The 2015 ROI Community Summit just ended today. ROI is an international community of young Jewish innovators and leaders. Every year, the Schusterman Foundation invites young Jews to apply for membership and those accepted gather in Jerusalem for 5 days of networking, skill building and activities meant to inspire and foster synergy. Once accepted members qualify for a wealth of benefits including annual microgrants (over 1500 disbursed so far) that further personal and/or professional development, matching funds for crowdfunding campaigns (almost $650,000 raised for 55 campaigns), special events and more. It’s no wonder that when the application period begins, ROI staff are inundated with a number of applications that far outstrip the positions available. Similarly, due to my past involvement in ROI, lots of prospective applicants come to me seeking advice on how to get accepted. As such, we went through the list of those accepted to ROI’s most recent cohort in order to see if we could discern commonalities or patterns. These may also offer insight into the state of leadership development and innovation, what traits the Schusterman Foundation, the largest Jewish family philanthropy, values most in the next generation of Jewish leaders.
So what did we learn? In reading and compiling all 150 profiles, one thing that stood out was that ROIers are a passionate and innovative lot! I’ve heard from some of them that they might be developing a unique password generator that produces passwords like ci4de6gi1go5ri3ja8la84 to keep people documents safe! What a great business idea! We considered turning this exercise into a drinking game – every time a participant-provided profile mentioned that they was passionate about, or had a passion for something, or if they mentioned the words innovate, innovation, innovator etc. we’d all take a shot. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed because that would mean 62 shots. In one night. Not a good idea. But yes, it was readily apparent that ROI values diversity. The ROI Web site notes that after 9 summits, ROI boasts 955 members from 57 countries speaking 43 languages. And 6 couples (Mazal Tov! I myself had my first significant interactions with my wife at an ROI summit while working on an ROI inspired project). In terms of gender, this year’s ROI cohort was split right down the middle with precisely 75 men and 75 women.
How about geographical diversity? ROI members are divided along (roughly) continental lines, so one is either from North America, Latin America (including Mexico), Europe, Asia, Africa or Oceania and Israel as its own category. World Jewish population is divided roughly into three, Israel usually gets 1/3 of the ROI positions, North America 1/3 and the rest of the world 1/3. As such, ROI 2015 had 60 Israelis, 48 North Americans and 42 people from the rest of the world – not exactly a 50/50/50 split, but close enough.
There are a few interesting things to note here. For instance, Latin America is way over represented – Europe, with 1.6 million Jews should have three times more ROIers than Latin America with 500,000 Jews. But this year’s cohort had 14 Latin Americans to 22 Europeans. Canada with close to 370,000 Jews generated less than half a dozen ROIers to Latin America’s 14. Obviously applicants from countries with fewer Jews benefit from a little bit of affirmative action – with their smaller pools of qualified young Jewish leaders and innovators, they are in greater need of a boost – which is fine by us!
One of the things that we kept track of was inspired by ROI’s upcoming LGBTQ Connection Points called 18:22. In the “Eligibility” section, the organizers note that “… our recruitment and selection process will be interested in the following areas of representation, including, but not limited to: Jews of color, Jews by choice, person with a mobility issue, person with accessibility issues/special needs/invisible illness, non-Ashkenazi background, interfaith family, other identity” (emphasis added). This means that the organizers noted that one of the populations over represented at these sorts of things were Ashkenazic Jews. The 2015 ROI Summit made no such distinctions but we decided to investigate anyway. According to Wikipedia, about 16% of the world’s Jewish population is Sephardi. As such, of the 150 ROIers, 24 should be Sephardi, right? In fact however, only 14 are Sephardi, and interestingly, 9 of those are female. So it seems that the organizers of 18:22 are in fact, onto something. As a Sephardic Jew myself, I hope this issue gets addressed in the future.
Now how about ROIers Jewish involvement? I was there at the beginning and one of the things, I’d like to think, that served as the impetus for the creation of ROI 10 years ago was the notion that young Jews were being underserved by the organized Jewish community. There seemed to be a strong disconnect between the priorities and the agendas of the mainstream Jewish organizations and the younger Jews they served. This led, at the time, to a veritable explosion of independent Jewish projects, like blogs, indy minyans and a wealth of groups and entities formed outside the organized Jewish community. The perception was that if one had to rely on the support of one’s local Federation, none of these projects would have seen the light of day. Clearly things are different today with many of these organizations enjoying significant support not just from the Schusterman Foundation but from the self same Federations and larger more traditional groups that would never have supported them a decade ago. What this shows is that young Jewish leaders are a great source of creative, innovative and dynamic programming – the kind that we need more of. Why? The Pew report on American Jewry demonstrates that young Jews are continuing to disengage from the organized Jewish community and Jewish life. If we want to promote a vital and vibrant Judaism, we have to continue to embrace and support our young innovators. Duh.
So how did young innovators fare at ROI in 2015? Of the 150 participants, only 51 were or had been involved in an independent Jewish project. Conversely, 60 were currently or had in the past been employed by an established Jewish communal organization. Are these 51 Jews going to produce the next Challah for Hunger, Presentense, Occupy Judaism or G-dcast? Will the 60 establishment Jewish professionals going to go back to their bosses and beg them to take a chance and support quirky independent Jewish projects? I hope so. As a quick aside, it should be noted here that 43 of the ROI participants specifically stated their involvement in Schusterman funded projects like Moishe House, Presentense, Taglit, Connection points etc. Many, if not all of these projects did not exist 15 years ago. That’s got to mean something, right?
What about ROIers educational qualifications? Interestingly, this year’s cohort contains at least 27 (!!) MBA or MBA students and 14 current and future lawyers. It also contains 25 people who saw fit to mention their IDF service in their profiles – most of whom served in combat units.
What’s the final take away from all of this? If you want to be accepted to the 2016 (10th!) ROI summit, your best bet is to be a passionate and innovative Jewish professional IDF veteran who lives in Peru. Also being a transgendered Orthodox professional athlete living in a Moishe House who did a stint at Presentense and designed an anti-BDS smartphone app probably wouldn’t hurt either. Now, if such a person exists I am fairly certain they would get into ROI in a heartbeat. The truth is that you should really allow yourself to be guided solely by your passion. And if you apply and get rejected, don’t take it to heart – some of the coolest Jewish projects out there came from ROI members who had to apply several times before they got accepted. Similarly, some of the most interesting Jewish innovations and individuals out there have never been involved in ROI. So there you go. Yay Jews!