This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!
Ben Wiener is the founder of Ten Partners (www.tenpartners.org), 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 www.tenpartners.org to and sign up to be a Ten Partner today. Also, anyone in the world can submit a programming idea to Tenpartners.org – 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.