than not, Jews lose the first round with an adversary, only to persevere and ultimately thrive. Not long ago, the Jewish narrative in Europe was one of vanishing communities, crumbling buildings and decreasing relevance. But in recent years, a new story has become visible, illuminated by hundreds of Jewish startups reaching hundreds of thousands of people. The tiny lights of Jewish rededication are burning brightly across the continent.

The emerging organizations and communities in Europe are intimate and authentic expressions of Jewish values as lived in a modern European context. Most are focused on learning, the arts, or community – they embrace the most permeable and accessible parts of Jewish life. They also attract diverse audiences and welcome non-Jews to participate. And they look outward – many actively build relationships with the broader community rather than concentrating on purely “Jewish” issues. The Jewish innovators in Europe are real evidence that rooted cosmopolitanism is the new Jewish identity.

For much of Jewish history the struggle for survival has been told as a clash of civilizations – either we win or Amalek (the bad guy) does. Living in such a struggle makes everything feel like a fight to the finish, whether battling an actual enemy or simply wrestling with demographics or apathy. The Macabees were those kinds of purists. They were fighting not only a political battle to oust the Greco-Syrians from the Temple in Jerusalem, but also a culture war against the overwhelming influence of Greek civilization on Jewish thought and practice. The Maccabees won the battle to recapture the Temple, but the culture war was over before it began. Hellenization had taken root. The loss of a pure Jewish identity is often portrayed as a tragedy, but the course of Jewish history is filled with examples of how Jewish culture was changed and improved by our encounters and interactions with other civilizations. And how Jews have, in turn, shaped those civilizations for the better.

European identity (Jewish and otherwise) is by nature both multi-dimensional and highly fluid. The current rededication in Europe is being fed by eclectic influences from a variety of sources. The result is a future-focused sector that celebrates Jewish life in distinctly European ways. In Europe, multiple identities are more the rule than the exception, and today that’s working to the benefit of Jewish life there. For a very long time we’ve been looking at Jewish Europe as an oil lamp that’s pretty much out of fuel. Have a look at the light.

A White House Family Reunion

By Eli Winkelman

cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Two weeks ago, I went to the White House for its first reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.

I went with excitement, but also some uncertainty. Jewish American Heritage Month: what does that even mean? What does it mean to me?

My understanding of my Jewish heritage and my American heritage shift daily, sometimes hourly. They’re even more confusing mashed up together and bundled into 31 days: May, Jewish American Heritage Month.

The event was wonderful and moving. Rabbi Alysa Stanton‘s recital of Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” brought goosebumps. President Obama’s words brought tears. And Regina Spektor‘s performance brought enthusiastic applause; I am a huge fan.

But for me, the real kicker came a few days after the reception.

First, I received an email from Jumpstart‘s Shawn Landres, asking me to call him, pronto. I also received a voicemail from my grandmother Alice. Her message was not really clear, but I heard something about Shawn’s photos on Facebook.

The Photo That Alice Saw: (l-r) Sarah Lefton (, Eli Winkelman (Challah for Hunger), and Shawn Landres (Jumpstart) at the White House
Sarah Lefton, Eli Winkelman, and Shawn Landres with a fellow Californian; photo: Jeremy Ben-Ami

I talked to Shawn first, and he told me about an aunt of his, Phoebe, who had passed away quite young. She left behind a husband, Floyd, and a son, Marc. My dad once had a step-brother named Marc, which is also my dad’s name. Apparently my dad adopted the name Matthew for a while, to avoid confusion, but it didn’t stick. Neither did Alice’s marriage to Floyd. But for a few years, my dad and Shawn’s cousin were step-brothers.

Alice had seen the photos of me at the White House that Shawn had posted to Facebook and friended him with a message that I was her granddaughter. Shawn and I figured it out: My grandmother was once Shawn’s cousin’s stepmother, which makes Shawn my almost ex-step-cousin once removed. Whatever, we’re family!

Depending on how you do the calculation, half of American marriages end in divorce. This is often cited as a negative, but it can have positive outcomes, too: Until I was 22, I had six grandparents! And, of course, I was everyone’s favorite granddaughter, so just imagine all of the birthday and Chanukah presents. (For the sake of full disclosure, my own parents are happily married, so I never went through a first-hand divorce.)

Alice was married several times. Although she has had a rocky relationship with her Jewish heritage, she always married Jewish men–and she always divorced them. Alice has taught and continues to teach me how to build and invest in relationships–whether with a significant other, a job, or a friend–and how to recognize when a relationship is not healthy for me. She’s now single and an empty-nester for the first time since she was nineteen. Now in her seventies, after four decades of living in Los Angeles, she upped and moved to New York City. And she’s never been happier. She’s an inspiration.

A few days after such a neat conversation with Shawn, I received a Facebook message from a stranger: Amy R. had been looking through her friend’s Facebook photos from the White House event. Her mom walked into the room and saw a photo of me and told her that we’re “related.”

This is the message I received:

Apparently, your grandma ‘adopted’ my grandparents, Ruth and Henry K. in Detroit. My grandparents were survivors and they always spoke lovingly of your mom and grandma. Have you ever heard this? I have such a tiny family and really welcomed the news.

I immediately called my mom, who confirmed the story, telling me about “Uncle” Henry leading family seders and recalling Amy’s parents’ wedding. My mom called her dad, Grandpa Bernie. Grandpa Bernie called me back, crying. Family is the most important thing to him, with or without quotes.

I went to the White House–and came home with two new cousins. One from the messiness of divorce, and one from a hodgepodge family formed after the Shoah (Holocaust). This is my Jewish American Heritage.

Eli Winkelman is the founder and National Coordinator of Challah for Hunger (CfH), which bakes and sells challah bread to raise money and awareness for social justice causes. She is a Joshua Venture Fellow and a 2010 Ariane de Rothschild Fellow.

Viva PLP!

(This item by Joshua Avedon and Shawn Landres is cross-posted from the blog at eJewish Philanthropy.)

Last week the Jewish innovation ecosystem suffered the first loss of a keystone organization since the economic ice age began. The Professional Leaders Project (PLP) is the premier independent entity for developing and educating the next generation of Jewish leaders, both volunteer and professional.

One thing is clear. PLP’s mission of “turning leadership over to the next generation” will live on, most importantly because of its sustained investment in developing the talent and networks that formed the backbone of its program offering. And PLP itself plans to take its mission online with a Virtual ThinkTank, issuing a call for ideas on how to sustain its contribution to the sector even without programs on the ground. Whether specific PLP programs find new homes at other organizations (and we hope they do – more on that later), thousands of people will carry the lessons they learned through PLP to organizations old, new, and yet to be born.

One of PLP’s many unique aspects is that it recognizes that individual leaders, and the relationships between them, lie at the heart of effective innovation and advocacy for change. PLP has made no distinctions in its offerings to volunteer and professional leaders, in part because it has understood the fluid nature of nonprofit leadership in the 21st century. This approach has led to some interesting interactions and collaborations that never could have taken place in more conventional leadership development programs, where individuals are often stuck in tracks according to their interests, roles or geography.

PLP is the vision of an extraordinary leader, Rhoda Weisman. In her previous role as Hillel‘s Chief Creative Officer, she created a slew of new initiatives which helped redefine the organization for a new era, including Tzedek Hillel, the Campus Leadership Initiative, and many others. She was a key player in the creation of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, as well as the first director of the Jewish Campus Service Corps. As a Jewish innovator, Rhoda has defined what it means to think out of the box, empower new leadership, and catalyze change in organizations new and established. Her work at Hillel demonstrated her unique aptitude for spotting and developing talent in an atmosphere of collaboration and personal growth. In creating PLP, Rhoda identified and filled a vacuum in Jewish leadership development, one that bridged the established and emerging Jewish nonprofit worlds. Regardless of PLP’s ultimate institutional fate, Rhoda deserves credit for launching and developing the next generation of Jewish leadership. We are sure that whatever she does next will have a similar impact, and Jumpstart is proud to have her as a friend and as a member of our board of advisors.

PLP’s absence will have an immediate impact on the hundreds of young leaders who have been a part of its networks and participants in its leadership development programs. These include hundreds of emerging leaders from around the nation who were recently recruited for PLP’s LiveNetworks 2009, a year-long seminar series incorporating leadership development, Jewish learning, analytical tools, coaching, and mentoring. While many Jewish organizations struggle to find candidates, PLP was able to hand-pick participants who were actually willing to go out of pocket to pay for their participation.

Especially pressing is the question of how to honor the commitment made by the newest members of the LiveNetwork hubs in New York City, Washington, DC, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, 20- and 30-somethings who signed up (and even were willing to pay) for training, networking, and mentoring as volunteer and professional leaders in 2009 and 2010. They now have nowhere to go. Our community cannot afford to let their energy go untapped: we must find alternate ways for them to engage their passions and skills.

Beyond the programs themselves, PLP shutting its doors (and we hope it’s only temporary), is a signal moment for the Jewish startup sector. PLP isn’t just one innovative organization; it is also a critical clearinghouse for the entire Jewish nonprofit workforce pipeline. This is not a trivial need. As the NonProfit Times reported on August 13, the senior management gap in U.S. nonprofits is a matter of growing nationwide concern. The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit human capital think tank, predicts that overcoming this “leadership deficit” will require a commitment “to attract and develop a leadership population 2.4 times the size of the total number currently employed” (Finding Leaders for America’s Nonprofits, 2009).

This issue is only magnified in the organized Jewish community, where according to a study for the Jewish Funders Network and The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) entitled “” (posted August 17 on the JFN website), retirements by long-serving baby boomer executives will create succession challenges at as many as 90% of Jewish organizations over the next decade. As the only independent initiative dedicated to identifying, recruiting, nurturing, and mentoring new volunteer and professional leaders regardless of their institutional affiliation, PLP played a vital role seeding the Jewish ecosystem with human capital. PLP’s absence will be felt quickly, and painfully, unless others step up to fill the gap with programs that continue these critical elements: institutional independence, the recognition that volunteer and professional leadership are intertwined and often interchangeable over the course of a person’s career, and, most importantly, not only a genuine belief in and commitment to the process of innovation and renewal, but indeed the explicit acknowledgement of the real contributions that new leaders bring to the missions and institutions they serve.

The bigger question raised by PLP’s abrupt disappearance is whether this is a harbinger of a cascade of more closures of innovative new projects, or (as we think more likely), the beginning of a realignment of the Jewish infrastructure as it adapts to the altered landscape left behind by the big freeze caused by the economic crisis and Madoff grand larceny. Likely more significant projects will fold, and others may merge in order to survive. Perhaps PLP’s investment in turning Jewish leadership over to the next generation infused the innovation ecosystem with enough human resource momentum so that the work done by PLP will become a core activity of all organizations, both old and new. Or perhaps other organizations will actually pick up some of the programs launched by PLP – we’re thinking especially of the LiveNetwork hubs – and give them new life.

Certainly it would be a waste to allow the framework created by PLP’s visionary work to simply cease because of a potentially temporary funding challenge. One could imagine regional and/or national players deciding that the gatherings of talent represented by the LiveNetwork Hubs shouldn’t be abandoned, then deciding to absorb them into their own organizations. Or perhaps, just perhaps, the shock of this singular event will cause some forward-thinking Jewish philanthropists to come forward to rescue PLP and to demonstrate to the hundreds of PLPers that their unique value to the Jewish world is not unnoticed, and must be preserved, whether in its current form or in a new structure.

Whatever happens, when the history is written of the first epoch of the Jewish innovation ecosystem, we believe that our community will see PLP for what it was, is and could be: one of the Jewish world’s richest talent pools and development laboratories for emerging leadership. Viva PLP.

The Jewish Innovation Pipeline: A Google Chrome OS for New Jewish Organizations?

(This item by Joshua Avedon is cross-posted from the blog at eJewish Philanthropy.)

Seth Cohen recently challenged us to think about 5 key questions facing Jewish innovation. While we hope his excellent analysis continues to spark a broader conversation in the Jewish world, Jumpstart sees a big picture answer emerging to the "How?" issue he raises. And we’d like to frame it by taking a page from one of our favorite innovators from the technology world, Google.

Google recently announced the launch of the Chrome Operating System, an efficient, distributed platform that is Google’s latest run at Microsoft, purveyor of the market-dominant, yet much maligned Windows operating system. In their press release about the Chrome OS, Google said "It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be."

Jumpstart was created in an attempt to re-think how best to support new Jewish projects, driven largely by the same parameters. We wanted to create something simple, smart, universally-accessible, that uses scarce resources efficiently and works the way its users do – rather than making them plod along with a clunky system designed for a bygone era.

And we aren’t alone. Over the past ten years as Jewish innovation has taken off, a comprehensive support system for creative Jewish endeavors has begun to take shape. In a way, this innovation pipeline is like an operating system for Jewish social entrepreneurs – a platform that supports basic functions so they can do their work more effectively.

The pipeline still has some critical gaps, but there are a number of organizations now contributing to an end-to-end solution that is transforming the way Jewish organizations launch in the 21st century.

One part of the pipeline acts as a catalyst for creativity. Organizations like REBOOT, Jewlicious, Jewcy and ZEEK seed the clouds with new ideas and inspiration.

Some of the pipeline is focused on developing the human resources to power the innovation sector. That section includes youth fellowships and Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative, as well as professional and lay leader development organizations like PLP.

One of the first supporters of the current wave of Jewish innovation was the Joshua Venture, which has re-launched and will be powering new cohorts of Jewish social entrepreneurs in the years to come. Along with support such as the AVI CHAI Fellowship, these kinds of funding enable mature leaders to pursue their goals with substantial monetary support.

Innovation funding is critical to every part of the pipeline, from alumni funds offering seed stage investment such as the BYFI Alumni Venture Fund and The Covenant Foundation’s Ignition Grants, to venture and mezzanine level funders, such as The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, The Natan Fund, and various Jewish Venture Philanthropy Funds, on up to mega funders like the the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life which support large-scale programs like Birthright.

Other organizations create the peer networks of innovators, like ROI, Selah, and RIKMA in Israel.

On the direct support side, a number of organizations function as idea labs, incubators and capacity-builders, such as The PresenTense Institute, Bikkurim, The Paideia Project Incubator, UpStart Bay Area, Shatil in Israel and Jumpstart.

The challenges of running a new public benefit enterprise are numerous, and while social innovators tend to know their markets and deliver their products exceptionally well, we know from the study we recently published with Natan and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation (The Innovation Ecosystem: Emergence of a New Jewish Landscape) that they struggle with basic operational management and administration. And common sense says that when social innovators can focus on their core strengths and partner for generic management support, their projects have more impact and reach. As Bob Goldfarb rightfully pointed out, many people think that "Building a successful program into a self-sustaining organization may not be as exciting as working with startups but it is crucial to the health of the ecosystem." But we’d rather think about it the way Tides Center (a leader in nonprofit incubation) puts it: "Infrastructure is sexy."

Jumpstart has recently added what we see as a critical piece of the pipeline – the first full-service turnkey fiscal sponsorship platform dedicated to supporting Jewish projects. We’ve partnered with Community Partners, a market-leading organization that supports public benefit organizations through fiscal sponsorship and capacity-building. Based in Los Angeles, (like Jumpstart), Community Partners has served more than 550 projects and civic leaders since 1992 through its administrative and financial services, programmatic counsel, and training. Fiscal sponsorship is a well-developed model in the non-Jewish nonprofit world, but up until now no one has provided a turnkey, full service way to bring this powerful "enabling technology" to the Jewish world. Projects operating under fiscal sponsorship receive complete infrastructure support from day one, without having to undergo the lengthy and often costly process of applying for 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. Sponsored projects can accept tax-exempt donations and operate under the corporate umbrella of their sponsor, which means they get complete insurance coverage and access to pooled benefits and payroll services. So becoming a sponsored project lowers barriers to getting started and speeds time to market – solving two critical problems for social entrepreneurs.

One key effect of having solutions like this in place is that not only do they make it easier to launch new endeavors, but they also reduce the cost of failure. Projects can be piloted and tested successfully without spending large amounts of money on building infrastructure first.

The Community Partners/Jumpstart Partnership is one piece of an emerging pipeline for Jewish innovation that includes forward-thinking funders, idea laboratories, leadership networks, established organizations with intrapreneurial programs, and direct support organizations.
The pipeline grows bit by bit as gaps become apparent and organizations and individuals move to put new pieces in place. The work is by nature collaborative and distributed – kind of like an Internet-based open-source software project. Google’s Chrome OS comes at a time when Internet technology has provided an entirely new way to go about computing. The pieces that constitute the Jewish innovation pipeline are creating an entirely new way to build Jewish organizations in the 21st century.

Joshua Avedon is co-founder and COO of Jumpstart, a thinkubator for sustainable Jewish innovation. In addition to their work with Community Partners, Jumpstart is also taking the lead on creating J Space, a shared work, resource, and education center for Jewish innovation in Los Angeles.

Spotlight on Jewish startups

Jumpstart Research Report 2.09 - Key Findings from The 2008 Survey of New Jewish OrganizationsWe’ve had a busy few weeks, and as our first post to the official Jumpstart blog we’d like to invite a discussion about the recent release of our first Research Report, Key Findings from the 2008 Survey of New Jewish Organizations

Jumpstart partnered with The Natan Fund and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation for this first of its kind study of the Jewish startup sector. A conversation about the key findings from the report has already sprung up on a number of blogs and other news outlets. 

eJewishPhilanthropy’s Dan Brown previewed the survey’s findings, noting startups are “transforming our communal landscape” and highlighting Los Angeles’s growing prominence as a center for Jewish innovation (Jewish Startups: LA’s Increasing Role,  Jewish LA in the Spotlight).

Tamar Synder at The Jewish Week offered that “While startups are more vulnerable — they’re younger and in many cases haven’t built up large reserves of cash to get them through hard times — they’re also more adaptable” (Start And Stop For Jewish Startups?). 

Esther Kustanowitz tweeted in realtime and then blogged after at My Urban Kvetch about Jumpstart’s presentation of the key findings at the LA Federation, where she compared institutional resistance to change with “GVH (graft-vs.-host) disease, when a transplant patient’s body treats the transplanted tissue as enemy cells and begins destroying the very organ that may have been its salvation” (Jumpstart’s New Jewish Organizations Survey: Tweeting and Reflecting). 

Bob Golfarb gave his reaction to Jumpstart’s suggestion that the new startups represent a Jewish communal form of the “Long Tail” phenomenon by asking “Is that the case with new Jewish organizations? Or are there simply a great many small organizations that show up as a long tail on a graph, without any special economic efficiencies resulting from new media?” (Survey of New Jewish Organizations – A Response) posted at 

Jacob Berkman, writting at JTA’s philanthropy blog The Fundermentalist gave a rundown of reactions to the study (New study looks at new Jewish nonprofits). 

Capping an eventful first week, The Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s Ben Gose highlighted the study’s findings for the secular nonprofit world, noting especially the diversity of the people involved in Jewish startups, from the relatively unconnected to the deeply involved, all seeking options they had not found in established Jewish institutions  (New Jewish Charities Have Attracted Diverse Clients, Study Finds). 

Overall the response has been encouraging and informative. As we consider potential policy recommendations and other next steps, we really do hope to hear additional comments, reactions, and feedback from as wide a range of stakeholders as possible (see, and please fill, comments box below).  

To receive updates about the survey project, including new findings, additional analysis, and policy recommendations, as well as other news about Jumpstart and its work, please sign up for the Jumpstart Email List and indicate your interest in “Jewish Startup Survey.”