Friday, February 24, 2012

Ben Wiener

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Ben Wiener is the founder of Ten Partners (, an innovative, community-driven, sustainable non-profit partnership that creates new and unique programs to enrich local Jewish life and community. Ben was a winner of the 2011 Jewish Futures Competition, where he presented the Ten Partners idea.

What is a network, and can you describe yours?

We’re creating opportunities and a platform for groups of new, preferably young lay leaders to come together in a local Jewish community and collaborate on local Jewish programming in that community. We’re basically creating mini-networks or collaborative groups. There is a fascination with the word “network” amongst institutional Jewish organizations that feel it is a term far away from them that only young people own. In reality, the Jewish people have been networking a very long time; it’s an extension of what we do. Ten Partners is trying to bring technology as a tool to facilitate new types of networking and collaboration within a local Jewish community.

What is the difference between a community and a network?

A network consists of the people you’re connected to, whether they share the same ideals and beliefs as you or not. A community implies something deeper, where there’s some sort of mutual commitment between the people constituting it. We’re trying to do a little of both. We’re bringing together people in a network where they may not share the exact same denomination, commitment, or worldview of their Judaism to create mini-communities. This will break down the barriers and fragmentation starting to happen in North American communities by finding the common denominators that unite us as the Jewish people rather than what divides us.

What does a Ten Partnership look like?

In our model, technology is a critical component, not because we feel we need to wrestle technology into our Jewish network, but rather because in our generation smartphones and laptops are how we communicate, and therefore how we network. Ten Partners is based on utilizing that type of tool to facilitate the collaboration, help run and get the word out about programs. It accommodates the convenience of people’s busy schedules, making it more accessible to today’s young potential Jewish leader. It’s what we call Jewish Communal Service 2.0

What are some of the best practices of your network-weaving?

What we’ve tried to do is take a business marketing approach: What’s in it for the person we’re pitching to? We’re trying to understand where they’re coming from and what their concerns are. We don’t take it for granted in our networking that people want what we have or are looking for it.

What’s your pitch to young Jews – why should they join the network?

Ten Partners hits a whole lot of hot buttons for today’s Jewish leaders not attracted by more traditional Jewish community organizations. First, it allows them to get involved with a very small amount of time and money – it’s not about money, it’s about action. Second, each person in a Ten Partnership has an equal say within the partnership – no one person has more of a say because s/he has given more money. Third, we’re non-denominational. Those 10 people are deciding what type of programming the community does without anyone telling them what to do or asking them to buy into a specific agenda or mandate. Forth, it’s financially sustainable. One concern of people who don’t have a lot of money is: How can my amount of money have an impact? Because it’s a financially sustainable model, the initial capital cycles and recycles through the Jewish community. Finally, there are no meetings; everything is online. You can be a Ten Partner and active member of the Jewish community from the comfort of your couch.

How do Ten Partners network themselves?

We need 10 Ten Partners to make a Ten Partnership. When the first 2 people sign up in a given town, how do they get to 10? Ten Partners international doesn’t go into the community – we give materials and guidance on what types of people to reach out to and tips about how to leverage networks. Networking is going to be a key part of our success. We’re not going to unite 10 people in one fell swoop; we’re going to ignite one or two or three, they’re going to have to bring the rest.

Who are you looking for to join the network?

There are two raw requirements to be a Ten Partner, first simply to meet the minimum commitment of time, to follow proposals and vote on them in a timely fashion and less occasionally take responsibility for running a program. Second, you need the ability to put in initial seed capital, which is a $1,000, one-time donation – we will never again ask for money. The nice-to-haves include being positive, upbeat, and creative, preferably with a sense of humor. I mean it – since people are consciously reaching beyond their social circles and by definition coming from different parts of the Jewish community, they have to be open-minded and friendly. Also, it’s preferably people not particularly engaged in lay leadership roles – the goal is to find 10 people not yet actively involved as leaders in the community.

Do you view network-weaving as a professional role at Ten Partners?

I think that whoever we have in what we’ll call the parent organization is going to be involved in some way in weaving networks, because at the end of the day the organization is one big network. Whether it’s one person wearing all the hats or multiple people, they’ll all be involved in some way in weaving the network.

Go to to and sign up to be a Ten Partner today. Also, anyone in the world can submit a programming idea to – that idea will get disseminated to all active Ten Partnerships. If it’s run, it will be credited, and may inspire someone far away to run the program in their community. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Glenn Drew

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Glenn Drew is the Executive Director of the American Hebrew Academy.

Tell me a little about your network.

The American Hebrew Academy is the only Jewish college prep boarding school in the world that is pluralistic in its philosophy and therefore inviting to students across the spectrum of Jewish life. Accordingly, that network is as wide as the Jewish people will permit, both within Israel and the Diaspora.

The Academy is unique in its design. It was created to expand upon what has been most successful in the Jewish world in terms of engaging Jewish youth and educating them. It has the very best formalized classroom one can find in Jewish day schools combined with residential bonding experiences and informal Jewish education that has been the centerpiece of success for Jewish camping. It provides experiential learning through a trimester program in Israel that not only continues secular education but also builds upon the experience of interacting with the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael to learn the history and the heritage of the Jewish people on site.

The goal of the Academy is to enroll students throughout the world. Its purpose in doing so is to create an international network of the next generation of Jewish leaders who will be spread throughout the world with one thing bonding them together: their experience as youth in not only attending a prominent educational institution but learning the basic skills of Jewish leadership.

Tell me more about your alumni network.

The Academy is 10 years old. It has approximately 3 years of graduates who have not only completed undergraduate studies but are now completing advanced degrees in graduate school and entering the marketplace, both within and outside of the Jewish community. What we hope for and what has already been evident is that, through their shared connection with the Academy, all of these young people share a common bond. It is clear that bond exists not only between students who attended school together, but between alumni and current students who had no personal relationship, but who share the common bond of the uniqueness of being a student or graduate of the Academy.

How do you manage this alumni network?

Our Director of Alumni Relations is retained to facilitate this network. With current trends, networking today is far easier than in years past because of electronic communities. Within the Academy, there is an alumni network, but beyond that, alumni are connecting through their own sub-networks, through facebook and other channels, in hopes of furthering their own personal aspirations as professionals as well as furthering common aspirations, having been graduates of the Academy.

How do you measure success?

The question remains: Has the mission been fulfilled through students ultimately graduating and taking leadership positions that further the Jewish people? Resoundingly we can say: yes. It is seen in alumni working for social justice and philanthropy – such as a program manager at the Schusterman Foundation and a chief of staff at Hazon – or taking leadership positions in Hillels throughout college campuses. It is seen in the fact that 82% of students have returned to Israel since their experience having gone to Israel through the Academy.

What challenges do you experience in your work with networks?

Within the professional community of Jewish educators and leaders, I find the greatest challenge is the competitive forces that some leadership believe exist, which I would argue present barriers for networks expanding even further. I believe it’s somewhat disingenuous for people working within the Jewish community to sustain those perceived barriers, whether there are differences by denomination or cause, because ultimately building a larger network will be beneficial to everyone. If one thinks about the old adage of “Jewish geography,” you would think that with today’s technology networking should be even easier. In many respects, it is, but as one seeks to further expand, “modern-day Jewish geography” is facing perceived barriers by these competitive forces.

How could these challenges be solved?

There has to be a change philosophically in how one’s organizational mission plays out for the greater good of the Jewish people as a whole and not only for an immediate constituency which the organization seeks to serve. Each organization, each individual who holds a leadership position, can do far greater good if they recognize that the sum of their individual parts will make for a far greater whole – in essence klal Yisrael – that will benefit the Jewish community more than just focusing alone on an individual purpose.

The Academy is seeking to overcome this dilemma by extending our hand in partnership with other schools across the US and around the world. We are attempting to share our knowledge, to open our facilities, and to be as welcoming as possible with the understanding that we share the common good of providing a unique opportunity at our institution as well as helping other institutions provide educational opportunities for teenagers. One example would be working with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Foundation for Jewish Camp in building the Six Points Sports Academy, a new model in Jewish camping. Also, through our partnership with a school in Mexico City, we create an experience for students there to travel to the US, visit our campus, and interact with students in sharing a Shabbaton together. Similar programs are presently being discussed with communities in Columbia, Budapest, and Atlanta.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Content is Not King (of Network-Weaving)

This advice may not help you succeed at digital marketing or building a website. But if you’re looking to build, weave, and sustain a network, you should know: It’s not about having the content; it’s about what you do with it.

We’re living in an age of information saturation. Why? First, everyone is a content creator. All you have to do is tweet, post an update to facebook, or even just check into a restaurant on Foursquare, and you’re part of the information explosion that’s becoming a part of our everyday lives. Second, we are all also content consumers. We have unprecedented access to information that exists, beyond the library walls, at our fingertips – or on our smartphones, iPads, or the other nearest 3G or Wifi-receiving device.

How does this affect network-weaving? First of all, as this article in Business2Community points out, “Relationships trump content as king” in social networks. I agree that relationships are more important than content because, as far as I can tell, you don’t get your information from people you don’t trust. Build those relationships, and then you can disseminate all the content you’d like – or that those in your network have an appetite for.

Indeed, many are inundated (and a bit overwhelmed) by tweets, articles, and even webinars that sit in their inboxes, facebook pages, and listservs. They need help figuring out what’s really relevant to them, and how to actually apply what they learn into their practices.

What they need, in essence, is curation. Paul Kedrosky has famously suggested that “curation is the new search.” Before there was Google, humans trolled the Internet looking for and aggregating useful content. Then, there was Google. Now, given the sheer quantity of information out there, humans once again are playing crucial roles in pointing the way to information catered to your interests and needs. Those people are your facebook friends and in your twitter feed. Those people are network-weavers.

But successful network-weavers don’t only curate information, contacts, and other resources. They also seek ways to apply the lessons learned from one part of the network to other parts of the network. While it has been argued that the trend of relying primarily on your own friends for your news and information is causing highly differentiated communities, truly excellent network-weavers have weak ties to people across silos, and they gain from those relationships the ability to seed unexpected ideas – leading to innovation.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Emerging Field of Network-Weavers

This post appears here on Darim's blog, JewPoint0. Thank you to Darim for being thought partners in the emerging field of network-weavers!

After in-depth conversations with around 30 network-weavers in the Jewish world as part of my Network-Weaver Series, I have seen that there are a lot of really passionate people building networks that are quite impressive – and the term “network-weaving” resonates with many of them quite deeply. It puts a descriptive word to what they do in connecting others toward a greater cause; and more importantly, it acknowledges that they are not alone in doing it.

On a parallel level, more and more organizations are becoming aware of the possibilities of working with networks that can drive forward causes and campaign, build and unite communities, and provide support and resources that bolster Jewish identity. Yet there is confusion and imprecision in terminology – most notably, the term “network” itself. Once a network is properly understood to be a system of interconnected individuals or groups who share some factor(s) in common, it is not always clear how to integrate work with networks into one’s day-to-day activities.

How do we support and strengthen the execution of this role in our organizations, and in the community as a whole? Based on my conversations, I believe three parallel tracks are necessary to make the Jewish world’s already invaluable efforts – in education, social services, community-building, social justice, and on – more effective and connected:

  • Training: Organizations, their leadership, and their professionals well-positioned to build and sustain networks should gain a greater understanding of how networks operate and how to work in a networked way. This training will be most effective if it includes a continuum of learning the theory and practicing it in action.
  • Connecting: Network-weavers across organizations need to be connected to support one another, share frustrations and best practices, find resources (including people, information, and funds), and collaborate;
  • Professionalizing: These steps and others will build toward the professionalization of the field of Jewish network-weaving – which will create a commonly accepted terminology of network-weaving, its challenges and benefits. With this understanding, it will become more standard for organizations to incorporate network-weaving into their job descriptions and their strategy.

The fact is that professionals across the spectrum of Jewish nonprofits are already weaving networks – that is, connecting people with resources and each other for greater goals. Communications and alumni relations professionals and those in outreach, education, and young adult engagement are just some examples.

In my interviews, I have observed many common themes amongst those who excel at network-weaving positions. These include a desire to get to know others due to an insatiable curiosity for and fundamental love of people; a knack for retaining knowledge about others so as to formulate helpful connections between disparate parties on the spot; and an ability to employ these talents and others for the sake of driving forward projects, and ultimately missions.

Yet while many of the network-weavers I interviewed spoke of the innate and intuitive “people skills” their work entails, there are tools, technologies, as well as theory and strategy behind building networks, which have a firm academic foundation that can be learned and applied. Furthermore, I believe that network-weaving throughout the Jewish world will become increasingly effective as network-weavers learn to practice a greater degree of intentionality – a consciousness first and foremost of the larger vision they are seeking to achieve, and then an understanding of how networks operate and how they can be strategically leveraged toward those goals.

The process of training, connecting, and professionalizing that I have laid out will help those who are currently in network-weaving roles to become more effective – as well as those who are naturally adept at network-weaving characteristics (such as relationship-building) and would like to fill professional network-weaving roles to grow into them. This, therefore, would also tremendously benefit the organizations network-weaving positions are housed in, and the Jewish world as a whole.

Considering that so many organizations and individuals are currently exploring the path of building networks, I believe it only makes sense to find ways to weave our efforts together. Network-weaving sounds highly theoretical until you try to put it into practice. At the point when talk begins to translate into action, everyone will need to support one another through the challenges and combine our energies and resources toward the solutions.

What do you think needs to happen in order for this field to be professionalized? What do you need in your organization and/or as a network-weaver? How have you created organizational change, and what do you dream of for the future?

If you would like to be a part of these efforts, please contact me!

Becky Voorwinde

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Becky Voorwinde is the Co-Director, Director of Strategy & Community Engagement for the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel (BYFI). She is currently on maternity leave following the recent birth of her daughter, Miriam Zahavah.

What is a network? 

A network is a group of people who are connected based on some level of shared experience, interest, or demographic – sometimes more than one characteristic. What’s interesting about networks is the way they can be multi-layered. BYFI is multi-generational – we’ve been around for 25 years – and we have people from various religious backgrounds, geographic locations, professional backgrounds, and life experiences. There are some shared interests but also distinct differences, and that’s what can make it really enriching.

Tell me more about the BYFI network.

We’re pushing 1000 community members – over 600 alumni in North America and 260 in Israel (our program also includes Israelis). Because the fellowship is selective, the members share internal personal characteristics. We’re looking for people with intense intellectual curiosity, a sense of responsibility for the world, who are looking to do something with their talent, and who are articulate and looking to grow and learn from others. Those core characteristics set us up for a network that can be really generative.

One strain for how the network connects is discussion – sharing ideas and progressing thinking around issues. We have a very active alumni listserv which is topically based. We also have an annual alumni magazine and events and programs that seed conversation and keep the network thinking about the big issues. While staff help think about issues, it’s very much user-generated; there’s no parameter as to what fits.

The other stream is creating personal and professional connections. We send regular emails to the community with job opportunities; we encourage alumni to share opportunities they know about, come across, or are recruiting for. There’s also personal networking. Last year, we had an alumna who was a junior in college and spending a month in Los Angeles to explore her interest in standup comedy. Several alumni working in the professional writing space in Los Angeles were willing to meet up with her. One of them sponsored her for an open mic night – all because of this one link of being a BYFI alumna. They knew the quality of the individual would be worth their time.

To what extent and how do you and other BYFI staff weave this network?

A lot of it begins through our efforts. Naamah Paley, a BYFI alumna, recently joined our staff. At an event we were hosting while I was on maternity leave, the group was asked, “What brought you here?” Five out of eight answered that it was because Naamah or I had connected to them, not specifically about that event, but just to go out to coffee or talk. When we do that kind of outreach, it’s very clear that we’re not just looking to get them back into the fold for the sake of our program; we’re very interested in them and their development. We’re looking to hear what’s happening in their lives.

During these one-on-one catch-ups, inevitably lots of connections come to mind for me – I can pull up suggestions of who they should be talking to within the community. Access to these connections prompts those individuals who are assisted to get others excited about the network. If a door was opened to you because of a network, you become receptive to opening a door to others.

We in particular utilize our Alumni Advisory Board as contacts and ambassadors of the program. We have an Alumni Venture Fund which hosts a fundraising campaign and then alumni can apply for grants. Our board as well as other alumni serve as fundraisers, and instead of doing a phone-a-thon, they each send emails to 10 people and ask them to set up a time to chat. We don’t want the intensity of a traditional phone-a-thon where you move as quickly as you can to the next call. Each year we also email our community and ask what specific skills they have that they could offer to potential grantees and other alumni more generally. 15-20% of the community responds with what they’re able to offer and what they’re interested in being engaged in.

The key is being specific. It’s hard for people to be of service at times because they don’t realize how they can be utilizing a network. When you give examples through stories, it becomes concrete.

How do you manage all of this information about the alumni?

We have a very robust database through SalesForce. Right now it’s only used internally; it’s very useful for us to sort, track, and keep conscious of what’s happening in people’s lives. Even something as simple as where people studied abroad can help others who go abroad, whether they want to hold a seder or a recommendation of a good coffees shop.

Also, in our annual magazine, we solicit updates from all alumni, and the response rate is exceptionally high. Sometimes people read what’s written and say they want to connect to people they’ve read about. It also helps us understand in the aggregate some themes running amongst alumni, to put together cohorts we hadn’t thought about before.

What challenges are you currently facing?

One frontier we’re trying to figure out is in the area of connecting Israeli and American alumni. Right now we don’t have a shared virtual space; the conversations happening on our listserv are for the American community, and the Israelis have a facebook group. Therefore, we have less interconnection when it comes to sharing resources and networking suggestions. We haven’t yet entirely found how to make connections where there’s some interesting global crossover, or even how much demand there is for that.

What are some best practices of network-weaving?

You have to have a genuine passion for and interest in other people. It can’t be self-serving – that you want to check names off a list or ask people for money or volunteer time. The desire to really know each person and see them succeed has to be the core of the connection; it’s authentic and can’t be faked. That’s why I use “community” interchangeably with “network” in describing BYFI. It goes beyond the utilitarian “networking” (though I think the term networking gets a bad rap) – it’s about that community connection.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kathy Elias

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Kathy Elias is the Chief Kehillah Officer at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Tell me a little about your network.

United Synagogue is an umbrella organization almost 100 years old which first and foremost connects Conservative congregations to each other even as there’s been evolution in United Synagogue itself. We have now moved toward the word kehillah, because we have gotten to the point where we need to look beyond the walls and buildings of our synagogues and recognize that it’s really all about our sacred communities and the people in them.

Can you tell me a bit about how network-weaving has been practiced over the United Synagogue’s 100-year history? 

Let’s go back about 50 years, when there was no internet. United Synagogue brought people together through regional and national conventions and in-person meetings. We have always sought to convey the idea of the shared identity inherent in the concept of being a Conservative shul, and to weave knowledge through identifying best practices and sharing them among the congregations. One mechanism, for example, was our Solomon Schechter Awards that recognized excellence. Another was the knowledge community created by our regional staff and volunteers who were essentially networkers. They were assigned to synagogues and visited them regularly, and they would connect you with others going through the same issues.

Even today, the concept of network-weaving is the trick: the creation of the technology or experiences that would allow people to meet each other is just the first step. For instance, we have had a training program called SULAM, where presidents of congregations meet and learn with each other. We jumpstarted the program with a Shabbaton experience, and the presidents themselves continued to network to support one another throughout their presidencies.

Tell me more about the shift to shaping the United Synagogue as a kehillah. 

We’re now in a time period where identification with a denomination is not the most compelling factor in the identity of many. It may not have the pull it had for pervious generations. Faced with the question of how to sustain an umbrella organization, in 2009, with the appointment of our new CEO, Rabbi Steven Wernick, we began a strategic planning process.

The first step of the strategic plan was to change the language from “synagogue” to “kehillah.” As we go beyond the brick and mortar, the idea that the kehillah is created by likeminded people who share Jewish values and practice opens doors for connecting to people who may not identity themselves as “members” – for building relationships and for weaving a network. How do we recreate United Synagogue as dynamic, with dynamic leaders, and how do we weave a network of program, service, and connections that empowers our kehillot to do the same in creating Conservative Jewish life?

What are some of your goals in network-weaving this kehillah?

We’re focusing on four core areas: kehillah strengthening and transformation, integrated education, outreach to young adults, and nurturing emerging kehillot. We are looking to train and connect 5,000 new Jewish leaders in the next five years. We’re seeking to create an integrated educational model. Right now, two groups are meeting – one group convening the network of Conservative sister organizations (Rabbinical Assembly, Ramah, Solomon Schechter day schools, seminaries, and United Synagogue) to pursue an integrated approach to education, breaking down boundaries and weaving networks among us. The second group is comprised of practitioners, who created recommendations about an integrated learning model which is being presented to the group of sister organizations.

We’re working on how to identify and weave networks to support Jewish life among young adults. We’re finding people in emerging kehillot, who are finding each other and creating a new type of Judaism and Jewish community. How do we empower emerging groups and nurture and nourish Jewish life?

Where do you start in this work?

The first phase in kehillah strengthening and transformation is leadership development. We have expanded our Sulam program to extend across the lives of members of kehillot, and we’re asking kehillah leaders to be our partners to try out, improve, and share materials. We have a program to train current leaders (board and committee members), with nearly 100 of our kehillot learning to use materials that we’re asking them to test. We’re also currently testing a new curriculum – SULAM for emerging leaders – in 18 shuls, and soon we’ll be bringing it to the next group of 20-30 shuls. This is not about learning about how to run committees; there’s nothing about governance. It’s about: How do I live a Jewish life? How do I navigate how to prioritize sacred time; how do I create home if it’s different than the one I grew up in; how do I deal with relationships and conflict? What am I as a connector and as a network-weaver? It’s creating conversations and the ability to do strategic thinking.

What have you learned about network-weaving, and what are some challenges for the future?

Network-weaving isn’t done to you. It’s something you have to participate in, and you have to be ready to practice it. Change needs to come from a feeling of a need and a readiness for it, and you also have to have the ability to achieve it. We are thrilled that 20% of our shuls are participating in our SULAM training. But you can’t grow a structure on the ground without volunteers. We need to grow our volunteer network even more formally, and to create a cadre of expert volunteers – to have people in relationships with kehillot on the ground constantly connecting and being present.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Adina Frydman

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Adina Frydman is the Director of Regions for SYNERGY at UJA-Federation of New York and Synagogues Together, which builds a network of synagogues as vital centers of caring, learning, and spiritual renewal. Prior to three and a half years at Federation in New York, she worked at the St. Louis Jewish Federation.

Tell me a little about the SYNERGY network.

SYNERGY is a department at UJA-Federation of New York with the aim of strengthening the tapestry of NY synagogues and making them vibrant institutions. We connect them to resources ranging from board development and synagogue fundraising to social media help. While UJA-Federation has always woven community networks, the work of SYNERGY is evidence of some of the new ways in which networks are being animated at a local level. We have a regional structure, operating in Westchester and on Long Island, allowing best practices for addressing common challenges to be spread across the network. In Westchester, I meet individually with synagogue leaders and in small groups, bringing people together across denominational and size spectrums. We talk about the pressing issues the synagogues are facing, what success stories there are, and how we can spread success.

How do you measure success in your network? 

We track to what extent synagogue leaders take advantage of resources and opportunities we offer for growth, such as workshops, consultations, and webinars. Each program is evaluated in our tracking of participation as well as through feedback loops, such as online surveys, which we develop in order to tailor our resources. The ultimate network need not run exclusively through a hub. Therefore, we also measure the extent to which synagogue leaders participate in different aspects of the network and how they are networking with each other through in-person gatherings and on online platforms, such as LinkedIn and Google groups.

What are the challenges in working in a networked way?

For synagogues, there’s both a fear and a lack of familiarity with operating in a network mindset. What does it really mean to open something up to a general discussion and input? What do we do with the feedback once we have it? In our work, we try to demonstrate the actual value of the network so that people want to open up. Once they benefit from the network, they realize they have a lot to gain and to bring, as well as experiencing the value of being part of something bigger, broader, and more open.

Also, there’s a general misunderstanding of what it means to operate as a network: people sometimes narrow their understanding to a purely social media context. They think that, if they don’t have social media knowledge, the network is closed to them. In reality, social media is a tool, but we have functioned as a network since the beginning of time – now we’re just using these tools to build social capital and strengthen network ties faster and beyond our immediate networks.

What vision for the future do you believe network-weaving can accomplish?

Part of what UJA-Federation is facilitating is working across silos. It’s not just about synagogues – it’s about strengthening synagogues as key network hubs in the community as a whole. I dream of a networked community that is open while cultivating a sense of belonging, porous but with integrity and value, relevant, purpose-driven, and dynamic with multiple gates of entry so people can access and connect wherever they are in their lifecycle and Jewish journey. Rather than a model where you’re in (a member) or out (not a member), how can we broaden our concept of community so that we create an open tent where everyone can simultaneously participate (be a consumer) and co-create (be a prosumer) of the community?

Federations, synagogues, JCC’s, camps, day schools, social service agencies and other organizations within our community each have a critical place and role. We will individually and collectively benefit by shifting our mindset to being shaped by what the community wants, through considering our niche and unique value propositions. This shift will also allow for new entities to emerge as needed.  This networked community would be vibrant, caring, inspired and interconnected – and wouldn’t we all want to be part of that community?

Do you have some pointers as to how to engage in a network of purpose?

One of the keys is to simultaneously feel value in the assets you’re going to bring to the table and to be open about what you’re going to receive. There should be real honesty in the discussions, including about the overarching value of what we’re trying to accomplish as a collective. There’s this collective vision out there that’s bigger than the missions of each organization. When you’re sitting in a virtual or in-person conversation, you feel this door of possibility open when people realize that together we’re something more than the sum of our individual parts. Then, of course, you have to work out the individual roles and what each entity brings to raising up the whole. But until you understand that it’s about a bigger value proposition, it’s hard to move into the networked mindset.

Working in a networked way is also iterative – something that’s worked on all the time. It’s about constantly coming together for a purpose. At the same time as having a clear agenda and purpose, within the context of each gathering there has to be room for something not on the agenda, whether you call it an open space session or a brainstorm, as this will allow for innovation to take place. It takes time, repetition, familiarity, and trust to build relationships – yet relationships are the fabric of the weave. Humility is also very important. Lack of humility is our biggest barrier to trying new things and taking risks, because when we lack humility, we fear personal failure. Working in a network, you have to understand: I’m part of a vast web and I’m the center of my own universe, all at once. To paraphrase Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peschischa, everyone must have two pockets. When feeling lowly, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: "For my sake was the world created."  But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: "I am but dust and ashes."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Smadar Bar-Akiva

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Smadar Bar-Akiva is the Executive Director of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers (WCJCC).

Tell me about your network.

I direct an umbrella organization that represents more than 1,100 Jewish Community Centers around the world – we’re a network of networks. We have a 70-member board with representation from all the JCC networks from around the world and sponsor organizations. The purpose of our organization is to enrich Jewish lives and strengthen Jewish communities by connecting JCCs as institutions that open their doors to large number of Jews on a regular basis.

What role does network-weaving play in your work?

Though I sit in Jerusalem, my whole day revolves around connecting with JCC leadership worldwide. I have two functions: one is a networking function, as a facilitator between JCC leaders- finding out JCC leaders’ needs and interests and connecting them to others worldwide through conferences, Think Tanks, study visits, regional conferences, and more. The other part of the work is implementing specific projects that connect specific JCCs. For instance, several years ago we initiated a Tri Center program that connects communities in Israel and North America to those in a third country, involving some 30 JCCs worldwide. We recently launched a Global Jewish Fellows program, co-sponsored with UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and PresenTense. It trains lay leaders from partnered JCCs to become leaders with a global Jewish perspective and to initiate projects in their local JCCs. It involved webinars, working with mentors, and seminars in Israel and Budapest. During the last couple of years, I feel that leaders from the JCCs and the JCC networks who are involved in these partnerships have become a global leadership group. We hope in the future to develop this phenomenon into a more formalized global forum.

What lessons in network-weaving have you learned from your work?

I’ve been working with JCCs since 1987, and I’ve found out that it’s first and foremost about the personal connections I’ve developed over the years and continue to develop as the network expands. Technology helps a lot, but it’s about sensitivity to every person; it’s not a template. Once a year, we take a study visit to a different part of the world to understand the needs and see how we could better connect them.

What challenges have you experienced in network-weaving?

First, there are cultural gaps, time differences, and mentality differences. These professionals and lay leaders work in different settings, and they need to come to the process with an open mind. People have to learn to take off their own lenses and understand the different context. Second, there are so many pressing needs in local life that it’s hard to find extra resources to connect with people far away. The challenging part is really the first meeting, the first encounter, to put global Jewry on their radar – but it’s very encouraging that people who do get involved are really drawn into it. Finally, the network needs constant cultivation; it doesn’t happen on its own. It needs facilitation, staff time and resources. We have a new part-time professional working on our global Jewish year-long project, and I already see that we’ve created additional momentum and energy in our network.

How do participants benefit from your network?

More and more, JCCs understand the power of these global connections. Through anecdotal evidence and some research, we found that those involved with the global Jewish partnerships feel their personal Jewish identity and connection to the global Jewish community strengthened. We give a lot of attention to communities outside of Israel and North America. For instance, Latin America has rich and powerful communities, but they feel off of the radar screen; it’s important to them to be acknowledged, to learn from each other, and to see what others are doing in the Jewish world. Many from the larger communities feel this encounter invigorates their work as well. Very often, leaders from North America come back home from places like the JCCs in the Former Soviet Union and say, “Now I remember why I got into this field in the first place!” After going all the way to a different part of the world, they understand themselves better. They become leaders who understand global Jewish issues better, and can be our advocates to initiate more partnerships.

How would you like to see the network grow in the future?

I would like to see it more professionalized and formalized, with the interactions taking place at closer intervals and impacting more people. I would like a greater use of technology for participants to connect more with one another, to share more, and to invest more of their time in the network. We are welcoming to everyone, but there is a limit to the number of people you can reach with limited resources. At the same time, as we expand, we have to find ways to still keep the feeling of personal, family-like intimacy.

I really like the term network-weaving. Our network is something really tangible. When I connect people, it really feels like weaving – it grows across different levels, like a tapestry.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tomer Marshall

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Tomer Marshall is Curator at Leadel: A Jewish Media Hub, showcasing the rich variety of contemporary Jewish voices and expressions. Following completion of a master’s thesis in comparative media exploring the evolution of formats in new media, he gained experience in web development and writing and directing for television in Israel.

Tell me about your network.

The underlying principle behind Leadel is to figure out how to get people from different backgrounds, life skills, and areas of value-based work to connect with one another. How can those in the environmental movement connect with the Jewish Anglo scene in Jerusalem? How could my friends in the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) movement connect with the people I know in the Tel Aviv art/design scene? These people had never met and while it might seem that they have little in common, they actually have a lot in common: At the end of the day, they are all engaged in activities for the benefit of society.

We do this through creating a central campfire for the tribe – somewhere people can come and don’t have to talk to one other, but they can see and be exposed to each other. There’s no broadcaster doing this, as they are all focused on the niche audience. By doing a Jewish public TV series featuring extended profiles, we could all be more aware of each other on a personal story level, not only on a political level. We’ve also done a lot of experiments in new media showing what is interesting in the Jewish web, such as a crowd-sourced video asking people for questions about Chanukah.

How do you measure the impact of your network?

Measuring is the old way of thinking. I’m not sure I can say up front what the results will be. No one would have said the outcomes of the Internet would be facebook or email –money went into it because it was touted as a missile defense program. But would you say it wasn’t worth it? In putting money into smaller organizations whose goals are more open and experimental, you have to know that the ROI is going to be very different. The question should be: Is what I’m doing enabling the creation of more connections, or not? Then, it’s feeling the pulse and what the connections are doing. Are they growing and strengthening? Are people I’m funding helping other people? If you fund five organizations which aren’t only thinking about themselves but each are trying to help five others, you’re going to make an impact.

What do you think the impact of networks will be on the Jewish world?

Networks are going to change the Jewish people because we’re the people of the media: we change as the dominant media change. We’re going into an era of networks; right now it’s still at an early stage. It’s too early to tell what the hubs of the Jewish people will be in this new era. Networks aren’t a command and control system. They’re more of an enabling system. Will the hubs be big organizations, or will they not hop onto the train before others do? The question is whether we will change happily and in a way that flows, or if it will be bumpier.

Our job as part of the Jewish organizational world is to make it as flowing and pleasant as possible. For starters, everyone should read Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s Linked – it’s good to understand the basic terminology. Also, if we learn the new “Web literacy” skills and ideas – such as content management, nodes, and organizing information – the networked effect might soak better into Jewish society.

What is the role of technology in a networked world?

Technology is a distraction – networks entail a change of mindset. For instance, when we launched Leadel, we had a web server for our videos. It was very expensive, and it was also a closed environment. We decided to transfer our videos to YouTube. It was less “ours,” but it was contributing to a bigger network, making videos open and free to the world. The idea of a network is that, once someone makes something everyone else can use, they’re creating value, and that value will flow. So you can see that technology is the last decision once you have the mindset that is aimed at being part of and contributing to something bigger -- a network.

How do you envision the Jewish world operating under a network mindset?

If you see one TED Talk, you say “Wow, I learned something new.” If you see a few, you say “Wow, there’s still so much I don’t know.” We need to bring that perspective into the Jewish world. We don’t want to just cater to people’s specific needs in directing them to one isolated Jewish experience; it’s about getting people to understand that there’s so much more they don’t know and excite them about learning. There needs to be something that brings together people from different places and disciplines that have nothing to do with each other – but they find a way to learn from each other.

People are connecting, learning, and starting to care about being part of a bigger organism. Instead of politics, which say, “I’m right and you’re wrong” and imply a fight over limited resources, we need to understand anti-politics, to be all on the same side and to see good in others.

What has Leadel done to contribute to this new mindset?

Last February, Leadel organized a digital Jewish education forum bringing together Jewish educators and pioneering education technology for a day of learning. We thought it important to enable organizations to have better digital presence, because if they understand how to use the web, they will make it better for the Jewish people through economy of scale. It’s critical for organizations to understand that the main point is to create value for others.

And we’re planning to take this to the next level with even a bigger Jewish TEDlike conference. Stay tuned, join our mailing list, and we’ll keep you updated.