RAMAT GAN, Israel – Young Jewish business and social entrepreneurs, activists and innovators from 27 different countries met in Ramat Gan on July 4 to 8 to brainstorm on how best to improve the Jewish world and the world at large.
Pictured at the Fifth Annual ROI Global Summit are, from left, participant Noam Dolgin, ROI director Justin Korda, Rabbi Yoni Gordis and participant Yaniv Rivlin.
Participants at the Fifth Annual ROI (Return On Investment) Global Summit for Young Jewish Innovators included 20- and 30-something Jewish communal leaders from countries in ROI’s global network. About half of them are alumni of Israel-oriented programs such as Taglit-Birthright Israel, Hillel or Masa.
The summit, attended by about 120 participants, focused on Jewish education and identity, visions of Israel, Jewish arts and culture, environmental responsibility, and tikkun olam.
The event was highlighted by a ROI community-wide in-person/online five-hour brainstorming session in which participants created a list of more than 300 challenges facing the Jewish People and came up with some 140 potential solutions.
The result was 42 different project proposals. “The next step is in the hands of our members to turn these proposals into action plans,” said Justin Korda, director of ROI and a former Montrealer.
According to Korda, the work couldn’t be in better hands. Since ROI was established as a partnership between American Jewish philanthropist Lynn Schusterman’s Center for Leadership Initiatives (CLI) and Taglit-Birthright Israel in 2006, the network has sponsored at least 200 different initiatives, launched across more than 100 communities around the world. Sixty-five of these projects have received grants totalling some $600,000 (US) from CLI.
Former grant winners include PresenTense (www.presentense.org), Moishe House (www.moishehouse.org), Challah for Hunger (www.challahforhunger.org), G-dcast (www.g-dcast.com), and Oleh! Records (www.olehrecords.org).
Projects chosen for funding usually include Jewish content or are focused on building Jewish community in one way or another. “Some projects are dedicated to serving the non-Jewish world,” Korda said. “But even though they are not focused on Jewish content, they are still very much motivated by Jewish values.”
Rabbi Yoni Gordis, the executive director of CLI, added a few more requirements to the mix: the projects must show good business sense, vision and passion, and possess the potential to have a wide impact, and applicants must hail from the ROI community.
“We give preference to projects that deploy the ROI network. We want these innovators to work with each other,” he said. “Our network includes people who are very left and very right, both politically and religiously. The definitions are quite diverse. But we are tied together by common values. We are here to fix the world.”
Those who haven’t received funding from CLI still reap enormous membership benefits: courses in professional development, managerial skills, and communication; access to the ROI community and all of its resources, and opportunities for collaboration. “We give people a socket to plug into this idea of global Jewish networking,” said Korda.
ROI member Yaniv Rivlin, 28, from Montreal, one of 15 Canadians in the ROI network, says a price cannot be put on this assistance. This month, he launched his ROI-inspired initiative, Comtribute (www.comtribute.com), an online fundraising tool for non-profit organizations.
“ROI is an amazing network. They gave me advice, brought me together with the most inspiring, motivated people, and connected me to non-profits and press,” said Rivlin, who will start his master’s degree in public policy and government at Harvard University in September.
“Everyone in the ROI community just wants to help. It was this community that gave me the inspiration to start this project.
“They are also doing everything in a very progressive way. They really understand the needs of the next Jewish generation.”
This is what ROI founders had in mind – to create a fresh new space for young Jewish community leaders outside of the often restrictive, conservative, non-progressive, “old school” bounds of existing Jewish community organizations.
Said Korda, it all started in 2005, after Taglit-Birthright Israel hit the 100,000 alumni mark and there was little improvement in alumnus’ post-trip involvement with Jewish community. “People were asking, ‘Why aren’t these young people lining up to get involved in federations and organizations?’
“But these organizations failed to engage young people before Taglit-Birthright Israel was established, why would they be able to now?”
What was needed, said Korda, was a paradigm shift. “ROI represents that shift. It’s an exciting, energetic, creative global community that is succeeding to engage young Jewish leaders on their terms.”
Rabbi Gordis said: “For us, ROI is the actualization of everything that we are about – providing an opportunity for the best and brightest, most impassioned young members of the global Jewish community. We are eager to give them any and all assistance they need to make this world better now, rather than later.
“We need to let them run and shape the world in way they think it should be. I, for one, trust them with this task from the bottom of my heart.”