Impact Investing: Rabbinic Perspectives

What do rabbis think about impact investing?

Impact Investing: Rabbinic Perspectives | based on the JLens Survey on Jewish Values and Investment Decisions We’re pleased to share with you Impact Investing: Rabbinic Perspectives, based on the JLens Rabbinic Survey on Jewish Values and Impact Investing, which was sponsored and conducted by JLens, a nonprofit association exploring Jewish values-aligned investing strategies.

As Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg observes in the preface, published today in eJewishPhilanthropy,

“This study rightly focuses our attention on the frontiers of tikkun olam. It is the first step in a process of concentrating Jewish attention and efforts to the remarkable opportunity. The survey on which it is based zeroed in on rabbis and their attitudes, because rabbis occupy many places of influence in the Jewish community and are respected within broader society. JLens also seeks to invite rabbis to take the lead in drawing upon Jewish tradition and wisdom for the purpose of increasing socially responsible investing and the new and growing field of impact investing.”

Download the report (including the full text of Rabbi Greenberg’s preface)  here.

Julie Hammerman (left) launched the JLens report on Friday, July 26, in a Nexus Global Youth Summit panel on faith-based impact investing at the United Nations. L-R: Julie Hammerman, John Kim (MSD Capital), Shawn Landres (Jumpstart).The report was previewed with a panel on faith-based impact investing at the Nexus Global Youth Summit in New York on July 26, 2013 at the United Nations which featured Jumpstart co-founder Shawn Landres, JLens founder (and author of the report) Julie Hammerman, and John Kim of MSD Capital.

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

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.

The Next Big New Idea is Neither Big Nor New. Discuss.

This item by Joshua Avedon and Shawn Landres was originally posted on eJewishPhilanthropy as part of the 28 Days, 28 Ideas series.

“Apple is regularly voted the most innovative company in the world,” writes The Economist in its January 30 edition, “but …rather than developing entirely new product categories, it excels at taking existing, half-baked ideas and showing the rest of the world how to do them properly.”

Creating economic value – or, beyond the corporate world, social value – isn’t always about big ideas, nor new ones. Improving on what’s already out there often is a more reliable way to produce results. New ideas are important drivers of change, but broad transformation depends on the scaling, replication, and adaptation of existing models with demonstrated promise.

Much attention has been paid to the expansion of the Jewish startup sector (what we have called the innovation ecosystem) because it seems to be a manifestation of a communal will to reinvent Jewish life for a new century. The unfortunate side effect of the craving for something new is that existing organizations – even ones just a few years old – sometimes drop off the buzz meter of Jewish life just when they most need stronger support to achieve sustainability.

None of this is to say that starting something new isn’t often an easier path than trying to transform an existing institution or grow one from a venture to a going concern. The barriers are low and the market is growing for bootstrap approaches to building Jewish community. For example, take the proliferation of independent minyanim and spiritual communities over the past decade or so. They are celebrated as leading innovators in 21st-century Jewish life, and rightly so. But the idea of a group of people who come together to learn, pray, celebrate and support each other is nothing new. What’s new in these Jewish emergent communities is in the “how” more than the “what”: how they are organized, use technology or engage new populations.

We believe that the cumulative force of a series of tiny effects can create systemic change. That’s what happens in an ecosystem: countless small-scale ideas and pilot programs with the potential to get bigger, to multiply and evolve, to be adapted and reshaped and shared around the world.

For funders, that means continuing to seed experimental new ideas but allocating a greater proportion of their portfolios to the longer-term work of harvesting, harnessing, and expanding promising new pilots with demonstrated initial impact.

For not-for-profit leaders, it means growing creative capacity not just in vision and program design, but in implementation and assessment. It means honesty about what works and doesn’t. It means sharing operational resources and space to extend the impact of every investment and create opportunities for collaboration and mutual learning.

For volunteers and participants in Jewish programs, it means critical loyalty – not bouncing from one new thing to another but taking the risk to become a stakeholder, to stick around and do the work of making new programs good and good ones better.

For all of us, it means accountability, transparency, and above all humility about experiments that fail and an open-source approach to sharing ideas. It means celebrating when someone else makes an idea work even better. It means not launching duplicative projects just because we can – and not ignoring great projects just because they were someone else’s idea.

As the title of this blog series suggests, there is no one big new idea that will transform Judaism and Jewish life for the better; no doubt there are many more than 28. Just as Apple reinvented itself in the wake of the massive expansion of the internet and wireless connectivity, so, too, must organized Jewry remake itself based on the radical democratization of choice and self-determined social networks. Whatever the goal – to advance Judaism’s global contributions to 21st-century society and culture, to broaden and deepen Jewish literacy, to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people – there’s a good chance that the best models to achieve it are already are out there somewhere, waiting for us to find them.